ENTER THE DRAGON (Hong Kong, 1973)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTOR: Robert Clouse
CAST: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
ROTTEN TOMATOMETER: 95% Certified Fresh
Everyone’s a Critic Category: “Watch a ‘B’ Movie”

PLOT: A Shaolin martial artist travels to an island fortress to spy on an opium lord under the guise of attending a fighting tournament.

I have just finished watching the quintessential ‘70s chop-socky kung fu flick, Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s fitting, if all-too-early, swan song.  I now sit in front of my computer terminal and try to figure out how to review this movie that screams low-budget, from its liberal use of zoom shots and slow-motion, to the gloriously cheesy score from Lalo Schifrin, interspersed with kung fu yells during the opening credits, to the cookie-cutter nature of the bare-bones screenplay.

I sit.  I ponder.  By any “serious” metric of film criticism, this is not a “good” film.  Sure, it was probably groundbreaking for its time, but in the years since its release, other movies have trumped it on many levels.  I’ve seen movies with WAY more kung fu action (Drunken Master II, Kung Fu Hustle), movies with way higher production values (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Big Trouble in Little China), and movies with way better screenplays (Everything Everywhere All at Once, Kill Bill).

But Enter the Dragon has one thing those other movies don’t: the sheer charisma and magnetism of the master, Bruce Lee.  In every scene he’s in, Lee’s eyes always seem to be working, working, working, whether he’s having a conversation with a British official or defeating an opponent twice his size in a kung fu tournament.  His intensity radiates off the screen.  In one scene, he instructs a young pupil in short, clipped tones, exhibiting nothing but concentration and admonition.  Then later he wins a bet on an unusual animal fight – praying mantises – and check out his cocky smirk as he reaches out for his winnings.  He may not be subtle, but who cares.  He’s Bruce freaking Lee.

He is the single “x-factor” that elevates Enter the Dragon into the pantheon of hallowed action films.  If it had been made with another actor in the lead, it would have been forgotten a long time ago, the second half of a double bill for all eternity.  The story is decent enough, although it feels cribbed from more than one Bond movie, or maybe all of them at once.  The screenplay is…well, let’s say it doesn’t give its characters very good things to say.  One of my favorites is when Williams (Jim Kelly) looks at the vast squalor of the “boat cities” in Hong Kong Bay.  He shakes his head ruefully and says, “Ghettoes are the same all over the world.  They stink.”  It’s not exactly Tennessee Williams.

Then again, that may be one of the factors that works in the film’s favor.  We must come back once again to Bruce Lee.  With his imposing presence throughout the film, that fierce stare, that iconic yell, that chiseled physique, perhaps more realistic or polished dialogue wouldn’t quite fit.  If you’ve got an actor swinging for the fences, don’t try to hinder him, or anyone else in the film, with exquisitely crafted lines.  Accept the fact that all the characters, not just Lee’s, are intended, nay, EXPECTED to behave in very specific ways, and just switch your brain to “low-power mode.”  That’s where Enter the Dragon lives.

By the way, I’m a big Jackie Chan fan (he has a VERY brief appearance in Enter the Dragon as “Thug in Prison”).  I love the intricately choreographed, unbelievably long action sequences in his films.  Enter the Dragon has multiple fight scenes, but none of them are very long when compared to Chan’s movies.  Truth be told, some of the fights in Dragon feel a little…stagey.  But that staginess is balanced by, once again, Bruce Lee’s intimidating aura that brings believability to every scene because, by god, HE certainly believes it.

Is Enter the Dragon the end-all/beat-all of kung fu movies?  In my opinion, no.  That title goes to Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master II with its mind-boggling battles that go on forever.  However, Enter the Dragon is an excellent example of how any movie, however badly written or shot, can be improved with the right actor in the starring role.


Best line or memorable quote?
[after watching an opponent trying to intimidate him by smashing a board in mid-air:]
“Boards don’t hit back.”

Why did you choose this particular film?
First, I had to Google search “notable B movies” to see what would fit the bill.  I’ve seen Birdemic, Troll 2, and the execrable The Room, but I don’t own any of them.  I saw a lot of 50’s monster movies on the lists I found, but I don’t own any of them, either.  Suddenly, pay dirt.  Turns out Psycho qualifies as a B movie…who knew?  But that movie is too darn good to be lumped with movies like The Blob and The Tingler.  I needed a movie that exhibited its low-budget restrictions on its sleeve and still managed to be unironically entertaining.  Voila: Enter the Dragon.


By Marc S. Sanders

In the 1970’s Al Pacino had a slew of Oscar nominated roles.  One of those revered performances was as Frank Serpico, the righteous cop working with a corrupt New York City police department, in Sidney Lumet’s gritty Serpico.  The wardrobes and appearances of New York and its five boroughs seem unfamiliar nearly 50 years later, but the film can still maintain interest for a viewer because it’s astonishing how valid and true all the facts remain.  Cops were happily taking handouts, while the politicians and commissioners took no issue with looking the other way.  Whether it was disregarding a deli owner’s double-parking offenses for a free sandwich, or skimming some payouts from drug and prostitution rings, Serpico’s morals were always facing an insurmountable conflict.

