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 Popular Seventies Movies - A-E

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AARON LOVES ANGELA
Drama, 1975, USA, R, * * 1/2 (4 star rating system)
Kevin Hooks, Irene Cara, Robert Hooks, Ernestine Jackson, Jose Feliciano, Walt Frazier, Moses Gunn. Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. 99 min.

videos bullet iconAn updating of the "Romeo and Juliet" plot, filmed and set in New York City with a pre-Fame Irene Cara in the Juliet role. Unfortunately, director Parkes didn't seem to believe that a movie for black audiences could succeed without large doses of violence, so there is also a major subplot involving some of the seedier aspects of street life. The result is an uneven mixture of comedy, romance, action, and exploitation that succeeds just enough to make you disappointed when it doesn't. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ACROSS 110TH STREET
Action/Adventure, 1972, USA, R, * *
Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto, Paul Benjamin, Antonio Fargas, Anthony Franciosa. Directed by Barry Shear. 102 min.

videos bullet iconShrill, violent film about a war between a Harlem gang and the mob. Quinn and Kotto are two cops caught in the middle as they investigate. Only about half a step up from bad blaxploitation mostly because of higher production values and a good performance from Kotto. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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AIRPORT
Drama, 1970, USA, G, * * 1/2
Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, Maureen Stapleton, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara Hale. Directed by George Seaton. 137 min.

videos bullet iconA lumpy, slow, but amiable disaster movie about a bomb on board a jet and the secret lives of the jeopardized all-star cast, Airport was a hugely popular and, surprisingly, critical success when it opened. Since then, the already dated film has been rendered virtually irrelevant by the sequels, rip-offs, and parodies it spawned. It functions best as a sort of "Love Boat" with intrigue instead of romance, and if Arthur Hailey's insipid, simplistic plot bores you, the cast remains entertaining. Best among them is Helen Hayes, who won an Academy Award as a generically feisty old lady, and Maureen Stapleton, who invests a stock role with startling emotional intensity. The sequels were Airport 1975 (1974), Airport '77 (1977), and Airport '79 - The Concorde (1979). Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE
Drama, 1974, USA, PG, * * * *
Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Diane Ladd, Jodie Foster, Alfred Lutter, Vic Tayback, Harvey Keitel. Directed by Martin Scorsese. 113 min.

videos bullet iconScorsese's searing vision of a woman in search of herself goes from city streets to suburban bleakness to create a unique, bittersweet portrait of a newly widowed wife who decides to hit the road with her smart-aleck son and resume the singing career she abandoned for marriage. It's a moving and often funny tale, bolstered by seriocomic vignettes of a woman in pursuit of the American dream. Ellen Burstyn won an Academy Award for her vibrant, multifaceted portrayal of Alice, and country singer Kris Kristofferson gives his most honest performance as her earthy lover. This important movie was the basis for the mediocre television series Alice. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ALICE, SWEET ALICE
Horror/Science Fiction, 1976, USA, R, * * *
Brooke Shields, Tom Signorelli, Louis Horton, Paula Sheppard, Lillian Roth. Directed by Alfred Sole. 96 min.

videos bullet iconThis visually intriguing and thematically complex horror film has so much going on that it's no wonder the director can't resolve the loose ends. But what a pleasure to see a horror film that has more on its mind than bumping off teenagers. Dealing with the transference of guilt and intense sibling rivalry that affects two generations of sisters, the film probes human emotion with amazing intensity. In its exploration of the influence of the Catholic Church on its members' personal lives, saddling them with guilt, the film is uncomfortably on target. When her lovable sister is found burned to death on Communion Day, a jealous sibling is suspected, the shadow of this crime follows her throughout childhood. Cruel and incisive, the film would have been a classic if the false leads had been juggled more persuasively. (a.k.a.: Communion and Holy Terror) Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ALIEN
Horror/Science Fiction, 1979, USA, R, * * 1/2
Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm. Directed by Ridley Scott. 105 min.

videos bullet iconRidley Scott's moody outer-space horror film has an intergalactic garbage truck accidentally picking up an omnivorous, metamorphic monster as cargo. Alien benefits from a fine cast, Scott's high style, and up-to-the-minute special effects by a team that included Carlo (E.T.) Rambaldi and H.R. Giger. Scott's view of the cosmos as a series of grubby dumping grounds for the refuse of civilization is unusual enough to be refreshing, and Sigourney Weaver, in her film debut, makes a formidable heroine. There are well-calculated shrieks and explosions of gore throughout, but as the alien picks off Nostromo's crew members one by one, the story underlying this superabundance of technique emerges as a hackneyed old mad-slasher plot. Among its greater and more annoying pretensions is an intentionally muffled dialogue soundtrack. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ALL THAT JAZZ
Musical, 1979, USA, R, * * 1/2
Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer, Cliff Gorman, Ben Vereen. Directed by Bob Fosse. 123 min.

videos bullet iconRoy Scheider gives one of his best performances in Fosse's lavish, indulgent autobiographical musical drama about a brilliant, pill-popping filmmaker in the fast lane. Fosse may have chosen an ugly subject -- himself -- but he directed some scenes in a glitzy, colorful style. Most of the dance sequences, which Fosse choreographed, are highly imaginative. The final number is painfully drawn out and unpleasant. Oscars went to the costume design and musical score. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN
Drama, 1976, USA, PG, * * * *
Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jane Alexander. Directed by Alan J. Pakula. 138 min.

videos bullet iconA courageous attempt to present how Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) uncovered the 1972 Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign. William Goldman's Oscar-winning screenplay, based on Woodward and Bernstein's book, details everything from the actual break-in at National Democratic headquarters to Woodward's clandestine meetings with White House source "Deep Throat," to the editorial meeting that nearly killed the story, to the final break on the eve of Nixon's oath of office. Alan J. Pakula admirably creates a suspenseful detective thriller out of the predetermined story line, and, while the performances (especially Best Supporting Actor Jason Robards as Post editor Ben Bradlee) are competent and credible, it is the brilliant re-creation of the 1972 Post newsroom that is most enthralling about the film. A well-deserved Oscar went to art director George Jenkins and set decorator George Gaines. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ALOHA, BOBBY AND ROSE
Drama, 1975, USA, PG, * 1/2
Paul Le Mat, Dianne Hull, Tim McIntire, Leigh French, Robert Carradine, Martine Bartlett. Directed by Floyd Mutrux. 85 min.

videos bullet iconTwo young lovers flee the Sunset Strip for Mexico when a foolish joke tragically misfires. The film also misfires, failing both to engage our sympathies toward the protagonist and to provoke our anger towards the antagonist. Paul Le Mat and screen newcomer Dianne Hull mechanically portray the hard-luck couple, and writer-director Mutrux's substitutiosn of chic mise-en-scène for grainy realism doesn't help matters. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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AMERICAN GRAFFITI
Comedy, 1973, USA, PG, * * * 1/2
Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Harrison Ford, Wolfman Jack, Suzanne Somers. Directed by George Lucas. 109 min.

videos bullet iconFor this bittersweet nostalgia, George Lucas ransacks his memories of high school graduation night in California circa 1962 to come up with a thin but superlatively evocative portrait of an era. Featuring greasers, cuddly carhops on roller skates, and that time-honored American ritual, cruising. Almost every one of the actors in the talented young cast went on to something bigger, if not necessarily better; watching it now, you may find yourself reminiscing as much about '73 as about '62. A less successful sequel, More American Graffiti, was released in 1979. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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AMERICAN HOT WAX
Musical, 1978, USA, PG, * * *
Tim McIntire, Fran Drescher, Jay Leno, John Lehne, Laraine Newman, Jeff Altman, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Directed by Floyd Mutrux. 91 min.

videos bullet iconRose-colored story of controversial 1950s disc jockey Alan Freed. Uneven dramatically, but Tim McIntire is excellent, the period flavor is strong, and the original rock 'n' roll acts are fun to see. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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AMERICATHON
Comedy, 1979, USA, PG, * 1/2
Peter Reigert, Harvey Korman, Fred Willard, Zane Busby, Nancy Morgan, John Ritter, Richard Schall, Elvis Costello, Chief Dan George, Meat Loaf, Jay Leno. Directed by Neal Israel. 85 min.

videos bullet iconThe premise of this tired, scattershot farce isn't a bad one: in 1998, the U.S. government has run aground under the leadership of a young, dopey president and must hold a telethon to save itself from being bought out by a manufacturer of jogging suits. Unfortunately, it goes nowhere as a satire of politics, television, contemporary mores, or anything else. Director Neal Israel (Bachelor Party) crams the film with so many stupid gags that you won't even notice the few good ones, and the diverse comic talents of the cast go largely to waste. One of the major jokes identifies Fred Silverman, program chieftan of ABC and NBC in the 1970s and early 1980s as the president (1980-88) who first brought America to financial ruin, which should clue you in as to how quickly the whole thing has become stale. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
Horror/Science Fiction, 1979, USA, R, * 1/2
James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud, Murray Hamilton, John Larch, Helen Shaver. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. 117 min.

videos bullet iconNothing much happens -- horrible or otherwise -- in this allegedly true story of a Long Island dream house possessed by demons. Although director Rosenberg (Voyage of the Damned) does manage to keep us knotted with tension at the mere prospect of being frightened, the film is flat, dull, and literal-minded. Kidder is as wired and sexy as ever, although here she often seems to be looking around nervously for something to do. Brolin, as her husband, driven bats by the resident malign forces, appears much more comfortable -- like many other TV veterans, he seems perfectly content to do nothing. As for Steiger, he does way too much. Based on Jay Anson's bestseller, it was followed by a "prequel": Amityville II: The Possession. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN
Horror/Science Fiction, 1971, USA, G, * * 1/2
Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, Paula Kelly. Directed by Robert Wise. 130 min.

videos bullet iconMichael Crichton's authentic-seeming best-seller about a gruop of scientists attempting to contain a deadly alien virus becomes an opulently mounted, overlong film by Robert Wise. But the final suspense sequence -- a race against the clock, the virus, and a nuclear detonation system -- is a doozy. The cast is solid and modest. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ANNIE HALL
Comedy, 1977, USA, PG, * * * *
Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Paul Simon, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Christopher Walken. Directed by Woody Allen. 95 min.

videos bullet iconWoody Allen's touching, bittersweet comedy tells a tale of life and love in New York City. Allen plays Alvy Singer, a neurotic, Jewish comedian. Diane Keaton is Annie Hall, Alvy's unlikely love interest. Allen employs a wide array of cinematic techniques to explore the minds of his protagonists and the reasons their relationship finally fails. At one point, the dialogue is accompanied by hilarious subtitles that clue us in to what the characters are really feeling. The result of all this movie magic is one of the warmest, funniest, and most consistent works Allen has ever given us. The Academy chose wisely that year and awarded Annie Hall Oscars for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman), and Best Actress (Diane Keaton). Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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APOCALYPSE NOW
Drama, 1979, USA, R, * * * *
Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, G.D. Spradlin. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 153 min.

