JayDee's Movie Musings

→ in
Tools    





Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
Good reviews, JD. I like the new format, too. I am very pleased to see how much you enjoyed All The President's Men.
Thanks HK. And thanks for that too. Was going to ask for views on the new format. And yeah All the President's Men is a quality film, a worthy entry to your top 100 list. And even though it's in the wrong decade for my 70s thriller season, I may also throw in another from your list - The Manchurian Candidate



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
 mirror
 mirror



Year of release
1975

Directed by
Sidney Lumet

Written by
Frank Pierson

Starring
Al Pacino
John Cazale
Charles Durning
Chris Sarandon



Dog Day Afternoon

-

Whatever I was expecting from this film, it's certainly not what I got! I obviously only had the vaguest, most basic knowledge of the plot. I knew it was a film set during a bank robbery, starring Al Pacino but that was about it. So I was expecting a tense, edgy, gritty thriller with Pacino most likely playing a bad ass. While it remains tense and gritty what I also got instead was a fairly absurd, almost farcical debacle of a robbery/hostage situation. A film just as concerned with the robbery as with commenting on issues of the time such as the law, media exploitation and views on people's sexuality.

It all turns into a bit of a circus with Pacino's Sonny as the ringleader. And in this post-Watergate, post-Attica, post-Vietnam environment where there is much anti-authoritarian sentiment, those who have gathered on the streets are fully behind him and see him as a working class hero. And all of that is before the film takes a very unexpected turn as his 'wife' shows up, and we discover the real motivation for the robbery. If you gave me a solid month of guessing I'm not sure I'd have been able to predict that one. Their was also a surprising lack of violence, at least until the end. And when it arrives, powerfully and shockingly, in the searing finale it just adds to the feeling of a real gut punch.

It is impressively shot by Sidney Lumet on location in New York, I particularly enjoyed the free shooting style used for the footage out on the streets as he shows the crowds and cops etc. It really makes you feel like you are there as part of the assembled masses. While the scenes in the bank are shot with disciplined direction, and create a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere. You can almost feel the uncomfortable heat, and the sweating that it brings about. And while I did feel myself sympathising with the characters of Sonny and Sal, I don't think think it was down to Lumet, who I feel was able to keep an objective view of it. More down to just how inept they seem; two Vietnam vets doing this not because they want to, but because they feel life has forced them into it.

It's quite impossible to review this film without mentioning Al Pacino's wonderful performance. His portrait of this incompetent, nerve ridden guy who is in over his head is just full of charisma and energy, while at the same time always with an undercurrent of tragedy just below the surface. As the film moves along he goes from being an aggressive bank robber to an identifiable anti-hero. The film as a whole is the same in that while being offbeat and uniquely funny there is always this tragic feeling lingering there in the background.

And while it's close to a one man show those around him also contribute strong showings. John Cazale doesn't have much at all to do as the dim-witted Sal but does it well, matching Pacino in terms of making the character rather likeable in a way, mostly down to how naive and out of their depth they are. Sal in particular is so lacking in intelligence (when asked what country he wants to go to he replies "Wyoming") you root for him to make it out ok. Chris Sarandon takes a potentially difficult role as Sonny's pre-op transsexual wife Leon, and does wonders with it. The scene where Sonny and Leon converse on the telephone is funny at points but is mostly a mournful and surprisingly touching scene, one where both Pacino and Sarandon do some of their best work in the film. While those playing the cops/FBI agents and those held hostage in the bank all chip in with nice moments. The female hostages in particular provide a lot of funny moments to break the tension, whether it be needing the toilet or being more concerned with being on TV than any chance of danger due to the robbery.

So I was a bit thrown by this film, and while it fell just short of me absolutely loving it, I did greatly enjoy it, and it's one film that I could certainly see my appreciation growing for on repeat viewings. And the fact it is apparently all based on a true story is quite incredible. One of those great examples of something so unbelievable, that it could only be true.



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
mirror
mirror


Year of release
1974

Directed by
Francis Ford Coppola

Written by
Francis Ford Coppola

Starring
Gene Hackman
John Cazele
Allen Garfield
Cindy Williams
Frederick Forrest
Harrison Ford


The Conversation

+

A slow burning, taut and intriguing film dealing with the world of surveillance. It's a film that just screams of the 70s! Throughout my little 70s thriller season there have been frequent themes and issues that keep cropping up - paranoia, anti-establishment sentiments, conspiracies, technology invading our lives, alienation of the individual, evaporation of civil liberties etc - and this film features a great deal of them. Compared to much of his other work from the era (The Godfather parts 1 and 2 and Apocalypse Now) this is a much more intimate tale told on a smaller scale.

