Earthquake – Nature Gone Wild! week

This is Nature Gone wild! week. Earthquake is currently available on instant Netflix.

Earthquake

PASS: Earthquake (1974) – Rated PG.

“Academy Award winners Charlton Heston and George Kennedy star in this 1974 box office blockbuster. When a massive earthquake hits Los Angeles, construction engineer Stewart Graff (Heston) must try to rescue his father-in-law boss, Sam Royce (Lorne Greene), who’s trapped in his own building. Meanwhile, tough cop Lew Slade (Kennedy) and motorcycle daredevil Miles Quade (Richard Roundtree) are fighting for their lives.”

“Earthquakes bring out the worst in some people.”

Earthquake is co-written by Mario Puzo. Puzo not only wrote The Godfather and Godfather II but also Superman and Superman II. While Mario Puzo is clearly capable of writing Oscar caliber scripts, this is not one of them. The individual stories are terribly written.

The main story involves a love triangle between Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, and Genevieve Bujold. It is quite fun to see Ava Gardner hurling venom at Charlton Heston throughout the movie.

When I first saw Remy Royce-Graff (Ava Gardner, 52 in 1974) castigating her husband Stewart Graff (Heston, 51), I was a little relieved and surprised that Heston’s wife was about his age. Shortly after that Stewart goes to see Denise Marshall and sure enough she’s played by attractive 32 year old Genevieve Bujold.

George Kennedy apparently felt he wasn’t macho enough in the Airport series of movies so here he is a cop who *gasp* doesn’t play by the rules. When he parodies this character later in Police Squad, it isn’t much different. There is even a police car point of view chase early in the film eerily similar to Police Squad.

Richard Roundtree (Shaft can you dig it?) plays a heroic Evel Knievel-type character. Strangely they mention that he has a girlfriend who is never shown. My guess is they wanted to attract urban audiences of the time while at the same time playing it safe in the heartland.

I will say that all the unique 70s hair and clothing styles do tend to distract from the proceedings. Dallas fans will have a hard time recognizing Victoria Principal as a tight T-shirted poodle haired brunette.

Earthquake does not make the mistake that Killer Wave made. The Earthquake is front and center. There are minor tremors shown early on that cause a few strategic casualties. The big event hits about the halfway mark and is quite a showpiece. The Earthquake portions of the film are quite entertaining.

Earthquake won Oscars for Best Sound and Special Achievement Award for Best Visual Effects. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Art Direction – Set Decoration. Cinematography is hard to judge given the butchering of the film (see below).

I understand that Netflix can’t supply this movie in Sensurround! (the shake your seats audio provided in some theaters for this film and Midway) but it would have been nice to see this in its original aspect ratio (2.2:1). Netflix appears to have acquired a Pan and Scan/Full screen version.

The drama here is so overwrought as to be fun in a perverse way but I still can’t recommend watching this unless, like me, you automatically have to see any disaster movie.

People Watch: Walter Matthau (billed here as Walter Matuschanskayasky) is hilarious as a drunk. His outfit should have won an Academy Award by itself.

Obsession – Brian De Palma week

Okay here are some very late postings from last week due to the holidays. This is Brian De Palma week. Obsession is currently available on instant Netflix.

Obsession

WATCH: Obsession (1973) – Rated PG

“While vacationing in Italy, Michael Courtland (Cliff Robinson) spots a mysterious woman (Genevive Bujold) bearing an eerie resemblance to his late wife — who, along with his daughter, was killed 15 years earlier. Blinded by grief, Michael pursues the beautiful doppelganger, but winning her heart turns out to be a dubious prize. Brian De Palma helmed this unabashed homage to director Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Vertigo.”

Up until he made Scarface in 1983, almost all of Brian De Palma’s movies come off as homages to or extensions of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. Obsession is certainly no exception. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

In addition to directing, De Palma also wrote the story with Paul Schrader who wrote the screenplay. Strangely, Schrader eschews his usual focus on the seedy side of life for an old-fashioned if somewhat creepy mystery.

The story does build slowly but the payoff is quite worth it. An odd casting decision late in the film (to explain would be a spoiler) actually works quite well. A lot of De Palma’s camera angles and shot compositions are quite impressive.

Oddly Netflix did not spell either actors name correctly in their description. It is Cliff Robertson, not Robinson, who capably plays the male lead. That is Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben to those of you that don’t watch older movies. Genevieve Bujold wonderfully plays dual roles here as wife and mystery woman.

For the music, Brian De Palma wisely turned to Hitchcock veteran Bernard Herrmann. Obsession was nominated for an Oscar for Herrmann’s score. While not Herrmann’s best, it is quite haunting and lyrical as befits the tone of this film.

This is a very good mystery but is slow to get going despite starting with a kidnapping. The third act is wonderful and I highly recommend this film. One caveat: For some bizarre reason, instant Netflix’s transfer of this film ends abruptly with no credits so one is left wondering if that is really where the film ended.

People Watch: Watch for a much younger and blond (?!) John Lithgow as Michael Courtland’s southern-fried friend LaSalle.

Swashbuckler

Well on day 4 of Swashbuckler week, I might as well address the movie titled Swashbuckler. Swashbuckler is available on Netflix instant play.

Swashbuckler

Pass: Swashbuckler (1976) – Rated PG

“A high-seas adventure unfolds as buccaneer Ned Lynch (Robert Shaw) saves his pirate buddy, Nick Debrett (James Earl Jones), from execution and rescues distressed noblewoman Jane Barnet (Genevieve Bujold). The sword-wielding trio proceeds to Jamaica, where they try to free the islanders from the swaggering, dictatorial Lord Durant (Peter Boyle). In true swashbuckling fashion, romance and hidden treasure round out the story.”

While not staggeringly awful like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Swashbuckler is sadly not very good. James Goldstone’s direction is rather pedestrian. This is a shame as I’m very fond of the star Robert Shaw and Genevieve Bujold and James Earl Jones are both capable actors. Peter Boyle, normally quite a good character actor, is terrible here as the Governor. The music is loud and horribly intrusive – almost playing like a calliope every time swords are drawn.

While the idea of the pirate captain being the protagonist and the governor the villain is a common trope of pirate movies, here it is taken to ridiculous extremes. The film is meant to be rollicking fun but the pirates are completely Disneyfied – they never attack any ships, they attack the port only because one of their number is about to be executed, they steal booty that’s already previously been stolen (confiscated), and so on. Ned the captain even gives his opponent another sword when the opponent is disarmed.

The Governor is so evil that he cheerfully kills one of his sparring partners for scratching him with a sword and plays with ship models in the bath. He says at one point, “I serve one master. His name is darkness!” They even go so far as to have him be a pedophile – I suspect he may also hate puppies. Beau Bridges plays his second-in-command, an officer who makes a number of blunders named Major Folly (*groan*).

People Watch: Horror favorite Sid Haig plays a bald pirate and Anjelica Huston has a small part.