videos bullet iconA flawed masterpiece, Coppola's years-in-the-making reworking of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness becomes the epic hallucination of the Vietnam War -- Vietnam as the ultimate trip. The effect is so vivid and unnerving that it almost doesn't matter if the acting is variable and the script (especially Michael Herr's "hard-boiled" narration) uneven. Coppola released several different versions of this -- the 35mm and 70mm copies were different lengths -- and developed an elaborate sound presentation. It should be seen in a theater and will lose immeasurably on a television screen. A small-screen viewing, however, could be useful for a serious dissection, and Marlon Brando's very strange performance might be easier to take a bit at a time. The highlight: a flabbergasting helicopter-attack sequence, in which Coppola forges nightmare beauty out of sheer destruction. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG
Children's, 1975, USA, G, * * 1/2
Bill Bixby, Susan Clark, Don Knotts, Tim Conway, Slim Pickens, Harry Morgan, Clay O'Brien, Brad Savage, Stacy Manning. Directed by Norman Tokar. 100 min.

videos bullet iconBill Bixby is the handsome gambler who wins three kids in a poker game in this light, pleasant Disney Western. Don Knotts and Tim Conway steal the show with their bumbling antics (and they came back for the idiotic 1979 sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again). Although the movie isn't sidesplitting, children will enjoy watching the three likable moppets tangle with bad guys, find a huge gold nugget, and win the gambler's heart. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13
Action/Adventure, 1976, USA, R, * * * 1/2
Darwin Johnson, Austin Stoker, Nancy Loomis, Kim Richards. Directed by John Carpenter. 90 min.

videos bullet iconDirector John Carpenter's reworking of Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo has a group of policemen and convicts trapped inside of an abandoned precinct station by dozens of gang members. Carpenter slowly builds up the action and has it violently explode in a series of exciting gun battles. A lot of notable characterizations are on hand from the cast of unknowns. Carpenter exhibits the dark style that made his next movie, Halloween, into a gigantic hit. Assault shows this director at the top of his form. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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AT THE EARTH'S CORE
Action/Adventure, 1976, Great Britain, PG, * * *
Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro, Cy Grant. Directed by Kevin Connor. 89 min.

videos bullet iconAn enjoyable re-creation of the Saturday-afternoon adventure that avoids the self-consciousness or overt parody that marks most such efforts of the '70s. Peter Cushing is a doddering Victorian scientist who invents an earth-boring machine. During a test run, he and assistant McClure accidentally drill their way down to a prehistoric civilization beneath the earth's surface, where they are taken captive by bird-men and undergo various thrills, chills and spills. This is the second in a series that also included The Land That Time Forgot and The People That Time Forgot, all from stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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AUTUMN SONATA
Drama, 1978, Sweden, PG, * * * *
Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. 97 min.

videos bullet iconIngrid Bergman gives a wrenching performance as a concert pianist who returns home to visit her oldest daughter (Ullmann), a grown woman who still aches with the memory of her mother's neglect of her as a child. Overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and resentment, the women approach an emotional climax in which each tries to understand the power and significance of the past. One of Ingmar Bergman's most moving films, Autumn Sonata features remarkable, intelligent performances by two great actresses. It was dubbed by Bergman and Ullmann. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BAD COMPANY
Western, 1972, USA, PG, * * * 1/2
Jeff Bridges, Barry Brown, Jim Davis, David Huddleston, John Savage, Jerry Houser. Diercted by Robert Benton. 93 min.

Robert Benton's directorial debut is a period piece in two senses -- it evokes both the outlaw spirit of the West during the Civil War, when it takes place, and the cynical disillusionment of so many American films of the early 1970s, when it was made. Certainly, it's among the most thoughtful and intelligent of the so-called anti-Westerns, films which turned genre conventions and clichés about honor, duty, and heroism inside out. The "good guys" in Bad Company are a timid young Methodist (Barry Brown) who flees to Virginia City to avoid the draft, and the amoral AWOL soldier (Jeff Bridges) with whom he forms a very uneasy alliance. Before he knows it, they run afoul of both sides of the law and head for the unexpectedly bleak frontier. Funny, sad, and consistently surprising, with excellent performances from all and cinematography by Gordon Willis that is in itself a complex portrait of the old West. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BADLANDS
Drama, 1973, USA, PG, * * * *
Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates. Directed by Terrence Malick. 94 min.

videos bullet iconUsing the actual 1950s killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, Malick has fashioned a film of cool, stark beauty. Both stars are marvelous: Sheen manages to be boyishly open while retaining a mysterious, murderous undertone, and Spacek provides a deadly, dispassionate voice-over narration that undercuts her naive, wholesome screen persona. An astonishing directoral debut for Malick, who also wrote and produced this low-budget stunner. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE BAD NEWS BEARS
Comedy, 1976, USA, PG, * * * 1/2
Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal, Jackie Earle Haley, Vic Morrow, Joyce Van Patton, Alfred Lutter. Directed by Michael Ritchie. 102 min.

videos bullet iconDirector Michael Ritchie brings his wonderfully offbeat, ironic sense of humor to this box-office hit about a losing Little League team that makes a miraculous turnaround when female pitcher Tatum O'Neal joins their ranks and inspires home-run hitter Jackie Earle Haley to play too. Walther Matthau is perfectly cast as the grumbling, beer-guzzling coach who learns a little bit about life from his motley crew of hilarious, pint-sized misfits. It's a delightful chunk of foul-mouthed but family-style Americana. Two inferior sequels sans Ritchie followed, the smarmy The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977) and the simpleminded The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978). Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BANANAS
Comedy, 1971, USA, PG, * * * *
Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalban, Howard Cosell. Directed by Woody Allen. 82 min.

videos bullet iconMild-mannered products tester Fielding Melesh (Woody Allen), dying to impress his activist girlfriend (Louise Lasser), visits a banana republic and winds up leading a revolution. This sprawling, hilarious early film from one of America's greatest directors features scores of one-liners and sight gags, most of which are on the mark. Howard Cosell narrates the fall of a dictator, and Sylvester Stallone appears briefly as a thug. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY
Drama, 1973, USA, PG, * * * 1/2
Michael Moriarty, Robert DeNiro, Vincent Gardenia, Phil Foster, Anne Wedgeworth, Tim Ligon, Selma Diamond. Directed by John Hancock. 98 min.

videos bullet iconPowerhouse performances by Robert DeNiro and Michael Moriarty draw every emotive possibility from the sad story of a big-league catcher's fatal disease. DeNiro is immersed in the role of the slow-thinking, tobacco-chewing Pearson, and Moriarty gives just the right toughness to his thoughtful, golden-boy pitcher. There is a great sense of each actor continually changing character nuances to act as a foil for the other. What is less obvious, but no less affecting, is the incipient humor of the film, delicately nudged along by Vincent Gardenia, Selma Diamond, and the rest of the expert cast. The film is based on Mark Harris's excellent baseball novel of 1956, and Harris worked on the screenplay. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
Horror/Science Fiction, 1973, USA, G, * *
Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins, Natalie Trundy, Severn Darden, Paul Williams, John Huston. Directed by J. Lee Thompson. 88 min.

videos bullet iconThe fifth and final installment of the Planet of the Apes series is a disappointing, sloppy closer, with the mutated humans returning at the turn of the millennium for violent conflict with the apes, who are still enslaving the healthy ones. Paul Dehn, who wrote parts two, three, and four, only planned the story for this one, and the absence of his skilled hand is felt. The series as a whole is one of the few multipart film stories in which the sequels flesh out the original rather than rehash it. The five films are best viewed in the order in which they were made, but can also be rearranged in terms of when they take place. Start with Escape (part three), then watch Conquest (part four), and Battle, then go back to the original, and conclude with Beneath (part two); that film leads directly to Escape again. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BEDNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS
Children's, 1971, USA, G, * * *
Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowell, Sam Jaffe, John Ericson. Directed by Robert Stevenson. 117 min.

videos bullet iconThis Disney comedy-fantasy is much better than most of the syrup that poured out of the studio in the early 1970s, thanks to a winning turn by Angela Lansbury and a nicely developed sense of period from veteran director Robert Stevenson. The story, set in World War II London, has good-witch-in-training Eglantine Price (Lansbury) squiring a brood of moppets around Merrie Olde England as it comes magically to life. Very sweet-natured, perhaps too much so for older kids, but the mix of animation and live action will enthrall young ones. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE BEGUILED
Drama, 1970, USA, * * *
Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, Jo Ann Harris, Darleen Carr, Mae Mercer. Directed by Don Siegel. 105 min.

videos bullet iconDirector Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood both work against their usual indications by suppressing action and emphasizing mood. A dreamy, creepy gothic film about a wounded Confederate soldier who finds refuge at an all-girl seminary. The movie is dominated by Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman playing two neurotic spinsters who realize that they hold the life of an attractive young man in the sweaty palms of their grasping hands. A strange, expressionistic film told with rare flair, but marred by a lack of dramatic buildup. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BEING THERE
Comedy, 1979, USA, PG, * * * *
Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden, Richard Dysart, Richard Basehart, David Clennon. Directed by Hal Ashby. 130 min.

videos bullet iconPeter Sellers is wonderful in this, his last major film before his untimely death. He plays a character who watches endless amounts of television and who is literally without character, an imbecile who has spent all of his fifty-odd years inside the house of a benefactor. Kicked out into the real world by lawyers after the old man's death, he accidentally falls in with a series of increasingly powerful people who see in his silence and reticence a tacit wisdom; he becomes all things to all people simply by innocently echoing them. Based on Jerry Kosinski's novel, the film is very funny and frequently poignant, and has something important to say about the often deadening effect of television on our citizenry and body politic. Beautiful soft-focus photography by Caleb Daschanel (The Natural). Melvyn Douglas won the Best Supporting Oscar; Sellers was nominated for Best Actor. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE BELL JAR
Drama, 1979, USA, R, *
Marilyn Hassett, Julie Harris, Anne Jackson, Barbara Barrie, Robert Klein, Donna Mitchell, Mary Louise Weller, Jameson Parker, Thaao Penghlis. Directed by Larry Peerce. 112 min.

