Thursday, August 15, 2019

BETWEEN THE LINES 1977


The Jeff Goldblum Blogathon Hosted by



"Fun, adventure, romance on $75.00 a week"


    
     Released in the midst of the heyday of one of the greatest decades of American cinema BETWEEN THE LINES is one of those films that has sadly fallen through the cracks with each passing decade (a fate that's sadly befallen many a wonderful film from this decade), but a recent restoration along with selected play dates and a spanking new Blu-ray released by Cohen Film Collection will hopefully remedy this.
    Directed by Joan Micklin Silver and written by Fred Barron, it features a wonderful ensemble cast of up & comers with a few who have sadly left us much too soon. Dealing with relationships and coming to terms with a changing world, it's at the core a newspaper movie for which I've always had a certain fondness for. Silver who had directed HESTER STREET in 1977 and would follow this up with CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER (1979) and CROSSING DELANCEY (1988), was one of that wonderful group of women directors who emerged during this period who while getting some attention and major work always just a bit off the mainstream and included Joan Tewkesbury (OLD BOYFRIENDS) and Elaine May (THE HEARTBREAK KID) among others. 
     Its 1977 and the staff at The Back Bay Mainline, a Boston-based underground newspaper, are dealing with the trials and tribulations of a changing world and on-again and off-again romances. With Nixon gone, the Vietnam War ended and the radicals of the 1960's now moving toward 30 years old and feeling there are no more battles left to fight. The staff seems to either on their way out, treading water or with a few hopefuls may be on their way up.




    Harry (John Heard) was once the star reporter of the paper but simply seems to be going through the motions while his sometimes girlfriend and the paper's photographer Abbie (Lindsay Crouse) still has a determination to elevate her career. She reminds him that he won a journalism award for an expose on nursing homes and she tries to goad him into a new story as the homes are being investigated again but he replies, "It isn't exciting anymore" and "nothing changed before"
   Michael (Stephen Collins) who rose to fame writing stories on the hippie movement is now writing a novel based upon that time and is already acting like a condescending jerk as talks like he's reading from press releases while his long-suffering live-in girlfriend Laura (Gwen Collins) works two jobs to support them both. 
    Max (lovingly played by Jeff Goldblum) is the paper's music critic and spends most of his time complaining about his low pay (it's from him the tag line concerning $75.00 most applies) while selling off the promo albums he gets for cash and lecturing in front of groups of rapt teenage female music students about The Beatles and Wallace Stevens. Dressed in late 70's baggy clothing (for which most of his money seems to go) is forever railing against the establishment but is the first one to sell out when the time comes.
     Although he gets an appearance in the opening credits hustling papers on the street ("hippie smut!!"), lurking in the background is a scene-stealing Michael J. Pollard as the office boy/gopher (he appears to sleep there on the floor) while a corduroy suited Bruno Kirby plays the hustling young reporter looking for his first big break and overseeing this cast of characters if the editor Frank (John Korkes - who had appeared in the 1974 newspaper comedy THE FRONT PAGE). 




    The receptionist Lynn (Jill Eikenberry) who while initially appearing to be just the surrogate mother for most of the staff but is shown to have the most convictions of anybody there. Looming over everything & everybody is the potential of the paper to a national chain with the Mainline publisher Wheeler (Richard Cox) and the advertising salesman Stanley (Lewis J. Stadlen) representing the "the man". Some of the scenes with Stanley are a bit to broad comedy-wise as a sequence with Frank is a bit uncomfortable as Frank physically manhandles him in a dispute over advertising space. 
     Although episodic-like an Altman film, BETWEEN THE LINES, takes it time with many of the sequences allowing us to really get to know the various participants (although we really could use some more Michael J. Pollard) and the film works best (for me at least) when it concentrates on the newspaper drama rather than the relationships and bed-hopping that take up the middle of the film. Although not a female orientated plot the women here do have most of the drive and gumption and they seem to be the actual driving force behind keeping the paper alive with Gwen Collin's character Laura being the one we really want to see exert herself and get rid of the sanctimonious Michael.
    There's a wonderful scene where Abbie accompanies Harry to interview a stripper (a wonderfully feisty & lovable pre-TAXI Marilu Henner) and she shows him up by asking the more pertinent questions which cause him to resent her.  There's a long sequence at a bar with a Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes that gives all the characters opportunities to shine with Jeff Goldblum talking up two young groupies (did Southside Johnny have groupies??). Goldblum is marvelous as the music critic (we never actually see him or anybody else working on a story except for Harry's stripper interview) but all along hustling for loans and free drugs. He does get the chance however to help save Bruno Kirby from a violent confrontation as a result of a story he's been pursuing and it's a real great redemption to finally see him stand up for something with conviction. His character is reminiscent of THE BIG CHILL and one could easily picture music critic Max becoming People magazine writer Michael.
     The entire cast is excellent with John Heard showing what a criminally underappreciated actor he was and it's interesting to see Michael Collins in non-nice guy role (he has just appeared as Hugh Sloan in ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN) and Jill Eikenberry really shines in her too-brief role as the receptionist.
    The film was written by Fred Barron who worked on several underground papers and the film while mostly interior bound does feature some Boston scenery. 