Lumet’s film starts off with an interesting observation.  Word gets out that Frank has been shot and is being rushed in an ambulance, and one police officer asks the other, if a cop did it (not who did it).  If you never knew anything about this guy’s life or what he experienced, you know in just a small economy of words that Frank Serpico has become everyone’s enemy; not just to the hoods, pimps and drug pushers, but to those who are supposed to be his allies and support.

Long before Al Pacino inherited his gruff smoker’s voice that bellows like an angry lion with too much phlegm, he had the ear piercing outbursts with the same intensity to frighten his co-stars.  His character is seemingly the one true blue cop in the entire squad who doesn’t befriend the local hoods.  Serpico never accepts a bribe or hides a report.  It’s a frustrating ordeal and Pacino goes to the limits with big outbursts while pacing back and forth and showing terrible fear and panic in his eyes.  Lumet’s camera is quick enough to capture every tick that Pacino exudes.  It’s not Al Pacino performing within the frame of the camera.  It’s actually Sidney Lumet’s lens adjusting to how wild Pacino goes physically with his volume and body language.  

Frank Serpico was a lone wolf.  As the story progresses, the other cops find it hard to believe that he will not accept being part of the gang that is on the take. They grow concerned.  Can they trust Frank to keep his mouth shut and let things be?  No, they can’t count on Frank to toss a blind eye.  He is persistent on getting this story out to the proper authorities.  Naturally, it’s hard for these corrupt individuals to share a locker room or ride in the same car with him as a passenger.  Frank’s limit though is that he is reluctant to testify.  Get the investigation going and have the authorities uncover it for themselves, and then do something about it.  That’s all.  If he testifies, then his life is truly in danger as this all becomes official in a court of law.

Serpico is a good film because of Pacino and because of the concept of the story.  It’s more compelling because arguably in the United States’ most well-known city, corruption actually abounds.  Dirty cops in New York City?  Why, that’s unheard of! It was sadly all true and justice was not being executed fairly.  

However, Serpico is not Lumet’s best film, nor Pacino’s.  Often it meanders.  There’s not a lot of action.  There’s quite a number of scenes where Pacino’s screaming paranoia takes over.  It grows tired, honestly.  Moreover, it gets repetitive.  Many of Pacino’s outbursts feel like I just saw a scene like that, five minutes earlier.  

What keeps me going through the film is the fact that one authority after another refuses to take this problem head on.  The captains, the commissioner, the prosecutors and even the mayor of New York City never allow any chance of pursuing the wrongdoing that’s occurring.  After all, if you prosecute everyone involved, who is going to be left and how would that make an elected official look in the eyes of his constituents?

There are subplots focusing on the relationship between Frank and a couple of his girlfriends played by Barbara Eda-Young and Cornelia Sharpe.  I found these connections to exist as additional outlets for Pacino’s outbursts.  I didn’t terribly mind this material.  The acting is fine, but what did I gain from moments?  I read that the actual Frank Serpico had four relationships during his time as a New York City cop.  From a story perspective however, condensed into a film, I didn’t gain any new insight.

Serpico is worth watching.  I just wouldn’t put this on the top of my Lumet or Pacino priorities for must see viewing.  Still, it’s a true story that I’m satisfied was told.  In 1974, Hollywood was taking risks to show the ugly side behind a uniform or face of nobility.  This is where I consider film medium to be a necessary conduit of information and awareness for us.  On that level, Serpico serves as an important treatment.


By Marc S. Sanders

I must not be that much of an intuitive movie watcher because I can not comprehend what is so fascinating about Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.

Robert DeNiro was hardly known at the time but he is certainly a scene stealer here as Johnny Boy. He’s the wild one with no concept of the danger he puts himself and his best friend in. Charlie is the much more respectable and well-dressed hoodlum. Charlie is played by a young strait-laced Harvey Keitel. Keitel & DeNiro are the strengths of the film.

Beyond the headline cast, the structure of Mean Streets is a very loose patchwork of random events that circulate around Little Italy, NYC. The soundtrack comes from side street buglers, transistor radios, and jukeboxes consisting of The Rolling Stones, The Sherrills, The Ronettes, and samplings of Italian opera. It lends to the setting as another character. For a Scorsese film, that’s all part of the plan. The setting talks back to you, or it’ll take your hand and lead you on. Martin Scorsese is a prophet of New York. He uses the grime and steam of the streets to his advantage (even if some of this film was actually shot in Los Angeles).

Still, I just don’t get this picture. It moves slow at times. Random meet ups occur and I found myself asking if we have met this character and that character already.

I give Scorsese credit, in one respect. He testifies that although the film is fiction, it is a direct representation of what he experienced during his own upbringing. I believe all of that. Again though, why couldn’t it all be pieced together a little more tightly? Had it been, I’d probably have taken more of an interest in the setting and the dangerous exploits of Charlie & Johnny Boy.