A virginal intellect is driven mad by philistines, lechers, and lesbians in a film that could be called The Perils of Sylvia Plath. This adaptation of the poet's autobiographical novel, an account of her first brush with madness and suicide while a student at Smith in the early 1950s, is a true story without a single believeable scene. The movie fairly crawls with heartless anti-intellectuals and sex fiends, and every time sex rears its ugly head, Hassett goes nuts. We know she's going nuts because she keeps opening her mouth wide and yelling, "Aargh! Aargh! Aargh!" This Esther injects snatches of Plath's famous Ariel poems into her daily conversation, even spouting a choice line or two on the way to shock therapy. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BEN
Horror/Science Fiction, 1972, USA, PG, *
Lee Harcourt Montgomery, Joseph Campanella, Arthur O'Connel, Rosemary Murphy, Merideth Baxter, Kaz Garas. Directed by Phil Karlson. 95 min.

videos bullet iconYou've seen the story a hundred times before: boy meets rat, boy gets rat, boy loses rat... all right, maybe not a hundred times, and certainly never done with the hilarious ineptitude that characterizes this sequel to Willard. Willard (the boy) is gone, but Ben (the rat) is back, leading an army of four thousand rodent pals in a terrorist rampage through Los Angeles, and befriending a little boy (Lee Harcourt Montgomery) with a bad heart. The mawkish scenes with Montgomery are so bad that they really are funny; by the time he sits down to compose a ballad for his new best friend, you'll laugh out loud. (The tune, sung by Michael Jackson, is, as far as we know, the only love song about a rat to be nominated for a Best Song Oscar.) Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BENJI
Children's, 1974, USA, G, * *
Higgins (Benji), Cynthia Smith, Allen Fiuzak, Peter Breck, Frances Bavier. Directed by Joe Camp. 89 min.

videos bullet iconYes, the dog outacts the humans, and there is a sticky-sweet theme song, and the plotting isn't going to exercise anybody's intellect, but children will adore both the film and the resourceful canine who stars in it, and adults will groan less often than they might expect. The animal antics are expertly engineered by Camp and trainer Frank Inn, and if the story is a little thin, it could be worse -- at least he's a dog and not a Smurf. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES
Horror/Science Fiction, 1970, USA, G, * * 1/2
James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston, Natalie Trundy. Directed by Ted Post. 95 min.

videos bullet iconNumber two in the Planet of the Apes cycle is, perhaps inevitably, a letdown, but moderately exciting nevertheless. Picking up in the late 40th century where the original left off, this much grimmer story has the apes battling the grotesque mutant humans who live under the postnuclear earth and worship the Bomb, while astronaut James Franciscus arrives to hunt down the missing Taylor (Charlton Heston). All of the original cast members reprise their roles here except for Roddy McDowall, who was replaced by David Watson but who returned to the series in part three. The screenplay by Paul Dehn (who also wrote the next two films) culminates in the apocalypse, but don't be fooled -- the mere destruction of the planet couldn't stop the producers from churning out three more episodes (Escape from the Planet of the Apes [1971], Conquest of the Planet of the Apes [1972] and Battle for the Planet of the Apes [1973]) to this money machine. Great makeup, once again, by John Chambers and Dan Striepeke. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE BETSY
Drama, 1978, USA, R, * * 1/2
Laurence Olivier, Robert Duvall, Katherine Ross, Tommy Lee Jones, Jane Alexander, Lesley-Anne Downe, Joseph Wiseman, Kathleen Beller, Edward Herrmann. Directed by Daniel Petrie. 125 min.

videos bullet iconHarold Robbins's cheesy novel about lust and betrayal in a family of auto magnates becomes a fairly entertaining pre-Dynasty soap opera, thanks to a cast that knows it's better than the material but still relishes every sleazy plot machination. Best of all is Lord Larry as the patriarch, giving what may be his only out-and-out camp performance (wait until you hear his Southern accent). Not a moment of art will be found here, but it's ideal trash for those who like a low-rent plot with a classy veneer. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
Drama, 1970, USA, X, *
Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John LaZar, Edy Williams, Michael Blodgett. Directed by Russ Meyer. 109 min.

videos bullet iconA title of sublime irrelevance is attached to a film that verges on the unbelievable. The Carrie Nations -- a lively all-girl rock band -- travel to Los Angeles, where they meet enigmatic rock mogul Z-Man Barzel and plunge headlong into his wild world of drugs, parties, and kinky sex. Garish nonsense directed by soft-core pornographer Russ Meyer, and written by Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert. The film's scenes are tasteless and incompetent to an almost perversely funny degree. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BILLY JACK
Action/Adventure, 1971, USA, PG, * *
Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor, Clark Howat, Bert Freed, Julie Webb. Directed by Tom Laughlin, using pseudonym T.C. Frank. 114 min.

videos bullet iconWith its muddleheaded mixture of issues-of-the-hour (Vietnam, drugs, Indian rights), exploitative violence, preachy pacifism, and antiestablishment clamor, Billy Jack emerged as the surprise hit of the early 1970s. Despite its amateurish performances and uneven production, the film struck a nerve among the nation's young. With that nerve no longer quite so raw, contemporary audiences may see this film and rightfully wonder what made it such a hit in 1971 -- about all Billy Jack brings off now is a low-grade action with protracted polemical blather. The thin story involves rape and retribution at an Indian reservation, and Tom Laughlin (who also wrote and directed) proves self-conscious and silly in all three departments. Technically a sequel to Born Losers (1967), Billy Jack was followed by the unsuccessful The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) and the barely released Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977). Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BLAZING SADDLES
Comedy, 1974, USA, R, * * * *
Clevon Little, Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Mel Brooks, David Huddleston, Dom DeLuise. Directed by Mel Brooks. 93 min.

videos bullet iconAn outrageously irreverent comedy that dismantles all the myths of the Old West with great, nasty flair, Blazing Saddles was the first and remains one of the best of Mel Brooks's genre spoofs. The sketchy story concerns a black sheriff assigned to the unfriendly, un-black Westen town of Rock Ridge, but it's no more than an excuse for a machine-gun succession of gags that upend every cowboy convention. The cast is wonderfully hammy, with top honors going to Madeline Kahn as Lil Von Shtupp, a barroom chanteuse whose world-weary solo would put Marlene Dietrich to shame. Andrew Bergman (Fletch) and Richard Pryor were among those who contributed to the uneven screenplay, whose humor treads a delicate line between spoofing racism and falling prey to it. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BLESS THE BEASTS AND THE CHILDREN
Children's, 1972, USA, PG, * * * 1/2
Bill Mumy, Barry Robins, Miles Chapin, Darel Claser, Bob Kramer. Directed by Stanley Kramer. 101 min.

videos bullet iconA message picture that never preaches is definitely a plus, but when real characterizations are added and an interesting story glides the movie along, an exceptional film is created. Bless is the funny, touching story of a gang of misfits who band together to fight a government-sponsored buffalo hunt. Directed by Stanley Kramer with a good feel for his actors and a fine sense of satire. Based on the fine juvenile novel by Glendon Swarthout. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BLUE COLLAR
Drama, 1978, USA, R, * * 1/2
Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, Ed Begley, Jr. Directed by Paul Schrader. 114 min.

videos bullet iconPaul Schrader's first directorial effort, scripted with his brother Leonard, is a realistic, hard-driving portrait of three Detroit auto workers caught in a frustrating whirlpool of bitterness, mounting debts, and rampant union corruption. Although the film begins strongly, with a rarely seen Hollywood look at the proletariat, it quickly slips into a rather tired caper film. A nice Carter-era film of the deteriorating manufacturing class. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BLUME IN LOVE
Comedy, 1973, USA, R, * * * *
George Segal, Susan Anspach, Kris Kristofferson, Marsha Mason, Shelly Winters, Donald F. Muhich, Paul Mazursky. Directed by Paul Mazursky. 115 min.

videos bullet iconPaul Mazursky's takes a gentle, acerbic look at shattering marital traditions amid 1960s Southern California chic. George Segal plays an adulterer whose wife, gloriously played by Susan Anspach, leaves him. For him, his extracurricular fling was a trifle, but for her it meant the end. Trouble is, Segal is madly, madly in love with her, and she no longer seems to have the slightest interest in him. Mazursky's best film, Blume in Love aches: Its characters suffer from tragic passions reduced to absurdity by the heedless shiftings of culture. Segal has never been better, and Blume is the perfect embodiment of his standard character: the crass, shameless Lothario who knows he's an S.O.B. and suffers from it. A film that seems to grow with the passage of time. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BOULEVARD NIGHTS
Drama, 1979, USA, R, * *
Richad Yniguez, Marta Du Bois, Danny De La Paz, Betty Carvalho, Carmen Zapata, James Victor, Victor Millan. Directed by Michael Pressman. 102 min.

videos bullet iconSincere but uninspiring story of a Chicano youth who yearns to move away from street-gang life, but is drawn back because of his hot-blooded younger brother. Filmed in the East Los Angeles barrios. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE BOYS IN THE BAND
Drama, 1970, USA, R, * *
Kenneth Nelson, Cliff Gorman, Frederick Combs, Leonard Frey, Laurence Luckinbill, Peter White, Reuben Greene. Directed by William Friedkin. 117 min.

videos bullet iconMart Crowley adapted his Off-Broadway hit and the original cast was retained for the making of this once-groundbreaking, now dated film about the emotional fireworks at a homosexual birthday party. The film may embarrass viewers with its endless superficial psychology and its "honest" depictions fo gay character types. However, the sincere performances by Cliff Gorman, Leonard Frey, Frederick Combs, and especially Kenneth Nelson eventually bring this one-set, mechanically plotted film to life. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL
Mystery/Suspense, 1978, USA, R, * *
Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Lili Palmer, Uta Hagen, Steve Guttenberg, Denholm Elliot, Rosemary Harris, John Dehner, John Rubinstein, Anne Meara, Bruno Ganz, Michael Gough. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. 123 min.

videos bullet iconThis handsomely filmed but cloddishly brutal thriller, from Ira Levin's prefab best-seller, supposes that Auschwitz butcher Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) is still puttering around somewhere in the South American jungle, plotting to loose wicked clones upon an unsuspecting world. Franklin J. Schaffner tries for a lurid, horror-movie quality, but he's defeated by the pasted-together plot, the logy pace, and Peck's dull, competent, ultimately ludicrous attempt to play a fiend inflamed by a monstrous vision. Only in the reactions of Laurence Olivier, as the aging Nazi-hunter who's pursuing Mengele, is there a genuine sensation of evil. Olivier, as a mean-spirited, obstinate old man lent stature only by his lifeling obsession, is fascinating and exciting. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN
Horror/Science Fiction, 1971, USA, PG, * * 1/2
Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Charles Bateman, Ahna Capri, Charles Robinson. Directed by Bernard McEveety. 92 min.

videos bullet iconSatanists take over a town in this horrifying little low-budget terror tale. Techniscope. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BREAKING AWAY
Comedy, 1979, USA, PG, * * * 1/2
Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley, Barbara Barrie, Paul Dooley. Directed by Peter Yates. 100 min.

videos bullet iconThis very appealing film set in Bloomington, Indiana, follows four recent high school graduates as they try to decide what to make of their immediate futures. Central conflicts are with their families and with the supercilious students at the local college, with a bicycle race as the final proving ground. Dennis Christopher is especially amusing as a youth who decides that -- as all the best cyclists are Italian -- he must become Italian to win the race. The scenes with his parents trying to deal with a son who has suddenly developed wild hand gestures and an affection for the opera are priceless. Screenwriter Steve Tesich won an Oscar, and later wrote the similar American Flyer. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY
Drama, 1978, USA, PG, * * *
Gary Busey, Don Stroud, Charles Martin Smith, Maria Richwine. Directed by Steve Rash. 113 min.

videos bullet iconAn extraordinary performance by Oscar-nominated Gary Busey as the early rock 'n' roll star gives life to this above par rock biography. Lanky, raw-boned, and all teeth, Busey (noted for balloonong and deflating his body with each film), recreates with uncanny skill the look and singing style of the composer of such '50s classics as "Peggy Sue," "Oh Boy," and "That'll Be the Day." The story takes Holly from his Texas beginnings as a roller rink musician to his rise on the pop charts and, finally, his death at 22 in a plane crash that killed the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens. Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith are cast in Holly's backup band, the Crickets, and Maria Richwine plays his pregnant young wife. They are all satisfactory, but the movie belongs to Busey and his driving, powerful portrayal. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BURNT OFFERINGS
Horror/Science Fiction, 1976, USA, PG, * *
Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, Eileen Heckart, Burgess Meridith. Directed by Dan Curtis. 116 min.

