Back in September, I started a deep dive into the cinema of 1978. This was mostly on a whim and 1978 was chosen just because it was the year of my birth (i.e. it’s still pretty arbitrary), but it’s been an interesting exercise so far. Since September, usual blogging traditions have somewhat gotten in the way, especially the Six Weeks of Halloween (which at least had some 1978 entries) and the recap of 2019 movies. Now that we’re clear, I’ve built up a pretty steady backlog of 1978 flicks to cover, so strap in. These are the older ones that I watched in Decemberish timeframe, so recollections might be a bit more sparse, but here goes:
- The Silent Partner – Elliott Gould plays a sullen bank teller who is able to anticipate a bank robbery and works things so that he ends up with the money while the blame goes to the robber. Realizing he’s been conned, the robber (played by Christopher Plummer) tracks Gould down to engage in a game of cat and also-cat. With Susannah York along for the ride as the love interest and John Candy in an early role. Special notice goes to Gail Dahms-Bonine, the buxom blonde who works at the bank and wears t-shirts with bank-themed innuendo (i.e. “Penalty for early withdrawal” and “Bankers Do It With More Interest”). A decent enough 70s thriller that doesn’t have much else on its mind, Gould has charisma but the character as written is a bit of a cold fish. Not as smart as he thinks he is, but smarter than the robber, who is far more ruthless. It’s an interesting battle of wills that only occasionally breaks suspension of disbelief. It’s a fun little flick, if not exactly mindblowing. ***
- Message from Space – Kinji Fukasaku helmed this Japanese Star Wars ripoff. It has a nonsensical plot that’s almost not worth describing at all, solid special effects for low-budget 1978 Japan, great costumes and production design, and a soundtrack that apes Star Wars except when it turns into surf-rock.
Highlights include the Darth Vader analog wearing a Shogun-esque costume (his mother is the Emperor, which was a nice touch), the Battlestar-esque ships mixed with ships with, like, space-sails and shit, like something out of Master and Commander but in space (anyone remember Spelljammer? No? Just me? Ok then). Sonny Chiba and Vic Morrow provide some recognizable faces and you’ll recognize a lot of stuff copied from Star Wars, which makes it feel familiar even if it’s completely bonkers. Worth a watch for fans of batshit insane cinema, but not exactly “good” but then, what does “good” even mean in this context? **1/2
- Force 10 from Navarone – Straightforward men-on-a-mission in WWII flick is pretty entertaining, if a bit derivative. It doesn’t really do anything new with the story, and previous films in this arena are certainly better (i.e. the original Guns of the Navarone or Where Eagles Dare are far better), but there’s something to be said for a well executed formulaic film like this, and it’s a decent enough watch. Seeing the likes of a young Harrison Ford (just off Star Wars), Robert Shaw, Carl Weathers, and a bunch of “that guys” like Richard Kiel and Franco Nero help out considerably, but again, it doesn’t really stand up to previous iterations on similar stories (or, as we’ll see later in this series of posts, other 1978 men-on-a-mission movies). **1/2
- The Avenging Eagle – You know what, I might have to have a separate top 10 of 1978 for martial arts flicks, because there are just tons of great entries in 1978. I wasn’t expecting much out of this one, but it was a really fun flick with great action sequences and decent enough performances.
The story involves two guys running into each other on the road to their respective tasks of honor, or something like that (one of them is seeking to atone for dishonor). Initially distrustful of one another, they eventually gain an unconventional respect for one another. Again, fantastic fight sequences scattered throughout, and they stand up to the heavyweights in the genre. Plus the villain has metal claw hands, which is fun. ***
- The Redeemer: Son of Satan! – A priest (or maybe a demon or a priest possessed by a demon, or something like that) lures a group of former classmates to a high school reunion, traps them in the building, and starts killing them off one by one, citing their sins as justification. It sounds like it would an interesting sorta proto-slasher (or at least a proto Slaughter High), but it’s far more surreal than that. This might really click with a certain type of viewer, but it did not click very well with me. There’s some interesting visual tags here and there, but there’s a fine line between surreal and nonsense, and this veers a little too far towards nonsense, and the characters aren’t especially likable, which makes the whole affair fall a little flat. Maybe the film thinks it’s explaining things enough, but it didn’t really make much sense, and the scares were pretty rote and unmemorable. The only thing that really strikes me, a few months later, is the opening and closing shots of the film. I have no idea what they mean, but they kinda work? I dunno, it’s not the worst movie, but it’s not something that’ll climb very far on the 1978 rankings… **
- Girlfriends – This slice-of-life, angst and ennui of a 20-something woman in NYC has become something of an indie cliche in recent years, but this sort of thing was exceedingly rare back in 1978. This is emphatically not my style of movie, but I’ll say this: I liked this a lot better than I liked Frances Ha (which clearly models itself as a sorta modernized Girlfriends). It’s hard to deny the sincerity and genuine affection the film has for its characters and the way they grow apart and together, change, and evolve. It’s not really my thing, but it’s well done and I’m glad I watched it. **1/2
We’ll follow this up with another post on 1978 flicks soon, so keep your eyes open for that. I mean, you can still blink. And you’ll probably need to sleep before I post the next one. Just, you know, do normal things with your eyes, but at some point, you’ll be able to point them at another post on 1978 movies, which I’m sure you (and the other 3 people who still read blogs) will be spellbound.
Current tally of 1978 films seen: 53 films (I covered 6 in this post, but another 5 are already in the hopper for the next post…)