It’s okay though. I’m glad I watched it, nonetheless. I had seen it many years ago and I was excessively bored then as much as I am right now. Scorsese was destined for better things. MUCH BETTER THINGS.


By Marc S. Sanders

Find me a better combination of script, cast, direction, score, art direction and costume and I guarantee it’ll take you some time and effort.

The Sting, directed by George Roy Hill and written by David Ward, is the kind of movie where you uncover something new every time you watch it. It’s because the film is all in the minute details to assemble the beginning to the middle to the end. The film is wisely edited in step by step chapters; The Set Up, The Wire, The Shut Out and eventually on to the satisfying The Sting.

The audience is even set up but you’ll have to watch to see how. I dare not spoil it.

Cars, trains, drug stores, diners, a carousel, dames, gangsters, Bunko Cops, Grifters; all are elements needed for the best confidence men superbly played by Robert Redford and Paul Newman, along with a supporting cast like no other, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Jack Kehoe and the best villain, or rather “mark,” Robert Shaw.

This is one of my favorite movies. When I first saw it, I was probably age 10 or 12. I understand next to nothing of what was going on. It was the music that drew me in first followed by the sharp suits designed by the legendary Edith Head. The movie’s script is its greatest asset but visually it is just as fun. The 1930s Chicago setting is a character in and of itself. Newman cheats beautifully at poker against a temperamental Shaw, and gets him!!! “You owe me 15 grand pal.” When I first saw it, I didn’t know what he was doing or how he did it. How did he switch hands? I was enamored with the hands that were dealt and the poker chips on the table, but I loved it when the better cheat won out.

The second iteration of the Hill/Newman/Redford trifecta (following “Butch…& Sundance…”) is just plain fun. It was the fun that earned it a Best Picture Oscar.

No other film has come close to duplicating it. Maybe the Clooney/Pitt/Damon version of “Ocean’s 11”? I don’t know. However, if you love that film, you owe it to yourself to watch “The Sting.”

The Sting is…”the quill!”


By Marc S. Sanders

I dunno. For me, the suave sophistication with the tongue in cheek persona of James Bond doesn’t mix well with the ‘70s cinematic themes of Blaxploitation and island voodoo rituals with snake bite human sacrifice. Live And Let Die was never a favorite of mine in the series. Still, it has some merits; even pioneering moments that set the standard for the next 20-25 years of 007. The gadgets are getting cooler (like a handy Rolex watch with a super magnet and buzz saw) and better, more natural looking action.

Harry Saltzman & Albert Broccoli present a film where the action scenes are the most authentic yet. A car chase with a double decker bus doesn’t feature the background film scroll seen in the rear window of an automobile, like prior films.

There’s a particularly long sequence featuring a boat chase through the Louisiana bayou. Great stunts and well edited footage here, although it features one of the most annoying characters in the whole series, redneck Sheriff GW Pepper (Clifton James, who always played the same role like in Superman II and even The A Team). This scene is an absolute blast of fun as Bond commands a speed boat while trying to evade a handful of bad guys in pursuit. Cars are wrecked. Boats are wrecked, and a bride to be wails aloud as her wedding is ruined. It’s just fun.

Roger Moore slips comfortably into the role of the Britain’s most celebrated secret agent. He’s handsome, for one thing, and his humor is dry enough that even in the face of death a pun is well delivered.

Yaphet Kotto plays Kananga, a far cry from the Cold War villains of Blofeld and Goldfinger. Turns out this guy just uses a couple of bars as a front for his heroin dealing enterprise while he dons a neighborhood crime boss image of “Mr. Big,” looking more like a villain of Shaft. He’s nevertheless good. Though he starts out the role quite subdued, he gleefully comes alive in the second half of the film when Bond intrudes on his secret lair.

Tom Mankiwietz’ script is lacking though. The pre title sequence gets me curious why three agents are inventively killed, but then the story mires itself in Kananga relying on Tarot card reading from the first virginal Bond girl, the High Priestess known as Solitaire. (Jane Seymour’s first screen role.) This offers no suspense or substance. We wait for cards to literally be turned over. Not exactly nail biting. Seymour is beautiful, but the intelligence and sex appeal of the character is flat.

There are also scarecrows and Caribbean island voodoo that are hardly threatening and belong in a horror film, not a Cold War era Bond adventure.

All of this weird material was twisting the series a little too far off course.

Live And Let Die does add a great henchman to 007’s rogue gallery; that of the imposing Tee Hee with enormous height and his steel lobster claw arm. He’s a fun bad guy that happily deserts Bond in a hungry alligator swamp.

Director Guy Hamilton’s third Bond film is not a total bust. It’s well cast in villains and Roger Moore is a perfect successor. Location shots of New Orleans and Jamaica (subbing for Kananga’s Caribbean island) are cool to see. The Harlem, New York footage really doesn’t belong here, though. It also has one of the best, most often played songs in the whole series, compliments of Paul McCartney & Wings. Again, it suffers however from a short sighted script.

Bond will be better served in missions yet to come.