videos bullet iconDan Curtis was responsible for TV's scary Dark Shadows, but he doesn't fare too well with Burnt Offerings. A couple, their son, and the husband's aunt rent a summer house from some weird people. Sure enough, once they move in, they, too, are affected -- doors are slamming and murder is on their minds. It's all very predictable and a total waste of Bette Davis. With special billing ("and Bette Davis as Aunt Elizabeth"), she starts out the film looking okay but before long is madly bugging her eyes out. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BUSTER AND BILLIE
Drama, 1974, USA, R, * * 1/2
Jan-Michael Vincent, Joan Goodfellow, Pamela Sue Martin, Clifton James, Robert England. Directed by Daniel Petrie. 100 min.

videos bullet iconBucolic beauty and brutal violence mix uneasily in this romance between Buster (Jan-Michael Vincent), a handsome, popular boy at the local high school, and Billie (Joan Goodfellow), a slightly dim-witted, abused farmgirl who regularly submits to rape by the horny local boys. When Buster jilts his steady and starts dating Billie, who's been mislabled the town tramp, the repercussions are bloody and, in context, believable. Still, the well-focused performances and Petrie's decent period evocation of Georgia in the 1940s may hold your attention. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE
Comedy, 1972, USA, PG, * * 1/2
Goldie Hawn, Edward Albert, Eileen Heckart, Michael Glasser. Directed by Milton Katselas. 109 min.

videos bullet iconEileen Heckart won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar playing the overbearing mother of a blind young man (Edward Albert), and she is excellent in the monstrous role. Otherwise, this adaptation by Leonard Gershe of his Broadway play is coy and obvious. Gershe manages come cute Neil Simonesque one-liners in the early part of the film, but his writing soon becomes strained and serious. Goldie Hawn was able to get away with her kooky blonde routine in those days, and she does provide some refreshment as the man's neighbor. However, even her character grows tiresome to watch. A failed attempt at the bittersweet. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CABARET
Musical, 1972, USA, PG, * * * *
Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Marisa Berenson, Fritz Wepper. Directed by Bob Fosse. 124 min.

videos bullet iconBob Fosse's dynamite, provocative film version of the Broadway stage musical artfully sets the story of a divinely decadent American girl against the solemn political backdrop of Hitler's rise in old Berlin. Liza Minnelli's energetic, captivating portrayal of Sally Bowles, which won her an Academy Award, remains her trademark role. Joel Grey earned a Best Supporting Oscar for his penetrating performance as the sinister emcee of the Kit Kat Klub, and Michael York adroitly plays an American bisexual who gets involved with both Minelli and German playboy Helmut Griem. With great acting, social commentary, and evocative atmosphere, Cabaret is a drama with music, not music tied together by a plot. Fosse's ingenious staging of musical numbers is another benefit. Winner of eight Academy Awards. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CALIFORNIA SPLIT
Drama, 1974, USA, R, * * 1/2
George Segal, Elliott Gould, Ann Prentiss, Gwen Welles, Joseph Walsh, Bert Remsen, Jeff Goldblum. Directed by Robert Altman. 108 min.

videos bullet iconRealistic but rambling look at two compulsive gamblers, their strange lifestyles, and the emptiness of winning. Altman's multi-channel soundtrack only adds to the muddle. DVD version is 3 minutes shorter, due to music rights issues. Panavision. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CALIFORNIA SUITE
Comedy, 1978, USA, PG, * * *
Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Walter Matthau, Elaine May, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Gloria Gifford, Sheila Frazier, Herb Edelman, Denise Galik. Directed by Herbert Ross. 103 min.

videos bullet iconFour Neil Simon skits set at the Beverly Hills Hotel (and adapted from his Broadway hit). Oscar-winning Smith and husband Caine as gently bickering Britishers in town for the Academy Awards come off best; Pryor and Cosby as unfinnily combative "friends" are the worst. Pleasant time-filler, with nice jazz score by Claude Bolling. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE CANDIDATE
Drama, 1972, USA, PG, * * *
Robert Redford, Melvyn Douglas, Peter Boyle, Don Porter, Allen Garfield, Karen Carlson. Directed by Michael Ritchie. 110 min.

videos bullet iconThe casting of Robert Redford as the epitome of political sincerity, always ready to give autographs, shake hands, knit his brow with concern, or just flash his white teeth, is The Candidate's coup -- his presence gives this inconsistent and finally insubstantial study of show-biz politics a real edge. Jeremy Larner's Oscar-winning script has him playing a young California Democrat, recruited to run for the Senate, whose ideals diminish as his standing in the polls moves from underdog to front-runner. The film deserves credit for having defined perspective; it's unabashedly liberal, anti-"system" and anti-Nixon era politics. But Michael Ritchie's direction is wobbly in tone, stumbling between mordant comedy, serious indictment, and flashy farce. Some of the film's targets may seem rather tame as well, since the intervening years have seen a glut of political satire. But fine performances, especially Redford and Melvyn Douglas as an ex-governor who'd sell his grandmother down the river, give The Candidate an entertaining charge. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CANDLESHOE
Children's, 1977, USA, G, * * 1/2
David Niven, Helen Hayes, Jodie Foster, Leo McKern, Vivian Pickles. Directed by Norman Tokar. 101 min.

videos bullet iconThe folks at Walt Disney Studios didn't seem especially bothered by the fact that Jodie Foster's most recent film prior to this had been Taxi Driver, in which she played a pre-deb hooker; this is somewhat more standard fare, with Foster as a tomboy being passed off by a British con man as the long-lost granddaughter of a rich old dowager (Helen Hayes). Prime interest, assuming you're not just looking for something unobjectionable to plop the kids down in front of, comes from David Niven, playing four roles in a nice Peter Sellers/Alec Guinness-ish turn. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CAPRICORN ONE
Mystery/Suspense, 1978, USA, PG, * *
Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson, Hal Holbrook, David Huddleston, Karen Black, Telly Savalas. Directed by Peter Hyans. 127 min.

videos bullet iconThe premise of this film is terrific -- the first Mars landing has been faked to save face and funding of the U.S. space program. But apart from Elliott Gould as a rumpled, chain-smoking investigative reporter, Telly Savalas as a crabby biplane pilot, and one good aerial chase sequence, it's practically a complete text on how not to make a big-budget thriller. The casting of the astronauts -- the men we're supposed to care about -- is a disaster (James Brolin as a tormented idealistic hothead?). Gould's task as a detective is made far too easy to generate real tension, and the one trace of a satisfying theme (is lofty illusion better for the country than sordid, demoralizing truth?) is just milked for a while and then dropped. Peter Hyans went on to direct Outland and 2010. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CAR WASH
Comedy, 1976, USA, PG, * * 1/2
Franklin Ajaye, Sully Boyar, George Carlin, Ivan Dixon, Antonio Fargas, Richard Pryor, Garrett Morris, The Pointer Sisters, Melanie Mayron, Irwin Corey. Directed by Michael Schultz. 97 min.

videos bullet iconThis film is a funky, money-making comedy about a day in the life of a low-down car wash. Car Wash borrows heavily from M*A*S*H and American Graffiti, and in comparison it's not nearly as good as either. But, for the undemanding, it is a pleasant movie, with good turns from Garrett Morris and Richard Pryor. Antonio Fargas gives his role as a drag queen a lot of energy. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CARNAL KNOWLEDGE
Drama, 1971, USA, * * * 1/2
Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel, Candice Bergen, Ann-Margaret, Rita Moreno, Cynthia O'Neal, Carol Kane. Directed by Mike Nichols. 96 min.

videos bullet iconThe comic horror of male-female relationships is the subject of Mike Nichols's early 1970 classic about the sexual despair of two college roommates over three morally, politically, and carnally tumultuous decades. The screenplay, by the masterful comic-strip artist Jules Feiffer, hits some of its points very heavily; however, the film remains one of the few treatments of the toll sexism takes on men. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CARRIE
Horror/Science Fiction, 1976, USA, R, * * * *
Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, John Travolta, Nancy Allen, Betty Buckley. Directed by Brian De Palma. 97 min.

videos bullet iconBrian De Palma's usually overbearing abundance of style is, for once, beautifully controlled in this brilliant depiction of taunting, cruel high-school terror, an adaptation and substantial alteration of Stephen King's first novel. Sissy Spacek stars as a timid, tortured teenager who -- through telekinesis -- gives her gum-snapping tormentors a bloody comeuppance. The acting, incuding Spacek's and Piper Laurie's Oscar-nominated mother-and-daughter turn, is extraordinary for a horror film, and none in the genre has since challenged it as perhaps the most maliciously scary adolescent revenge-fantasy ever put on screen. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE CASSANDRA CROSSING
Action/Adventure, 1977, USA, R, * 1/2
Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster, Richard Harris, Ava Gardner. Directed by George Pan Cosmatos. 125 min.

videos bullet iconAny movie that has a cameraman who can do something with Ava Gardner circa 1976 and even allows her some funny lines is not a complete washout, but The Cassandra Crossing could use a lot more of her sexy insouciance. Instead, a carefully lit Sophia Loren looks scared while Burt Lancaster and Ingrid Thulin look pained and Richard Harris looks at the camera. The plot can be understood only if diagrams are used. If one turns up the sound only for Gardner, the time passes pleasantly. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CATCH-22
Comedy, 1970, USA, R, * * * 1/2
videos bullet iconAlan Arkin, Martin Balsam, Richard Benjamin, Jack Gilford, Art Garfunkel, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Paula Prentiss, Jon Voight, Orson Welles, Martin Sheen, Bab Balaban, Buck Henry, Norman Fell, Charles Grodin, Austin Pendleton, Peter Bonerz, Richard Libertini, Liam Dunn. Directed by Mike Nichols. 121 min.

Like most attempts at filming great novels, this movie ultimately fails because it tries to cram too much of Joseph Heller's dense, sprawling masterpiece onto too small a canvas. Were it an hour longer, it might have gone over the top; the style of the book is admirably adapted for film, but director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry finally sacrifice exposition for incident. For those unfamiliar with the book, or willing and able to consider the film separately, this spiraling collage of insanities set on a World War II U.S. base in the Mediterranean is a potpourri of comic performances held together by Alan Arkin as Yossarian, Heller's Everyman. Entertaining on a surface level, which makes possible the several viewings it will take before the design starts to become clear. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE CHAMP
Drama, 1979, USA, PG, *
Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway, Ricky Schroeder, Jack Warden, Arthur Hill, Strother Martin, Joan Blondell, Elisha Cook, Jr. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. 121 min.

videos bullet iconFranco Zeffirelli dredges up his inarguable skills as a director of live opera by blowing up this remake of the 1931 Wallace Beery tearjerker to operatic proportions, replete with misty landscapes and enormous smiling faces. Better someone had blown up the whole project before it hit the screen. Jon Voight is the punch-drunk boxer who gives his all in the ring for his scrappy young son, played with precocious expertise and unbearable cuteness by eight-year-old Ricky Shroeder. Voight, trying with his whole body to act like an oaf, seems graceless for the first time in his career. And Faye Dunaway, as the boy's estranged mother, a neurotic fasion designer, is plain embarrassing. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.