While the almost stone-age technology badly dates the film it does not dilute its power. Though personally I felt it was a little too slow, that it could have done with a little trimming to get us to the meat of the film a touch quicker. I felt it had done such a good job setting up the story and moulding the character of Harry Caul that it could have lost a little and still worked just as effectively.

As is just about a given for him at that stage in his career Hackman turns in a truly terrific showing as Harry Caul; the lonely, detached and extremely paranoid bugger who really is quite a sad, pitiful fellow. He gives us a real character study of a man obsessed with his privacy and incapable of trusting anyone. A man haunted by an incident in his past, an incident that begins to expose an emerging conscience as the film goes along.

The sound work on the film deserves a big mention. It is a marvellous mix of taped conversations, hushed voices, ambient sounds and distorted electronic noises. It's also an essay on the fact it's not what you say, it's how you say it. What we hear is ambiguous, and remains so till the end, and is all about the interpretation of it. The fact that it all reveals itself just a little bit at a time is a real treat. We are learning at the same time as Harry is.

The strongest section of the film for me was the ending. You have Hackman obsessing over what he should do and there is a shocking twist that really threw me for a loop, and sends Hackman over the edge as his paranoia finally overwhelms him. As a result we watch as he destroys his apartment looking for surveillance footage.

On a technical level it is a brilliant accomplishment, and if I was rating it purely on that standard it would undoubtedly get a higher rating. However as I've said before my scores are heavily influenced by my sheer enjoyment of a film, that gut feeling that reallly makes you take to a film, even if you can't particularly describe why. So as a result I'd say 3.5+ is about right, perhaps a 4 on the right day and a repeat viewing



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
mirror
mirror



Year of release
1975

Directed by
Sydney Pollack

Written by
Lorenzo Semple Jr.
David Rayfiel

Starring
Robert Redford
Faye Dunaway
Max von Sydow
Cliff Robertson


Three Days of the Condor

++

A cracking good film. It's always nice when you watch a film that is able to match its thrills with some smarts. Along with it's glossy exterior and adventurous, paranoid tone a good deal of the reason it works is that it always remains worryingly plausible, especially in a world after Watergate. Indeed during shooting of the film many post-Watergate revelations came to light including illegal wiretaps, surveillance and killings motivated by political expediency.

One thing that I thought was very impressive was just how well the film had actually aged. The story and look means that it feels almost timeless, helped by the fact we could still envisage this going on today.

After an explosive opening, where Redford's character avoids being assassinted just down to the fact that he was out picking up lunch for his colleagues, he goes on the run, and the fun and intrigue never really let up until the credits have rolled. The fact that we have no real idea what is going to happen next, or even fully know all the ins and outs of the current situation, just adds to the element of fun of the whole thing. It's entertaining to feel clueless in a film of this kind.

The fact that Redford's character is neither a secret agent, nor just a guy plucked off the streets, gives it an interesting twist. We have an academic/analyst who knows how the game is played, but just doesn't know how to play it himself. While some moments you can believe he has picked up from the many stories he has read (like his clever escape from an assassin), some of it is a little far fetched when it comes to just how skilled he seemingly becomes pretty much overnight.

The Faye Dunaway character and her relationship with Redford was about the only major weak point in my eyes. The character didn't really do anything for me, and I just didn't really buy into their relationship that develops so quickly. While it does strongly hint at her loneliness, possible depression and severe self esteem issues it just didn't work for me. It just didn't feel convincing and came across as very contrived.

Max von Sydow fares much better as he turns in a very effective turn as the menacing, apparently cold hearted assassin, Joubert. However he turns out to be a bit more complex than that, somewhat noble, resulting in an intriguing final showdown between him and Redford.

It's all strongly directed by Sidney Pollack who really ramps up the paranoia, and makes very good use of location shooting throughout New York. The real world locations very much help to add to the atmosphere and authenticity of the whole thing. And there is a entertaining, well choreographed fight scene between Redford and a mailman hitman.

Conclusion - A really fun piece of 70s entertainment. With a nice mix of adventure, suspense and intrigue, it's intelligently made with Redford on fine form in a classic leading man role



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
Thank you very much HK. Nice to hear you think they've gone up a level. They're obviously taking a bit longer to write so nice to see the extra effort is recognised. And yeah that would help!