All above screen caps are from the MGM MOD DVD 

Monday, August 5, 2019

THE HARD RIDE 1971


"He came home for peace and love and found another kind of war"




     The biker movie and exploitation genre were ahead of the major studios' releases in as far as showing the thousands of returning Vietnam veterans their and sometimes difficult transition to civilian life. These films like RIDE THE HOT WIND (1971) with a post-Disney Tommy Kirk as a William Calley-like figure that however clunky in the exposition did attempt to show this and although the end result was to simply sell tickets with hyperbole filled lurid ads it's interesting to see what they attempted. A few like the "road movie" WELCOME HOME SOLDIER BOYS from 1971 and 1974's horror-centric DEATHDREAM had very moving stories at their core. 
     Directed by low-budget jack-of-all-trades Burt Topper (THE DEVIL'S 8) and released in 1971 THE HARD RIDE attempts to tell a serious social statement while at times veering into the standard biker troupes (albeit with a "GP" rating) as it all the sudden seems to remember it's genre roots. There's some gorgeous scenery courtesy of Yosemite National Park and the female lead played by Sherry Bain is written with surprising depth compared to the usual female role in these films and she carries most of the acting weight. 
     THE HARD RIDE both opens and closes with scenes that make the effort to lift the film into art-house pretentious as over the opening credits we're shown a huge line of choppers moving across the desert through shimmering heat while Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers powers through "Swing Low Sweet Chariot".




    Opening with a budget-constrained Vietnam sequence we see Phil (Robert Fuller from TV's LARAMIE and EMERGENCY) escorting wounded fellow soldier Lenny (Alfonso Williams who would appear in Graydon Clark's similarly themed TOM in 1973). Lenny makes Phil promise to take care of "Baby" and quickly the plot jumps stateside as Phil escorts Lenny's body back. Meeting up with the minister (Marshall Reed THEY SAVED HITLER'S BRAIN) who ran the orphanage where Lenny grew up, Phil learns that "Baby" is, in fact, a customized chopper and Lenny has left directions with him to round up one of his cycle gang members named "Big Red" to attend the funeral. 
    The jut-jawed stoic Phil (Fuller has two facial expressions through the entire) takes possession pf the chopper and hooks up with Lenny's waitress girlfriend Sheryl (Sherry Bain THE WILD RIDE) who at first reluctantly joins him in the search for the ubiquitous "Big Red". Lenny happens to be black and with Sheryl being white we think the picture will attempt some commentary on race relations, but this is quickly dismissed by Fuller after he tosses back Sheryl's accusations of being uncomfortable with the couple's past relationship. 
    The sight of Phil riding "Baby" (which is a truly impressive chopper and to Fuller's credit he does the majority of the riding himself without the aid of towing or a trailer) attracts other bikers in the area which leads to several confrontations including one with Grady (William Bonner HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS) and his gang who are camped in the middle of a vast desert. Sheryl and Phil's journey is one of the more impressive sequences of the film as we see the beautiful scenery of Yosemite, the Colorado River and the 17 Mile Drive in Monterey. These riding sequences are often used to pad out time in these films (and to give the soundtrack a boost) and the scenery here helps out the film in this regard instead of the usual desert bound biker film. We even get a stop off at Bronson Caverns. The (sometimes seemingly endless) journey also gives a chance for the developing relationship between Phil and Cheryl to flesh out for better or worse as the tedium does set in at certain points.




   The film is one the more gentle movie of the genre and Fuller doesn't don the usual biker trappings and instead wears a sheepskin jacket and sunglasses. At certain points, it does throw in some standard bike gang types (along with a roving gang of teenagers) but the film seems to want be more of thoughtful road movie and the climax does find things getting a bit darker with the discovery that "Big Red" (Tony Russel THE WILD WILD PLANET) is not the noble friend ready to help honor a fallen friend. While it's admirable that the film attempts to do something more, it's most enjoyable when it occasionally delivers what we came in for in a biker film titled THE HARD RIDE with the tag line "Some Machines Are More Than Most Men Can Handle!" as a leather-clad Bain straddles the one-sheet poster.
    I grew up watching Fuller on EMERGENCY on TV and although he's fine in the lead role he just seems to be channeling the forever cool and confident Dr. Brakett and plops the same personality on a motorcycle. He moves through the entire film with the same unflappable steel-eyed resilience (along with unflappable hair) and the film presents him as an untroubled veteran seemingly at peace with his war service, but to picture his Phil as the psychotic veteran which permeated exploitation movies of this period is almost unthinkable for Fuller's character. 
     Red-headed Sherry Bain also appeared in RIDE THE HOT WIND and WILD RIDERS and later popped up on 70's TV. Her Cheryl has one of the more fleshed roles for a female in biker films and she presents herself as independent and self-reliant who actually seems more emotionally involved in the proceedings then Phil.
    Tony Russel had gone to Italy in the early '60s where he appeared in peplums and westerns (often billed as Tony Russell) and after returning to the states in the late '60s showed up on various TV shows through the '70s. 
    The film carries the short-lived GP rating (which was soon replaced by PG) and has some toned downed biker violence, fleeting nudity in a side trip to a brothel, some nearly nude skinny dipping by Bain and all-in-all is a wonderful example of what films could getaway within the '70s without having to worry about an R rating. 
     Along with the above-mentioned Bill Medley, the soundtrack released on Paramount Records features songs by Harley Hatcher including light pop/rock such as "Riding Along With Baby" and the country-rock "Carry Me Home" among others non-threatening songs. Also, on the soundtrack is biker soundtrack mainstay Davie Allan with The Arrows credited on the guitar-driven "Grady's Theme" and he probably contributed the atmospheric blues guitar that shows up every so often (he's credited with "orchestrations" on the closing credits).