Amazon.com's Essential DVDs by Decade - The 1970s

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CHARLEY VARRICK
Action/Adventure, 1973, USA, R, * * * 1/2
Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, Felicia Farr, Andy Robinson. Directed by Don Siegel. 111 min.

videos bullet iconThis is a fast, funny, and absorbing thriller about a former air-circus pilot turned bank robber. The larcenous activities begin as small, "paying-the-rent" jobs, but trouble enters when a modest, family-style stickup becomes a $750,000 heist of Mafia money. Walter Matthau shines in the uncustomarily dramatic role of a man caught between a rock (the Mob) and a hard place (the police). Don Siegel's direction is right on target, dynamically fusing a sense of thematic entrapment with exhilarating, fast-paced action. The final sequence is a stunner. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CHARLOTTE'S WEB
Children's, 1973, USA, G, * * *
Animated: Debbie Reynolds, Paul Lynde, Henry Gibson, Agnes Moorehead, Pamelyn Ferdin, Danny Bonaduce, Dave Madden. Directed by Charles A. Nichols and Iwao Takamoto. 94 min.

videos bullet iconE. B. White's children's classic about the friendship between Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider is very hard to resist -- it can charm and move children without boring adults. Even though this animated adaptation is little more than serviceable, it's worth seeing simply for the literary charms it transfers to the screen. Charlotte's Web could do without the gooey Richard and Robert Sherman song score, and the artwork, by Hanna-Barbera, doesn't approach the level of a Disney film. But Henry Gibson and Debbie Reynolds are in perfect voice as the hero and heroine, and the wrenching conclusion is a real tearjerker. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE CHICKEN CHRONICLES
Comedy, 1977, USA, R, * 1/2
Steven Guttenberg, Phil Silvers, Ed Lauder, Lisa Reeves. Directed by Francis Simon. 92 min.

videos bullet iconEven if you actually want to see one more movie about a horny adolescent boy pursuing a beautiful airhead, make it The Last American Virgin, Secret Admirer, Porky's -- anything but The Chicken Chronicles. Not only does it fail to distinguish itself even within its own mutated subgenre, but it inflates itself with pompous pontifications about the 1960s, wastes the great Phil Silvers in a pathetic lecher role, and gives that unbearable mugger Steve Guttenberg his first lead. "He appears in virtually every scene, a dream assignment for a young actor," trumpeted the press release. For anyone else, it's a nightmare. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER
Comedy, 1979, USA, PG, * * * *
John Heard, Mary Beth Hurt, Peter Riegert, Kenneth McMillan, Nora Heflin, Gloria Grahame, Griffin Dunne, Mark Metcalfe, Ann Beattie. Directed by Joan Micklin Silver. 93 min.

videos bullet iconDespite the Bergmanesque title, this is the best film about lost love since Annie Hall, and it's quite often just as funny. Charles, a member of the generation that just missed Woodstock, works as a minor civil servant and spends his time mooning over Laura, a married woman with whom he had an affair a year before. Director Joan Micklin Silver (Hester Street), who wrote the screenplay based on a novel by Ann Beattie (here seen in a bit part as a waitress), has a marvelous eye for detail in the lives of these characters, and gets equally wonderful performances from the principals, especially John Heard and Mary Beth Hurt as Charles and Laura, Peter Riegert (Local Hero) as Charles's equally ungrounded best friend, and Gloria Grahame as Charles's senile mother. This film was originally released (under the title Head over Heels) with a more upbeat ending, insisted on by the studio; it was rereleased with the proper title and ending after a few years' struggle by the director. Funny, charming, moving, and true: this one is well worth hunting down. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE CHINA SYNDROME
Mystery/Suspense, 1979, USA, PG, * * *
Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas, Scott Brady, James Hampton, Peter Donat, Wilford Brimley. Directed by James Bridges. 123 min.

videos bullet iconA reporter (Fonda) and a cameraman (Douglas) stumble upon the cover-up of a near-meltdown at a nuclear power plant in James Bridges's riveting, thought-provoking film. Although the drama is sometimes heavy-handed and the film sometimes becomes too preachy, the message is real and the performances make the story credible. Bridges's film, which preceded Three Mile Island by a matter of weeks, has proven all too prescient. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CHINATOWN
Mystery/Suspense, 1974, USA, R, * * * *
Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, John Hillerman, Perry Lopez, Burt Young. Directed by Roman Polanski. 131 min.

videos bullet iconRoman Polanski's sweatily erotic, perversely cruel film noir stars Jack Nicholson as a slick, small-time private eye who is led into a kinky maze of murder, corruption, and incest by his beautiful and mysterious client (Faye Dunaway). Polanski set this bleak, brilliant film in 1930s Los Angeles, the hard-boiled milieu of Raymond Chandler. Nicholson, like Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe, is a loner -- sharp, tough, and honest -- operating in a universe that is corrupt, deceitful, and malevolent. But Polanski doesn't merely rehash the genre's conventions; rather, he manipulates them, using the Chandleresque setting to reflect his dark, original vision of a world where even the last spark of hope and integrity is ultimately extinguished. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE CHOIRBOYS
Comedy, 1977, USA, R, * 1/2
Charles Durning, Louis Gossett, Jr., Perry King, Tim McIntyre, Stephen Macht, Randy Quaid, Burt Young, Blair Brown, Charles Haid, Jim Davis, Barbara Rhodes. Directed by Robert Aldrich. 119 min.

videos bullet iconThis film is a repulsive, mean-spirited comedy about a group of cops who are anything but L.A.'s finest. These foul-mouthed, drunken, brawling pathetics were real characters in Joseph Wambaugh's sharp novel; in this episodic, wildly overlong film adaptation, they're just as reprehensible but totally uninteresting as well. Wambaugh's wit is missing, and what's left plays like an installment of Police Academy with cruelty substituting for stupidity. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CINDERELLA LIBERTY
Drama, 1973, USA, R, * * * 1/2
James Caan, Marsha Mason, Eli Wallach, Kirk Calloway, Burt Young, Bruce Kirby Jr., Allyn Ann McLerie, Dabney Coleman. Directed by Mark Rydell. 117 min.

videos bullet iconA sensitive, original story about romance between a simple, good-hearted sailor (Caan) and a hooker (Mason) with an illegitimate black son. It artfully mixes romance and realism, with sterling performances by Caan and Mason. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CISCO PIKE
Drama, 1972, USA, * * * 1/2
Kris Kristofferson, Karen Black, Gene Hackman, Harry Dean Stanton, Viva!, Roscoe Lee Brown. Directed by Bill L. Norton. 94 min.

videos bullet iconThis rough little gem from 1972 stars Kris Kristofferson as Cisco Pike, a former country star who "majored in shit-kickin'." Out of jail after a drug rap, Cisco finds his former bandmate (Harry Dean Stanton) now a junkie, a crooked narc (Gene Hackman) on his ass and the Sixties well and truly over. The small yet perfectly pitched character study is peppered with classic cameos, including Tex-Mex legend Doug Sahm as a rock & roller who just wants to score some good weed. A surprisingly good drama that benefits from a good script and fine performances. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Drama, 1971, Great Britain, R, * * * 1/2
Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, David Prowse, Aubrey Morris, James Marcus. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. 137 min.

videos bullet iconStanley Kubrick's most controversial film, a hypnotic future-shock parable of England in the not-too-distant future, has grown less outrageous and more prophetic with the years. The episodic narrative follows Alex, a reckless gang member played by Malcolm McDowell. McDowell makes Alex a buoyant, winning character, lending Kubrick's usual pyrotechnics an emotional focus, but he becomes so charismatic at times that "liking" him becomes a moral dilemma. Alex's gleeful rendition of "Singing' in the Rain," as he rapes an author's wife and assaults the author, is still the most unsettling sequence in the film. (The author's character, as played by Patrick Magee, is supposedly based on Anthony Burgess.) Alex is sent to prison for his crimes, and rehabilitation changes him into a passive milquetoast. As a commentary on modern society and human behavior, Kubrik's film makes some acute observations, but his point of view is fuzzy and he rarely captures the eccentricity of Burgess's novel (which includes its own futuristic language, only minimally incorporated into the movie). But it's still a major film achievement, well worth seeing. With a memorable score by Walter Carlos of "Switched-on Bach" fame. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
Horror/Science Fiction, 1977, USA, PG, * * * *
Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut, Terri Garr. Directed by Steven Spielberg. 138 min.

videos bullet iconOne of the best science-fiction films to emerge from the special-effects morass of the late seventies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a canny and enchanting mixture of technical sophistication and childlike wonder. As awe-inspiring as the visuals get here, they never overtake the solid, suspenseful, and, above all, human story of a telephone repairman who receives a subliminal message after seeing some UFOs. This urging compels him to tear asunder his normal life in an effort to reach a particular spot where earthlings will have their first contact with extraterrestrials. Spielberg loads his story with imaginative pop images of consumerism and household humor; this is one picture dealing with the fantastic that takes place in the "real" world. He's also set up the likeable star Richard Dreyfuss as the everyman who must sacrifice all to achieve his dreams, and the actor's emotional and lightly comic performance makes it all believable. The sequence in which he actually gets to go inside the alien mother-ship was added for the reissue. Spielberg used the same idea of friendly spacemen for his most popular film, E.T. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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COMING HOME
Drama, 1978, USA, R, * * 1/2
Jon Voight, Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern, Penelope Milford, Robert Ginty, Robert Carradine. Directed by Hal Ashby. 127 min.

videos bullet iconThe first half of Hal Ashby's anti-Vietnam War movie is an enjoyable romance, but as a political parable the movie is hopeless -- a sanctimonious "greening-of-America" film that stacks the deck so clumsily that its social message is reduced to a silly equating of liberalism with lovemaking dexterity. Jane Fonda plays the prim wife of gung-ho Marine captain Bruce Dern; after Dern embarks for Vietnam, she falls into an affair with an antiwar paraplegic (Jon Voight). Voight brings a dazzling mixture of ravaged integrity and boyish sexuality to his role but, as a character, he is to paraplegics (and Vietnam vets) what Sidney Poitier once was to blacks. The use of period music is particularly grating, but Voight and Fonda both won Academy Awards for their almost redemptive performances. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE CONCERT FOR BANGLA DESH
Musical, 1972, USA, G, * * 1/2
George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Klaus Voorman, Badfinger. Directed by Saul Swimmer. 99 min.

videos bullet iconBefore there was Live Aid, Farm Aid, or any of those other kool aids, George Harrison put together this all-star benefit to raise money for victims of famine in Bangla Desh. Harrison was such a thoroughly nice guy about it that no one had the heart to ask him not to pronounce it Bongla Desh, which he does constantly. Unfortunately, thanks to various legal and other foul-ups, almost none of the money raised ever seems to have gotten to the intended recipients. Performances range from OK to outstanding (Bob Dylan and Leon Russell). Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Horror/Science Fiction, 1972, USA, PG, * * 1/2
Roddy McDowall, Don Murray, Natalie Trundy, Ricardo Mantalban, Severn Darden. Directed by J. Lee Thompson. 87 min.