I know you're definitely a fan of Manchurian Candidate, but out of interest are you a fan of any of the other films I may watch in my 70s thriller season - Day of the Jackal, Sleuth, Charley Varrick, Dirty Harry, Assault on Precinct 13, Boys from Brazil and The Parallax View. Just realised I could also throw in a couple from my Hitchcock boxset - Frenzy and Family Plot. If I remember right Frenzy is one of the few Hitchcock films you like.


Oh yeah and on a side not how awesome were movie posters in the 70s? Just when I've been looking for posters of the films I've already reviewed, and some others that I might review and they are fantastic! One of the things that inspired the double poster element of the new format



I know you're definitely a fan of Manchurian Candidate, but out of interest are you a fan of any of the other films I may watch in my 70s thriller season - Day of the Jackal, Sleuth, Charley Varrick, Dirty Harry, Assault on Precinct 13, Boys from Brazil and The Parallax View. Just realised I could also throw in a couple from my Hitchcock boxset - Frenzy and Family Plot. If I remember right Frenzy is one of the few Hitchcock films you like.
Yes, I really like Frenzy. Assault On Precinct 13 is in my top 100, and I like, not only Dirty Harry, but Magnum Force and The Enforcer, too. Boys From Brazil is OK. I don't remember much about Sleuth other than I didn't care for it. I really like Deathtrap, though. But that's an 80's film. I've not seen Charley Varrick (apart from the last 10 minutes or so) or The Parallax View.



mirror
mirror



Year of release
1975

Directed by
Sydney Pollack

Written by
Lorenzo Semple Jr.
David Rayfiel

Starring
Robert Redford
Faye Dunaway
Max von Sydow
Cliff Robertson


Three Days of the Condor

++

A cracking good film. It's always nice when you watch a film that is able to match its thrills with some smarts. Along with it's glossy exterior and adventurous, paranoid tone a good deal of the reason it works is that it always remains worryingly plausible, especially in a world after Watergate. Indeed during shooting of the film many post-Watergate revelations came to light including illegal wiretaps, surveillance and killings motivated by political expediency.

One thing that I thought was very impressive was just how well the film had actually aged. The story and look means that it feels almost timeless, helped by the fact we could still envisage this going on today.

After an explosive opening, where Redford's character avoids being assassinted just down to the fact that he was out picking up lunch for his colleagues, he goes on the run, and the fun and intrigue never really let up until the credits have rolled. The fact that we have no real idea what is going to happen next, or even fully know all the ins and outs of the current situation, just adds to the element of fun of the whole thing. It's entertaining to feel clueless in a film of this kind.

The fact that Redford's character is neither a secret agent, nor just a guy plucked off the streets, gives it an interesting twist. We have an academic/analyst who knows how the game is played, but just doesn't know how to play it himself. While some moments you can believe he has picked up from the many stories he has read (like his clever escape from an assassin), some of it is a little far fetched when it comes to just how skilled he seemingly becomes pretty much overnight.

The Faye Dunaway character and her relationship with Redford was about the only major weak point in my eyes. The character didn't really do anything for me, and I just didn't really buy into their relationship that develops so quickly. While it does strongly hint at her loneliness, possible depression and severe self esteem issues it just didn't work for me. It just didn't feel convincing and came across as very contrived.

Max von Sydow fares much better as he turns in a very effective turn as the menacing, apparently cold hearted assassin, Joubert. However he turns out to be a bit more complex than that, somewhat noble, resulting in an intriguing final showdown between him and Redford.

It's all strongly directed by Sidney Pollack who really ramps up the paranoia, and makes very good use of location shooting throughout New York. The real world locations very much help to add to the atmosphere and authenticity of the whole thing. And there is a entertaining, well choreographed fight scene between Redford and a mailman hitman.

Conclusion - A really fun piece of 70s entertainment. With a nice mix of adventure, suspense and intrigue, it's intelligently made with Redford on fine form in a classic leading man role
I love this movie but I disagree with you on Faye Dunaway. I really felt her sense of lonelyness and isolation. In a way Redford's charcter mashed well with that as he was also an ousider, albeit a very intelligent one.



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
I'm surprised so far that my most popular reviews (by positive rep anyway) are Deliverance and Three Days of the Condor. Deliverance surprises me as I thought a lot of lovers of the film might disagree with it, and Condor as I wasn't sure how well known it was.

