THE OMEN (1976)

By Marc S. Sanders

The best horror films don’t have to splash blood all over my popcorn.  I’m flattered that at times, a schlock monster fest will tantalize me with a half alive victim’s laced up intestines hanging out of the belly as they walk towards the camera.  Oh, my how long and endless and bloody they are.  Thank you so much for the garage sale autopsy.  Still, I hardly get impressed with that kind of junk.  Terror is most effective for me when the scares come from the mind of the characters and who occupies the surroundings. 

One of the best ways to scare the bejezzus outta me is when you make a child the monster.  Six year old Damien is a monster.  He’s no kind of kid that I would welcome in my house, and I’d think twice before throwing the little devil a birthday party or taking him to the zoo.  Damien may just be the Antichrist of Richard Donner’s 1976 film The Omen.

Gregory Peck made a long-awaited return to the cinematic screen as Robert Thorn, an American Ambassador to Great Britain.  His wife Katherine, played by Lee Remick, have a son named Damien, delivered on June 6, at 6pm.  Think about that point in time for a second and then maybe you’ll have an idea of where this film is going.  Think about the name Damien.  Does it perhaps sound like another word that’ll send shivers up your spine?

Robert and Katherine are a happy couple.  They feel blessed to have a child of their own and after Damien’s sixth birthday has arrived, odd trappings seem to occur.  Their nanny seems to know how to put a damper on the birthday party.  Rottweilers don’t take too friendly to the Thorns, and the replacement nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw), is…well…just watch the movie and you’ll see what Mrs. Baylock is like.  (I shudder just typing her name, Mrs. Baylock….gah!!!!!  I must forge ahead.)  As well, there is a priest who keeps visiting Mr. Thorn insisting he knows something about Damien that cannot be ignored.

What works to put the scare into The Omen is that it does not rely so much on supernatural stunts or effects.  It should never be so easy to presume that an angelic child could actually be the son of Satan.  Leave the clues, but don’t be so overt.  If it’s too obvious, then the film fails.  In order for the film to work successfully, put some doubt into what is or isn’t possible.

Lee Remick is quite good as the wholesome loving mother and wife gradually turning into a woman disturbed by her own child.  Try to imagine that dynamic for second.  It’s perfect movie material.  It’s been done before in films like The Bad Seed or in later years with the dreadful The Good Son.  To pull it off, to be disturbed and frightened of your own six year old boy, requires pacing in the script and a range of performance to get to that point and understand what the maternal character is going through. 

Gregory Peck is a seemingly likable politician.  Unheard of, I know.  I think Peck’s reputation contributes here.  He’s not so quick to accept that these odd occurrences add up to something supernatural.  If it is the case, he’ll find out for himself. 

Richard Donner, in his first cinematic film, sets up magnificent scenes.  There’s that birthday party I mentioned before.  So wholesome, and innocent, and eventually it becomes unforgettably tainted.  A trip to a cemetery at night never bodes well.  Of course, our experience with scary movies heightens our alertness when a tomb or a grave is investigated, but still, while we can expect something to happen, it’s the not knowing what happens that leaves us on edge. 

As I watched The Omen, with goosebumps all over, I was challenged with reasoning out how the film would resolve itself.  Thankfully, it leaves you thinking and perhaps trembling a little bit.  At least it did for me.  So much so, that before turning in for bed, I had to turn on an episode of Seinfeld to remind myself that though the devil or his offspring might be nearby, at the very least I can be amused by the ongoing sins of George Costanza.


By Marc S. Sanders

It’s no surprise that Harry Callahan is a chavaunistic son of a bitch. He has never been one to be shy about his prejudices, after all. In 1976, viewers found it endearing in an ironic way. Today, the character would never be produced into a studio film.

The third entry in the popular Dirty Harry series called The Enforcer is good but does not hold up as well as I remember. By the end, Harry must upgrade from blowing the bad guy away with a bazooka. He can no longer settle for his trusty .44 Magnum. It makes sense. Make everything your protagonist normally does do the same thing he’s always done, only make it bigger, and more actiony!!!! Not much interest in the on-screen chemistry that Clint Eastwood will have with said bazooka though.

Fortunately, there’s a better angle here and that is through actor Tyne Daly, as Harry’s new partner. Daly is terrific as one of San Francisco’s first female Police Inspectors who has to live up to the muster of a violent city as she accompanies a violent cop. It’s a great character that draws out feelings in Harry. She gives him pause to care and think beyond himself. Eastwood and Daly are where the chemistry is really at.