videos bullet iconThe enslaved apes revolt against their human captors as part four of the series, marked by unusually complex references to the preceding films and a prolonged bloody finale. This time Roddy McDowall plays the ape Ceasar, the son of the character he originated, and Natalie Trundy (wife of series producer Arthur Jacobs) also returns, playing her third character. Oddly enough, this installment, set in 1990, is now the most dated of the five, due in part to its design as a comment on the tense race relations of the early 1970s. The original G rating seems inappropriate and justifies its change to PG, since this sequel is far more violent and frightening than the already borderline original. That will matter little to fans of the series who have already come this far. Followed by Battle for the Planet of the Apes in 1973. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE CONVERSATION
Drama, 1974, USA, PG, * * * *
Gene Hackman, Allen Garfield, John Cazale, Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 113 min.

videos bullet iconThis Watergate-era masterpiece concerns a veteran surveillance expert (Gene Hackman) whose tape recording of a hauntingly ambivalent conversation causes him to become emotionally concerned, for the first time in his career, with a client's motives. Taking a pause between Godfathers, Francis Ford Coppola picked up a script he had begun in 1966 and made his most personal, mature, and technically brilliant essay. Hackman's acting is astonishingly precise as he portrays the ingrained, implosive alienation and loneliness of a professional listener, and Bill Butler's camerawork and a dense, multilayered soundtrack make The Conversation a film that not only rewards repeated viewings, but demands them. As suspense, drama, and social commentary, it's a fully realized tour de force, and one of the finest films of the last three decades. Credit soundman Walter Murch with piecing the film together from a number of alternative storylines during postproduction; Coppola has called him the film's coauthor. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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COTTON COMES TO HARLEM
Action/Adventure, 1970, USA, R, * * 1/2
Raymond St. Jacques, Godfrey Cambridge, Calvin Lockhart, Vinnette Carroll, Redd Foxx, Cleavon Little, Judy Pace. Directed by Ossie Davis. 97 min.

videos bullet iconThis action-comedy about detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson was one of the first black-oriented films to achieve box-office success with white as well as black audiences, thus paving the way for scores of black exploitation films in the early seventies. This isn't as bad as most of what followed, although its humor, relying primarily on unexpected racial reversals and the novelty of black cops, has dated badly. Good acting by Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques, who play a sort of mean-mouthed, updated version of Abbott and Costello, partially compensates for the low-comedy premise, which has them searching for a cache of loot buried in a bale of cotton somewhere above 125th Street. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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CRAZY MAMA
Action/Adventure, 1975, USA, PG, * *
Cloris Leachman, Ann Sothern, Linda Purl, Donny Most. Directed by Jonathan Demme. 82 min.

videos bullet iconThis early Jonathan Demme film (he also directed Melvin and Howard and Stop Making Sense) strikes a familiar chord as a watered-down Bonnie and Clyde. Three generations of women shoot their way across America in a sadistic unveiling of empty lives. Although not without some merit, the film is basically as empty as the lives it focuses on. A major problem stems from the corn-pone Southern dialogue, particularly when mouthed by the not-so-belle Sothern. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE CROSS AND THE SWITCHBLADE
Drama, 1970, USA, * 1/2
Pat Boone, Erik Estrada, Jackie Giroux. Directed by Don Murray. 106 min.

videos bullet iconRural preacher Pat Boone is transplanted to a New York City ghetto area, where he converts members of street gangs to The True Way. Although the plot is based on a true story, there's no way that squeaky-clean Boone can convice you he'd ever last five minutes in this neighborhood. The film strives for inspiration at the expense of realism. The degree to which this will make you feel good is the degree to which you're willing to be blind to the problems of poverty. Featuring a pre-CHiPs Erik Estrada as one of the gang leaders. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DAMIEN - OMEN II
Horror/Science Fiction, 1978, USA, R, * *
William Holden, Lee Grant, Jonathan Scott-Taylor, Robert Foxworth, Lucas Donat, Nicholas Pryor, Lew Ayres, Sylvia Sidney. Directed by Don Taylor. 109 min.

videos bullet iconFollowing the death of his "parents," young Damien Thorne passes into the care of his industrialist uncle -- the better for him to achieve eventual world domination through economic tyranny -- and continues, with his ever-increasing cult of worshippers, to destroy those who oppose him. The limitations of the material are painfully evident in this sequel to The Omen, but it is still superior to the last entry in the series, Omen III - The Final Conflict (1981). Jonathan Scott-Taylor here replaces Harvey Stephens as Damien. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DAMNATION ALLEY
Horror/Science Fiction, 1977, USA, PG, * * 1/2
George Peppard, Dominique Sanda, Paul Winfield, Jan-Michael Vincent. Directed by Jack Smight. 91 min.

videos bullet iconWorld War III one more time. After the Earth gets nuked, a team of scientists and adventurers set out across the desolate landscape in search of paradise -- which turns out to be a still-verdant Albany. On the road to salvation, the rugged heroes encounter such bizarre menaces as mutants and killer cockroaches. Twentieth Century-Fox spent of lot of money on this picture, but Alley still isn't able to shake off a comfortable but cheap backlot feeling. This in unimaginative but sporadically postnuclear fun in the tradition of The Day the World Ended. Based on the novel by Roger Zelazny. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DARK STAR
Horror/Science Fiction, 1974, USA, G, * * * 1/2
Dan O'Bannon, Dre Pahich, Brian Narelle. Directed by John Carpenter. 83 min.

videos bullet iconDirector John Carpenter's first film is a maniacally brilliant satire of 2001. A spaceship has been sent on a mission to destroy unstable planets, and its crew has finally gone stir crazy. Among their many problems is the lack of toilet paper, a beach ball-like alien running around the ship, and a talking bomb that wants to go off. A very funny and incisive look at human nature, with some great slapstick moments. Dark Star was the launching pad for the talents of Carpenter and actor Dan O'Bannon (who later went on to write the screenplay for Alien.) Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN
Action/Adventure, 1973, USA, PG, * *
George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Paul Sorvino, Fritz Weaver, John Korkes, Edward Herrmann. Directed by Mike Nichols. 104 min.

videos bullet iconHeroic scientists, evil government agents, and talking dolphins are the ingredients of this occasionally compelling but fatally misconceived adventure film. Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry can't decide whether to make a humanist drama, a conspiracy thriller, or a Wild Kingdom-style exploitation of the wonders of aquatic life, so they combine all three in a leapfrogging plot that will leave you either entertained or numb with disbelief. Younger viewers will, however, enjoy the incredible dolphin footage and comic book story without being overly bothered by the blustery performances or thematic confusion. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE DAY OF THE JACKAL
Mystery/Suspense, 1973, Great Britain/France, R, * * * 1/2
Edward Fox, Alan Badel, Tony Britton, Cyril Cusak, Michael Lonsdale, Eric Porter, Derek Jacobi. Directed by Fred Zinnemann. 141 min.

videos bullet iconThe Jackal is an assassin hired by a group of dissident generals to kill French president De Gaulle in this taut, deliberate thriller based on the bestselling novel by Frederick Forsyth. The film follows the Jackal as he makes his preparations, intercutting with the discovery by French and British police of the plot and their efforts to discover the killer. The film's length works in its favor, building up details so that the ending is able to generate considerable suspense, despite the fact that we know the outcome. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE DAY OF THE LOCUST
Drama, 1975, USA, R, * * * 1/2
Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, William Atherton, Burgess Meridith, Geraldine Page, Bo Hopkins, Billy Barty, Natalie Schafer. Directed by John Schlesinger. 143 min.

videos bullet iconComplex, violent, disturbing adaptation of Nathaneal West's novel loosely based on his experiences as a Hollywood screenwriter in the thirties. William Atherton plays the wide-eyed Hollywood art director who falls for a starlet (Karen Black). Donald Sutherland plays a depressed man who becomes equally obsessed with the woman. The performances are excellent and the production, worked on by many of the same people who made Midnight Cowboy, is meticulously designed and shot. The meaning, if any, to the film's grim and bitter vision, may be difficult to understand without first reading West's book, but the striking imagery alone makes the film worth seeing. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DAYS OF HEAVEN
Drama, 1978, USA, R, * * * 1/2
Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Linda Manz, Sam Shepard. Directed by Terence Malick. 95 min.

videos bullet iconNestor Almendros's Oscar-winning cinematography for Days of Heaven lingers in the memory as some of the most creative and exquisite camerawork of recent years. Unfortunately, it is much harder to recall the details of Terence Malick's icy narrative. The tale of a young woman torn between two men, set in the Texas panhandle on the eve of World War I, has an elegiac elegance of form, but the content is perhaps deliberately left vague. Malick places too much import on a device that worked in Badlands: a young girl narrates the horrible events in the story in the same flat, streetwise fashion that she gives to the descriptions of the beautiful countryside. Linda Manz reads her narration with an appropriate coarseness, but the effect is just too forced to carry such a heavy emotional load. Brooke Adams, in the pivotal role, has some rapport with Sam Sheppard (who emerges as the best drawn of the characters). Richard Gere, however, never the warmest of actors, simply drifts along and becomes a part of the scenery. Days of Heaven is, on a certain level, a triumph of understated splendor, but Malick's reserve too often suggests mere emptiness. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DEADLY HERO
Mystery/Suspense, 1976, USA, R, * * *
Don Murray, Diahn Williams, James Earl Jones, Lilia Skala, George S. Irving, Treat Williams. Directed by Ivan Nagy. 104 min.