Yes, I really like Frenzy. Assault On Precinct 13 is in my top 100, and I like, not only Dirty Harry, but Magnum Force and The Enforcer, too. Boys From Brazil is OK. I don't remember much about Sleuth other than I didn't care for it. I really like Deathtrap, though. But that's an 80's film. I've not seen Charley Varrick (apart from the last 10 minutes or so) or The Parallax View.
Oh yeah forgot Assault... was also in your top 100. Boys from Brazil really intrigues me as the ludicrous plot seems as if it should belong to a trashy b-movie, and yet it was able to attract the considerable talents of Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier and James Mason. Never heard of Deathtrap, will check it out.

While I'm not sure if it would suit genre wise for my 70s thriller season, I may also finally watch another from your list, The Warriors. Perhaps I should just rename it the 'Honeykid inspired season.'

I love this movie but I disagree with you on Faye Dunaway. I really felt her sense of lonelyness and isolation. In a way Redford's charcter mashed well with that as he was also an ousider, albeit a very intelligent one.
To be fair to Dunaway I think she did well with what she was given, but that element of the film just didn't engage me. Came across as too James Bond for me where he can get an adversary just to fall into bed with him with little effort. At least that's how it came across on first viewing. May feel differently on repeat watch. Other than that though loved the film.



Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
For '70s thrillers, you should try The Silent Partner and French Connection II which probably has Gene Hackman's best performance. If you stretch it back to '69, check out Z.
__________________
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
My IMDb page



The Conversation is an amazing character study/thriller. I didn't think it was slow. I was too caught up in the masterful acting, direction, ect. It has a very practical and deliberate pace, and wouldn't be nearly as believable and thus powerfully disturbing if it doesn't unfold as it does. Gene Hackman's performance in the film is one of the truly great film performances, and everything else hinges on that.
__________________
#31 on SC's Top 100 Mofos list!!



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
For '70s thrillers, you should try The Silent Partner and French Connection II which probably has Gene Hackman's best performance. Iif you stretch it back to '69, check out Z.
Thanks for those Mark. Hadn't heard of The Silent Partner and only vaguely knew about Z. Just looked them up and both sound promising. I think I have French Connection II taped on disc somewhere, but didn't get round to it after not really connecting with the first film, despite another terrific Hackman showing.

I also stumbled across another thriller recently that sounded interesting - The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Seen that one?

The Conversation is an amazing character study/thriller. I didn't think it was slow. I was too caught up in the masterful acting, direction, ect. It has a very practical and deliberate pace, and wouldn't be nearly as believable and thus powerfully disturbing if it doesn't unfold as it does. Gene Hackman's performance in the film is one of the truly great film performances, and everything else hinges on that.
I didn't think it was slow on the whole, just the first half perhaps. And even then it wasn't much to the detriment of the film. I just felt it could have been paced a tough quicker. And I'll certainly give you that Hackman's performance is masterful.



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
mirror
mirror



Year of release
1973

Directed by
Don Siegel

Written by
Howard Rodman
Dean Riesner

Starring
Walter Matthau
Joe Don Baker
Andrew Robinson
John Vernon


Charley Varrick

++

Plot - Charley Varrick is a crop duster turned bank robber. When Charley and his partners raid a small bank in the middle of nowhere the stash they are expecting to garner is a few thousand perhaps. Instead things go really well, too well in fact. Finding themselves with a bounty of over $750,000 Charley realises they have stumbled across mob money. So now as well as evading the cops they have to watch over their shoulders for the mafia.

What we have here is an eccentric, oddball depiction of the criminal underworld and those who reside there. With twists and turns round every corner, and a series of peculiar characters this is a tough as nails, but fun offering from Don Siegl. It's a fairly simple narrative, with a plot that is unlikely to stun anyone with its originality. Therefore if it wanted to rise above most of the other entries in the genre it would have to possess great performances, strong direction and a tight script. It's fortunate then that the film is arguably blessed with all of these. It may look a little dated, not far off resembling an episode of Starsky and Hutch or Quincy at points, but everything else is so enjoyable that I soon forgot about that and just got absorbed into the film.

We are thrown straight into the action pretty much. Without any set-up as to what is about to be played out, we find ourselves dropped into an explosive, dynamic opening. While its like might be quite common place these days, the scene still feels extremely fresh and while I don't know for sure if certainly feels like it could have been very influential on the likes of Quentin Tarantino. It really kicks the film off with a real adrenaline rush.