This surprisingly good low-budget thriller was shot entirely on location in New York City. Street cop Don Murray saves a woman (Diahn Williams) from an attacker, but his methods are so unnecessarily harsh that she makes a complaint to his superiors; as a result, the cop begins to harass her in order to silence her. It's a neat twist, but audiences may have trouble getting a hold on the story, as the woman's character isn't developed sufficiently to command our full sympathy. Features uncredited roles by Danny DeVito and Debbie Harry of Blondie. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DEATH RACE 2000
Horror/Science Fiction, 1975, USA, R, * *
David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Simone Griffith, Mary Woronov. Directed by Paul Bartel. 78 min.

videos bullet iconHere's some tongue-in-cheek action from the director of Eating Raoul and the screenwriter of Little Shop of Horrors and Bucket of Blood. It's the year 2000, ad jaded America has a new national sport, a cross-country demolition derby in which the drivers get bonus points for running over pedestrians. A black-suited David Carradine is the national chammp, Frankenstein; pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone is his arch-rival, Machine Gun Viterbo. Without being an out-and-out comedy, it's still pretty much as silly and camp as it sounds. Sequel: Deathsport (1978). Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DEATH WISH
Action/Adventure, 1974, USA, R, * *
Charles Bronson, Vincent Gardenia, Hope Lange, Steve Keats, William Redfield, Stuart Margolin. Directed by Michael Winner. 93 min.

videos bullet iconThis was the prototype -- along with Walking Tall -- of the vigilante vengeance genre. Bronson plays a Manhattan architect whose wife and daughter are savagely raped. When the wife dies and the daughter becomes a vegetable, he decides to get even by killing every creep in town -- and it's a big town. Very pedestrian direction by Winner, and Englishman. Followed by four sequels, Death Wish II (1982), Death Wish 3 (1985), Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987), and Death Wish 5: The Face of Death (1994). Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE DEER HUNTER
Drama, 1978, USA, R, * * * *
Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, John Savage, Meryl Streep, George Dzundza. Directed by Michael Cimino. 183 min.

videos bullet iconMichael Cimino's controversial masterpiece about three Pennsylvania steelworkers who leave their small town for the horrors of Vietnam was perhaps the first mainstream film to posit that the war was bad but the soldiers who fought it were nonetheless heroes. This opened it up to scathing criticism from both liberals and conservatives, but most conceded that it was a work of astounding emotional power and skill, perhaps the first great screen depiction of the Vietnam experience. Cimono's epic work is divided into three sections. The first is a beautifully realized wedding sequence that also serves as a send-off for heroes Michael, Nick, and Steven. The second, taking place in Vietnam, is a war sequence of wrenching genius. In the last hour, the three men realize their fates as human beings and Americans on both sides of the globe. Notwithstanding the later debacle of Heaven's Gate, Cimino here proves himself in superb control of his actors and story, treating his painful material with balance, integrity, and intelligence (although he overemphasizes the awkward allegorical motifs). Standouts in the fine cast include the unforgettable performance of Walken, as the most fragile of the three men, and Streep, a vivid and eloquent presence in an almost wordless role. Attack it, argue with it, interpret it your own way, but you must see this extraordinary work about friendship, war, love, and loss. Winner of five Academy Awards. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DELIVERANCE
Action/Adventure, 1972, USA, R, * * * 1/2
Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, James Dickey. Directed by John Boorman. 109 min.

videos bullet iconJohn Boorman's now-classic film is both adventure and morality fable. James Dickey's screenplay, based on his own novel, details how four city businessmen encounter hostile Appalachian natives while shooting the rapids on a weekend trip. Vilmos Zsigmond's photography is excellent and there are striking moments, including the sexual assault of one of the men, but the film trades in the book's ruminations on ethics and existence for machismo and excitement. An interesting, occasionally disturbing film, but definitely not the great work it has been said to be. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DEMON SEED
Horror/Science Fiction, 1977, USA, R, * *
Julie Christie, Fritz Weaver, Gerrit Graham, voice of Robert Vaughn. Directed by Donald Cammell. 94 min.

videos bullet iconJulie Christie plays a woman whose marriage to a scientist (Fritz Weaver) is crumbling. He spends too much time with his many computers, which seem to be able to do most anything -- and one of them decides to rape his wife. Soon after she learns she is pregnant, yet another unmemorable horror tale is underway. Christie and Weaver are good actors, but you'll be laughing instead of screaming at Demon Seed. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE DEVIL'S RAIN
Horror/Science Fiction, 1975, USA, PG, * 1/2
Ernest Borgnine, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, William Shatner, Tom Skerritt, John Travolta. Directed by Robert Fuest. 85 min.

videos bullet iconThe Preston family is tormented in a variety of ways by evil Satanist Corbis and his band of eyeless followers. Extremely silly, but Borgnine as the Prince of Lies (complete with Ram's head), Travolta in a minor role, and ten full minutes of devil worshipers melting in the devil's rain are compensatory factors. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
Action/Adventure, 1971, Great Britain, PG, * * 1/2
Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot, Lois Maxwell. Directed by Guy Hamilton. 119 min.

videos bullet iconAt forty-one, Sean Connery proved he could still cut it as 007, but weariness was showing and this would be Connery's last James Bond outing for twelve years. The plot mechanics were also getting wearisome at this point, though not nearly as perfunctory as in the later Roger Moore epics. Diamonds tosses together a diamond heist caper with yet another madman-blowing-up-the-world plot. The real fun is supplied by the supporting cast, who shine in individual vignettes: Jimmy Dean as a billionaire; Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as good-humored hit men; and Donna Garrat and Trina Parks as black-belt cuties named Bambi and Thumper. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DILLINGER
Action/Adventure, 1973, USA, R, * * 1/2
Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Cloris Leachman, Harry Dean Stanton, Richard Dreyfuss, John Ryan. Directed by John MIlius. 96 min.

videos bullet iconLeave it to John Milius (Red Dawn) to make one of the most violent gangster pictures of the 1970s. Action fans won't be disappointed with this heavily fictionalized view of the depression or of the notorious bank robber and killer John Dillinger. Famous thirties faces like Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and "The Lady in Red" (a wasted Cloris Leachman) are brought to life with a minimum of embarrassment by the cast, but they are overshadowed by the deluge of blood and bullets. Phillips, of The Mamas & The Papas, makes her debut. The story was also filmed in 1945. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DIRTY HARRY
Action/Adventure, 1971, USA, * * 1/2
Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, Reni Santoni, Andy Robinson, John Vernon. Directed by Don Siegel. 102 min.

videos bullet iconDon Siegel's brass-knuckle style of filmmaking and Clint Eastwood's macho/mysterious persona blend perfectly in this magnum-powered shoot-'em-up. A maniacal killer is spreading a bloody reign of terror over helpless San Francisco and only one man can stop him -- Dirty Harry (Eastwood), described by director Siegel as "a tough cop and a racist sonofabitch." The only Dirty Harry film that really shows the darker side of the tough cop, and the source for Eastwood's own Tightrope, a more self-conscious study of his layman myth. Today this film looks dated and cheap, and that adds to the sewer-level thrills. Sequels were Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983) and The Dead Pool (1988). Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY
Action/Adventure, 1974, USA, PG, * *
Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Roarke, Vic Morrow, Roddy McDowall. Directed by John Hough. 93 min.

videos bullet iconFast cars, fast women, redneck cops and Easy Rider's Peter Fonda as the very heroic antihero -- who could ask for anything more in a mid-seventies road-action pic (other than, perhaps, a sensible story, an exciting climax and a more credible plot impetus than Fonda's wish to join the ranks of the great NASCAR racing champs)? Viewers who've seen and survived all of Burt Reynolds's fast-car flicks will know what they're getting into here, and find a pleasingly low-key, funny film of its kind, with Susan George playing a rambunctiously bawdy sexpot as only she can. Good, unfussy direction by Hough (The Legend of Hell House). Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DOG DAY AFTERNOON
Drama, 1975, USA, R, * * * *
Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Chris Sarandon, Sully Boyar. Directed by Sidney Lumet. 130 min.

videos bullet iconThe film is based on a true incident in which a would-be robber held up a Brooklyn bank to get money for a sex-change operation for his homosexual lover, only to wind up trapped inside the bank with the employees as hostages and hordes of police, FBI men, reporters, and onlookers outside. Alternately (often simultaneously) hilarious and tragic, this is worth repeated viewings in order to enjoy the wealth of characterization and details that can easily be buried by the strength of Al Pacino's performance and the rapid pace. Two of Sidney Lumet's gifts, for using New York locations to good advantage and for developing complex, ambiguous characters, are strongly evinced here. Frank Pierson's screenplay won an Academy Award. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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$ (DOLLARS)
Action/Adventure, 1972, USA, R, * 1/2
Goldie Hawn, Warren Beatty, Gert Frobe, Robert Webber, Scott Brady. Directed by Richard Brooks. 119 min.

videos bullet iconGoldie Hawn and Warren Beatty make a cute if cloying couple in this humdrum, unfunny caper film about a bank security man and a hooker who team up to pull off a $1.5 million robbery. Brook's writing and direction here are totally off the mark; as in his later Wrong Is Right and Fever Pitch, he's so overemphatic that you may see an element of parody he didn't intend. If you stick aruond through the interminable development, you'll be rewarded with a final chase that's more chaotic than climactic. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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DON'T LOOK NOW
Mystery/Suspense, 1973, Great Britain, R, * * * 1/2
Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania. Directed by Nicholas Roeg. 110 min.

videos bullet iconNicholas Roeg transforms wintry Venice into a mysterious labyrinth of illusions in this sophisticated, haunting thriller. Trying to forget the death of their young daughter, John and Laura Baxter find themselves faced with a maze of terrifying premonitions that form a bizarre connection between their past and future, and offer the possibility of dreaming their daughter back to life. The ending is genuinely startling, and the undercurrent of tension between man's will and his imagination is made quite compelling by Roeg's direction and Anthony Richmond's elegant, icy cinematography. Based on a short story by Daphne Du Maurier. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE DRIVER
Action/Adventure, 1978, USA, PG, * * *
Ryan O'Neal, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani. Directed by Walter Hill. 90 min.

videos bullet iconWalter Hill is at his best when he is handling characters whose destiny matches his own directorial intention. The desperate flight of the gang in The Warriors precisely echoes Hill's own speedy, straightforward style, and in 48 HRS., Eddie Murphy explodes the released convict's energy just like the movie's story of the cop out of control. In The Driver, dispassionate Ryan O'Neal plays a coldly efficient getaway driver in a lean, even stripped-down, movie on wheels. The characters may be ciphers, the plot minimal, but what matters here is movement -- even the cop, played by a wired-down Bruce Dern, has to get up to the driver's speed if he wants to catch him. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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EARTHQUAKE
Action/Adventure, 1974, USA, PG, * 1/2
Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, Lorne Greene, Marjoe Gortner, Barry Sullivan, George Kennedy, Victoria Principal, Richard Roundtree, Genevieve Bujold, Walter Matthau. Directed by Mark Robson. 123 min.

videos bullet iconAt the peak of the "disaster" film cycle in the 1970s came this disaster about various people affected by an L.A. earthquake. At the time, audiences were treated to a new device called Sensurround, which caused sound waves to be shot through their seats during quake sequences. On video (and in the safety of your own home), there's nothing left but a parade of stars looking embarrassed by all the silly dialogue they mouth. One of them, Walter Matthau, wisely used an alias (his real name) in the credits. Director Mark Robson (Champion, Von Ryan's Express) and co-screenwriter Mario Puzo (The Godfather) should have followed suit. Let us not forget, however, that Robson is the man who gave us Valley of the Dolls. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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EAT MY DUST!
Action/Adventure, 1976, USA, PG, * * 1/2
Ron Howard, Christopher Norris, Dave Madden. Directed by Charles Griffith. 89 min.

videos bullet iconOver half of the running time of this drive-in classic is taken up by a mammoth car chase. It's unpretentious, straight-ahead fun, in which plot is secondary to mayhem and the odd jokey detail, as might be expected in a movie made by Roger Corman alumnus Charles Griffith (Little Shop of Horrors, A Bucket of Blood). Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE EIGER SANCTION
Action/Adventure, 1975, USA, R, * * 1/2
Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Jack Cassidy, Vanetta McGee, Thayer David. Directed by Clint Eastwood. 128 min.

videos bullet iconWith a Trevanian novel as its source and Clint Eastwood in the lead, viewers will undoubtedly expect more suspense than this movie delivers. Eastwood seems genuinely embarrassed by the poor dialogue, and he directs himself to be even more wooden than his usual screen persona. The movie is awfully long, and the climbing sequences, shot on location in Switzerland, are unconvincing despite an extensive buildup. George Kennedy and Jack Cassidy deliver performances that tip over into broad comedy. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN
Comedy, 1979, USA, PG, * *
Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Valerie Perrine, Willie Nelson, John Saxon. Directed by Sydney Pollack. 120 min.