As well as that strong opening we are also presented with a great finale. Though like much of the film it is a touch offbeat, as we get a bizarre chase/battle between a car and a rickety looking biplane. In between the pacing certainly does drop but there is still a lot to enjoy, not least a trail of colourful characters led by a chatty, sex obsessed grandma who lives next door to Charley in the trailer park.

Matthau is terrific in the title role of Charley Varrick, a man self named as 'The last of the independents.'. He may seem like a bit of a subversive choice for the role of a bank robber but it really works. With his hangdog expression and laconic drawl he brings a sensitivity and an honesty to the character. As a result we find ourself rooting for him even though he is a criminal, responsible (at least in part) for multiple deaths and is able to walk away from his wife's dead body without a great deal of drama. Much of the film's fun comes from Varrick striving to stay one step ahead of both the cops and the mob, all while keeping his partner in check, making ever changing plans and trying to find little moments to mourn for his wife. Like those partnering and chasing him we are prone to underestimate him as a result of his easygoing nature, lazy drawl and seemingly non-threatening physical nature. But this is a man of real cunning. A man perfectly summed up by the film's wonderful tagline - ďWhen he runs out of dumb luck, he always has genius to fall back on.Ē

Matthau is also supplied with mostly strong support. Andrew Robinson is a ball of frenetic energy as Charley's partner; the twitchy, greedy and trigger happy Harman Sullivan. Their interaction and ever changing relationship to each other is very enjoyable. Running Mattau close for best and most memorable turn is Joe Don Baker as the mob-hired hitman Molly. He is a sadistic, racist, misogynistic piece of crap to put it bluntly! A really chilling, unlikeable scumbag who is a completely moral black hole. A man who seems to take great pleasure in the grislier elements of his job. Baker may be a nice guy in real life but when someone is so convincing at being so damn despicable you have to wonder if they're not at least a little like that themselves!

Making full use of a smart, exciting script Don Siegel delivers a bold, energetic flick. His direction is understated and simple, never coming off as showy or intrusive. He wisely holds back, allowing the story just to unfold and tell itself. And that story could very easily be found in a noirish world of eternal nights and shadowy streets. Instead it is presented as a daylight noir; full of sunlit deserts landscapes which are beautifully photographed by Michael Butler. As a result of the look and location, the film also has a touch of the Western about it.

The film also embraces the sentiment of their being 'no honour amongst thieves.' With no cops really given much screen time just about every character we meet is only interested in looking out for no.1. Matthau enlists the help of numerous people throughout the film, all of whom have no qualms about turning round and selling him out, as long as there's some profit to be made.

For me the only big miss was Charley's apparent standing as a James Bond-alike ladies man. The fact he can get a much younger mob secretary to fall straight into bed with him just smacks of the ridiculous. Though it does lead to a very amusing scene where he presents his solution to her as to how to deal with a circular bed in terms of which direction to have sex in. His resolution? To 'box the compass', i.e. to do it in all directions!

Conclusion Ė An extremely enjoyable movie that is bookended by two spirited set-pieces and features some charismatic performances, all lead by Matthau's charms.



Yes Z is definitely a landmark film, specially for that time. Costa Gavras's State Of Siege is also worth taking a look at.



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
mirror
mirror



Year of release
1978

Directed by
Franklin J. Shaffner

Written by
Heywood Gould (script)
Ira Levin (novel)

Starring
Laurence Olivier
Gregory Peck
James Mason



The Boys from Brazil

+

Plot - In the setting of 1970s South America, a notorious Nazi War criminal, Dr. Josef Mengele, gathers a group of former Nazis to work on a covert project to establish a Fourth Reich. But when famed Nazi-hunter Ezra Lieberman is enlightened to Mengele's bone-chilling scheme--to clone 94 young Hitlers and cause horror on a global scale--he attempts to unravel the conspiracy.

Look at that plot. I mean really look at it! Creating 94 Hitler clones? Surely that's a plot that belongs to a trashy 1950s B-movie. And yet somehow the project was able to attract such considerable and acclaimed talents as Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, James Mason and eh...Steve Guttenberg....Huh....Ok we lost steam a touch there but we'll carry on. What is quite interesting is that the film chooses to treat this silly, ludicrous concept with such seriousness. It's a losing battle right from the start but as a result I found myself almost getting behind it, willing it on.

While it's unlikely that either Peck or Olivier would have been placing this near the top of their CV, they both do pretty well, and bring a credibility to proceedings that the film doesn't really deserve. Their performances may be a bit pulpy and hammy, but they're quite effective and each has individual moments where they show their talent. Peck barks and smirks as the truly despicable Dr Mengele, while Olivier brings a touch of quiet dignity to the role of Nazi hunter, Ezra Lieberman. Considering the material they're dealing with they both give fairly admirable showings. Though how Olivier was nominated for an Oscar, and Peck for a Golden Globe seems like a bit of a stretch.

To be honest Mengele's grand plan of great genius seems a bit thin and illogical. Are we really to believe that just by recreating some of the same circumstances he is going to get a whole series of Hitlers? Even Bond villians have more realistic ambitions when it comes to their plans for world domination.

It looks like the film had a decent budget as there are some successes in the technical departments. The cinematography is quite impressive, giving a nice gloss to some interesting locations in the globe spanning story. The most striking perhaps being when a murder takes place at a monstrous dam in Sweden. And some of the directing is quite satisfying, able to create a few moments of real suspense and creepiness. And credit to the film for at least taking a reasonable, and I believe accurate angle on the science of cloning.

There are a few moments that are just so ridiculous that they really do create instances of unintentional humour. The main culprit perhaps taking place during a Nazi dance where Mengele attacks a man he believes to be a traitor, sending him crashing through a table of food, before telling the supposed traitor's wife to ďshut up you ugly bitch.Ē This and other moments really do bring out the camp elements of the ridiculous story and over the top characters.

For such a terrifically high concept premise there is actually not a great deal going on for large stretches. Without the 'accidents' that befall the numerous old men my interest would definitely have been waning as for a good hour or so we just go back and forth between Peck cooking up his dastardly plan, and Olivier investigating and attempting to scupper them. And the fact that it takes Lieberman so long to figure it out, a long while after we already have, hurts the momentum. It's only when the two screen legends come face to face in an electric meeting does the film really start to deliver, and provide the excitement we're looking for. After they are hampered by that most formulaic of scenes where Peck pretty much tells Olivier ďI'm going to kill you now, so I can tell you all of my plans.Ē, we get a brutal fight that is dirty and bloody.

Conclusion - It's not a great piece of film-making, or indeed a particularly 'good' film. You will likely guffaw and roll your eyes at it. However, as a daft guilty pleasure it is just about able to scrape a passing grade.



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
mirror
mirror




Year of release
1976

Directed by
John Carpenter

Written by
John Carpenter

Starring
Austin Stoker
Darwin Josten
Laurie Zimmer
Tony Burton


Assault on Precinct 13


Plot - When a group of members from the vicious gang, Street Thunder, are killed by the police, the gang go on a violent spree of vengeance. After brutally killing a young girl, her father hunts down and kills the gang's leader. The man seeks refuge in a police station as the gang close in for revenge. This station however is set for closure and as a result is severely undermanned. Inside a reluctant posse is formed between a cop, a secretary and two convicts. What results is a gripping siege as the gang on the outside attempt to destroy and then storm the station, with only this unusual troupe standing in their way.

Finally got around to seeing this. As a fan of John Carpenter and cult movies in general why it took so long is a bit of a mystery. Anyway now that I have I can see just what I was missing out on.

This is a very early effort from John Carpenter, indeed it was only his second full length feature following Dark Star. As a result it's not as accomplished as some of his later work, it feels a little callow and a bit rough round the edges. In a way I actually think that's beneficial to the film however, helping to build the raw power and intensity. The same could also be said of the acting. It's certainly not the most skilled but as a result it feels quite genuine and honest. It makes the actors resemble underdogs, and that transfers to the characters, just making them more relatable in such a dreadful situation.

With no real budget, no big stars and no great ground-breaking ideas, the film is brilliant in its simplicity. This is impressively economical, taut film-making. It's a lean film that benefits greatly from a tight plot, and from Carpenter's creativity, who seems like he is just taking great joy in creating the chaos. He has laced the film with some classic, colourful dialogue; delivered an extravaganza of shattering windows and non-stop bullets and offered us some rich, lively characters; the pinnacle being convicted killer turned hero, Napoleon Wilson.