videos bullet iconThis utterly ersatz message movie lives in a world that looks as if it's meant to be ours, but isn't quite anybody's. For instance, when was the last time you saw a Barbara Walters-like network reporter (Jane Fonda, natch) covering a corporate convention? Or a Bruce Jenner-like athlete (Robert Redford, as a rodeo star who's just too famous to be true) touring the boonies to plug breakfast food? Or a race horse (swiped by a wised-up Redford from the firm that exploits them both) that could outrun a pack of police cars? Sydney Pollack's film does have its deft moments, and Willie Nelson makes pleasant company in his small debut role, but before this film even gets started, there won't be a suspended disbelief in the house. Under the circumstances, not even Redford and Fonda can work up any chemistry. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ELVIS ON TOUR
Documentary, 1972, USA, Not Rated, * * * 1/2
Elvis Presley, Bill Baize, Estell Brown, James Burton, Ed Enoch. Directed by Pierre Adidge and Robert Abel. 93 min.

videos bullet iconElvis' final-ever film captures in vivid split-screen the April 1972 tour that followed his separation from wife Priscilla. Though he's still slim-waisted in clothes dominated by polyester and rhinestones, Presley's 37-year-old face shows some wear and tear, and cover versions from "Proud Mary" to "Dixie" only occasionally catch fire. His best performances are offstage -- sitting dazed in post-concert limos, kissing fans gathered at airports and crooning heartfelt spirituals in private. Fun fact: A young Martin Scorsese supervised several montages of vintage footage that helped snag a deserved Golden Globe. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE END
Comedy, 1978, USA, R, * * *
Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Sally Field, Joanne Woodward, Kristy McNichol, David Steinberg, Norman Fell, Carl Reiner, Pat O'Brien, Myrna Loy, Robby Benson, Strother Martin, Jock Mahoney. Directed by Burt Reynolds. 100 min.

videos bullet iconLike almost every Burt Reynolds comedy, this one (about a slightly shady salesman who discovers that he's dying of a rare blood disease and decides to kill himself rather than die a slow death) is more an excuse to string together a lot of comic bits and cameo appearances than a film with a unified plot. Reynolds himself mugs too much, a tendency that his beard seems to encourage, but there are funny turns from most of the rest of the cast, including Pat O'Brien and Myrna Loy as his parents, Robby Benson (believe it or not) as a priest, and, especially, Dom DeLuise, who, as a schizophrenic strangler, pretty much takes over the movie every time he's onscreen. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE ENFORCER
Action/Adventure, 1976, USA, R, * *
Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, Bradford Dilman, Tyne Daly. Directed by James Fargo. 96 min.

videos bullet iconThis third installment in the "Dirty Harry" series marks the point at which Clint Eastwood began to walk through them, presumably saving his energy for the more ambitious projects that his financial clout from this no doubt paid for. This time around, Harry Callahan is on the trail of some nasty terrorists, burdened by his bleeding heart bureaucrat superiors and an unwanted female partner (Tyne Daly). There is an occasional nice touch, but this is formula all the way. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ENTER THE DRAGON
Action/Adventure, 1973, R, * * * 1/2
Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly. Directed by Robert Clouse. 97 min.

videos bullet iconThe kung fu genre became popular and Bruce Lee achieved legendary status in this first martial arts picture distributed by a major studio. Lee plays an adventurer who infiltrates the island of a mad scientist bent on taking over the world, and soon finds himself battling the villian's minions. This is an enjoyable comic book film filled with spectacular karate fights, all of which display Lee at his balletic and shrieking best; it is a tongue-in-cheek movie that never stops moving, and one that is superior to the schlocky imitators that followed it. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ERASERHEAD
Horror/Science Fiction, 1977, USA, * * *
Jack Nance, Laurel Near, Charlotte Stewart, Judith Anna Roberts. Directed by David Lynch. 90 min.

videos bullet iconDavid Lynch's midnight classic Eraserhead blends paranoia, claustrophobia, and the ultra macabre into a truly unique story about a young man whose life changes dramatically when his girlfriend gives birth to a grotesque, premature baby. That's not a plot summary but merely one event in a surreal, ghoulish web of actions that defy placement in a linear narrative. In black and white, with a soundtrack nearly drowned out by the roars of Lynch's industrial hell on earth, Eraserhead is, for many, almost unbearable to sit through. Everyone is deformed, attacked, mutilated, and miserable, and you may feel the same way after letting Lynch inflict his oozy, pulsating visual obsessions upon you. Regardless of its unfollowable story and stomach-churning qualities, though, Eraserhead isn't a cult "so-weird-it's-good" movie, but the striking and original debut of an important director. Steel yourself and see it, but prepare to squint at a video image that will render much of the dark action almost indecipherable. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ
Action/Adventure, 1979, USA, PG, * * *
Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan, Roberts Blossom, Larry Hankin. Directed by Don Siegel. 112 min.

videos bullet iconIn this highly impressive feature from the team of Eastwood and Siegel, the actor gives a superbly controlled performance as an inmate of the prison from which California governor McGoohan claims there's no escape. Based on an actual story, the film's point of view is too ambiguous to be considered politically rightist, a criticism often leveled against Eastwood and Siegel. If anything, Alcatraz seems to support a liberal argument against unfair prison conditions. It would be to deny the smooth efficiency of the filmmaking, however, to read anything into this fine entertainment; it's low-key, stark, and gripping. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES
Horror/Science Fiction, 1971, USA, G, * * *
Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman, Sal Mineo, Ricardo Montalban, Natalie Trundy. Directed by Don Taylor. 97 min.

videos bullet iconThe third of the Apes films is the best of the sequels, with heroic simians Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter escaping their blown-up planet to travel back to the 1970s and allow viewers to learn of the creation of the ape planet. Taken as a whole, the series will confound anyone who tries to figure out the chronological order of the action -- it's best not to think about it too much while you sit back and enjoy this cleverly conceived tale of the weird events that started it all. Escape and its sequel, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, constitute a virtually separate story within the series, and you won't fully understand this film without seeing the one that follows. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE
Comedy, 1978, USA, PG, * * *
Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Geoffrey Lewis, Beverly D'Angelo, Ruth Gordon. Directed by James Fargo. 114 min.

videos bullet iconCaught somewhere between Beach Blanket Bingo and a Burt Reynolds trucker's special, this movie is a mess. But it's a mess whose premise is so unpretentious -- Clint Eastwood as the butt of his own jokes -- that it's hard not to like it. Clint plays a truck driver who is also a top-flight bare-knuckle boxer. He falls for a streetwise country and western singer (Sondra Locke) whom he pursues across the Southwest, with his brother Orville (Geoffrey Lewis, who is a perfect sad-faced foil) and a pet orangutan (Clyde) in tow. Every Which Way is about as loose as a movie can get without falling apart. A sequel also starring Eastwood, Any Which Way You Can, followed in 1980. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK
Comedy, 1972, USA, R, * * *
Woody Allen, John Carradine, Lou Jacobi, Louise Lasser, Anthony Quayle, Lynn Redgrave, Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Gene Wilder, Meredith MacRae, Geoffrey Holder, Regis Philbin. Directed by Woody Allen. 87 min.

videos bullet iconWoody Allen's crash course in sex education is an uneven, but often very funny expedition through the comic territory of fantasy and phobia. Scenarios include Gene Wilder's problematic encounters with a standoffish sheep, a giant breast that ravages the countryside, a subtitled demonstration of exhibitionism Italian-style, and Allen's own impersonation of a cowardly sperm afraid to take the plunge. The final skit is the best. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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EVEL KNIEVEL
Action/Adventure, 1971, USA, PG, * *
George Hamilton, Sue Lyon, Bert Freed, Rod Cameron, Dub Taylor. Directed by Marvin Chomsky. 90 min.

videos bullet iconThis biography of the famed motorcycle stunt driver, who captured the American imagination in the 1960s and 1970s with his increasingly elaborate stunts and egotistical self-promotion, is short on action and long on characterization. Although it begins with a good, gritty feel for this character, the movie becomes white-washed and moralistic, with George Hamilton as Knievel preaching at length against drugs and violence. The movie is saved by the performances and supporting cast, Knievel's hangers-on and backers, as played by veteran character actors Freed, Cameron, and Taylor. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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THE EXORCIST
Horror/Science Fiction, 1973, USA, R, * * * *
Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, Max Von Sydow. Directed by William Friedkin. 121 min.

videos bullet iconThis film is one of the most talked-about and controversial horror movies of all time, ushering in a morbid cycle of occult pictures and a new age of cinematic gore. Director William Friedkin uses countless eye-popping schock effects to tell the blood-curdling story of poor twelve-year-old Regan's horrifying possession by the devil. The more overt of these visceral stunts include 360-degree head spins and geysers of vomit, but it's the more subliminal chills that really get to you -- the drone of bees, or the split-second glimpse of the demon itself. Friedkin updates the creepy techniques of old horror films to extremes never dreamed of, and he's also got some very good performances around his effects -- including Ellen Burstyn as the girl's shrieking but driven mother, Jason Miller as a doubtful priest, and Linda Blair as the sweetly innocent Regan. Although basically an example of souped-up Gothic storytelling, The Exorcist is more intelligent and scary than countless imitative pictures that followed it. There is also trendsetting makeup by Dick Smith, and Mercedes McCambridge dubbing in the devil's gutteral repartee. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC
Horror/Science Fiction, 1977, USA, R, * * 1/2
Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Max Von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Paul Henreid, James Earl Jones, Ned Beatty. Directed by John Boorman. 118 min.

videos bullet iconImagine Richard Burton as a priest being pelted with rocks by angry African natives while, somewhere in New York, Linda Blair as a Satanically possessed high school student is being tripped during a tap dance number. Picture James Earl Jones as a tribal leader dressed in a toad suit spitting up marbles in Burton's face. Fathom Blair's house being torn down in an impromptu locust swarm. Yes, these are just a few of the cinematic gems written by William Goodhart and directed by John Boorman (Deliverance, The Emerald Forest) in this continuation of The Exorcist saga. This may not be the most inane sequel in motion picture history, but it does furnish two hours of solid laughter, which is more than can be said of any four contemporary sitcoms seen back to back. The film was reedited after a much-hooted initial release, but this version is the original. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

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EYES OF LAURA MARS
Mystery/Suspense, 1978, USA, R, * * 1/2
Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Raul Julia. Directed by Irvin Kershner. 104 min.

videos bullet iconFaye Dunaway is Laura Mars, a New York fashion photographer whose premonitions about murders turn out to be accurate. It seems her eyes lock with the killer's as a murder is taking place. Parts of the film are scary enough; others are simply gratuitously violent. Although the photography makes Eyes of Laura Mars more stylish than most thrillers, the script isn't quite up to par. Barbra Streisand sings the theme song -- this was the first movie produced alone by her then-boyfriend, Jon Peters. Buy the DVD/Blu-ray/VHS at Amazon.com.

- excerpted from The Complete Guide To Videocassette Movies by Steven H. Scheuer (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1987).

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