With a running time clocking in at less than 90 minutes the film doesn't have a lot of time to waste. In the opening seconds we are with a series of gang members who are gunned down by the police in a tight alley; a real case of shooting fish in a barrel. After such a blistering opening, the ensuing 20/30 minutes are actually a bit of a slow build, and slightly on the weak side. I was starting to get a little worried that this wasn't going to live up to my expectations. And then four members of the gang get into a car and everything starts to ratchet up. Driving along, one of them pulls out a rifle and catches a number of people in the crosshairs. Holding their lives in his hands it is very chilling. They then begin to stalk an ice cream van, going back and forth along the street. And then everything just explodes with a truly shocking moment. A young girl; a picture of innocence, is violently blown away by a gunshot to the chest. It's a real 'woah' moment and really shows what these guys are capable of. That was the moment that really made me sit up and take notice of this.

From there on in it is pretty much a relentless and ruthless assault on our nerves and senses, as well as the precinct. We are given brief interludes, or a touch of humour which allow us to briefly relax before the next shock or volley of ammunition come hurtling our way. The pace is frantic, the developments unpredictable, the action coming in furious bursts. Breaking from the norm is one respect however is the gunfire. While in most films it would be a deafening cacophony throughout, here Carpenter has the gang predominantly using silencers. As a result we get a unique ping from each shot, which creates a slightly offbeat, even eerie atmosphere. It all adds up to an extremely tense and suspenseful experience, amplified I think by the setting of the police station. No matter what happens we can always see the police as an escape, a reliable source of help. Well if even they are powerless against such terror what hope do we have?

Now while I like to think I can appreciate a movie score as much as the next film fan, it's only on rare occasions that I would list it amongst my absolute favourite elements of a film. Well Assault on Precinct 13 is one of those rare films. Carpenter's self penned, moody synthesised score is just a joy to behold. As a device to ramp up the tension during the siege it is an extremely effective tool. However it was the theme tune used for the opening and closing credits which was just absorbed by mind, and that I've been playing over and over ever since. There was something about it that made me feel as if I were transported to a dark, grimy video arcade; and over in the corner that tune is emanating from a side scrolling beat-em-up. But maybe that's just me! What I'm saying is that it's fantastic. Will most likely register as one of my favourite scores.

While it is quite common knowledge that the film is inspired by Howard Hawks' classic western, Rio Bravo, that's not the genre that I was most reminded of. Instead it was of a horror film, a zombie flick in particular. The way the gang members emerge from the shadows, and slowly advance upon the police station certainly evoked images of shuffling zombies closing in like a pack of wolves. Add to that the way they try and stumble in through the windows, crashing into the blinds as they do so, in an almost mindless manner. And the fact that throughout the gang members remain nameless, pretty much faceless and almost wordless, and it just builds up their surfeit of malevolence and viciousness. They are brutal and merciless; and no matter how many of them are killed more just seem to appear out of the woodwork.

Though did I just pick it up wrong or should this actually be called Assault on Precinct 9?

Conclusion - Compared to much of the other 70s fare I've been enjoying of late this certainly isn't as subtle, nuanced or cerebral. But who cares? It's fast, furious balls out fun! Despite it's meagre budget it's a film that certainly stands the test of time, and with this out there as great educational material as to how you make a riveting, thrilling action film, how is it still so much better than most recent entries in the genre? A B-movie it may be, but that doesn't mean it can't be brilliant. A film truly deserving of it's cult classic status.



Good whiskey make jackrabbit slap de bear.
I've wanted to Assault On Precinct 13 for a while. The premise sounds interesting, and I generally like John Carpenter's films. And since I've agreed with most of your ratings so far, I'm gonna check it out.
__________________
"George, this is a little too much for me. Escaped convicts, fugitive sex... I've got a cockfight to focus on."



Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
I applaud JD for mentioning these worthwhile films. I like the reviews but not so much the ratings, but that's as far as I'm going. Some blockbusters don't need to be rated high and some cult flicks need to be rated high. Somebody can do it without me moaning. My bottom line is that the last several "'70s Thrillers" should all be seen, so if you haven't, take the time to do it. Hopefully, you'll find it rewarding.



Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
I wish everyone did their reviews set out like this, fabulous.
Thanks Nausicaš. Any particular element you like, or is it just as a whole package?

I've wanted to Assault On Precinct 13 for a while. The premise sounds interesting, and I generally like John Carpenter's films. And since I've agreed with most of your ratings so far, I'm gonna check it out.
Nice to see you hold my ratings in such high regard. And if/when you check it out I hope you thoroughly enjoy it.