Everything else is kind of a waste really. Callahan never goes toe to toe with the main bad guy, a leader of a militant group terrorizing the city. This villain is nothing great or exciting.

Still, beyond Daly there are some great action scenes such deescalating a liquor store hold up by plowing a squad car through its front door. Makes sense, right?


By Marc S. Sanders

A number of years back I was watching Robert DeNiro interviewed by James Lipton on Inside The Actor’s Studio.  DeNiro recalled considering doing a modern day follow up on one of his most memorable characters, Travis Bickle, with director Martin Scorsese.  Lipton thought it would be a marvelous idea.  So do I.  However, I don’t think it’d be a comfortable film to watch.  Taxi Driver certainly isn’t a comfortable film to watch.  It might seem a little dated now, but its themes of loneliness, isolation, depression and violent obsession remain entirely unsettling.

Travis claims to be an honorably discharged Marine in his mid-20s, when he applies to be a New York City cab driver during the present period of the film, 1976.  He recounts every thought that runs through his head, and when you are alone, behind the wheel of a taxi cab, traveling through the arteries and veins of an ugly, crime ridden, seedy part of town, a lot of ideas run through your sub conscious.  Travis recognizes so much wrong with what he sees through his windshield that he prophesizes one day when a good, solid rain will wash away all of this scum and filth.  Maybe Travis will be the bearer of that inevitable storm.

Travis lives alone in a one room apartment with junk food, an old television set, and his unending thoughts that he writes in his journal.  When he’s motivated, he occupies himself with chin ups and pushups.  He also becomes enamored with perhaps the only pure and innocent occupant of this ugly city-a young, Presidential campaign worker named Becky (Cybil Shepherd).  Travis approaches her innocently enough under the guise of wanting to volunteer for the campaign and invite Becky out on a date.  He’s cordial enough, albeit awkward too.  Yet, he can not understand how twisted it is to escort Becky to a dirty, X rated film.  She’s sickened by the film and Travis is at a loss of what he did wrong.  Travis has become infected by the city he circumvents each day, and he’s blinded of gentlemanly courtesy he could be providing for a woman he’s interested in.

The well-known script for Taxi Driver was written by Paul Schrader.  He quickly conceived its disturbing ideas during an isolation binge he found himself trapped in. Schrader couldn’t make sense of his mindset at times.  One week he was gorging on sleeplessness, junk food, and endless television watching.  The next week, he was motivated to get in shape with exercise and healthy eating.  There was a lack of consistency in his behaviors.  Travis goes through the same experiences, but he also finds motive to respond to the offenses that he sees. 

Scorsese captures scenes of some of the passengers that enter Travis’ cab.  One scene includes the director himself in the back seat as a character obsessing over a woman in an apartment above.  It’s a cameo of an unhinged man that Travis never had any interest in knowing, yet this person insists on sharing his frustrated anguish.  Later, Travis happens upon the Presidential candidate in his back seat.  The candidate seems noble enough inquiring on what issues are most important to Travis as an American citizen.  What I gathered from the scene is that the candidate has his own ways of fighting for a better future dressed in a suit on a campaign trail, while Travis has a more disturbing outlook on what should be done. 

Midway through the film, Travis is purchasing guns from an underground seller and practicing how to quickly unleash his arsenal for when the fight crosses paths with him.  He builds a quick draw sling to hide a gun under a sleeve.  He practices how to whip out the switchblade he keeps strapped to his boot.  One of the most famous scenes in film history occurs when Travis is talking to his mirror image asking repeatedly, “You talkin’ to me?”.  Supposedly, this moment never existed in Schrader’s script, and Scorsese was fortunate to capture DeNiro getting into character.  Whatever the origin of the scene, it sends a chilling summation of where Travis prioritizes his mental focus.  It’s not on love or affection for a fellow human being.  Once he blew it with Becky, other ideas remained with Travis.  Now, he’s solely obsessed with the war that he’ll fight for, all by himself.

Schrader and Scorsese go even a step further with the character as he comes upon a twelve-year-old hooker, named Iris, (Jodie Foster) and her street pimp, named Sport (Harvey Keitel).  He takes Iris for breakfast encouraging her to go home to her family and get away from this life.  Iris cannot see the need for that.  This encounter almost seems to justify Travis’ will for violence.  He now has a cause to rescue this child from the danger she’s immersed in.  I won’t spoil the outcome of this relationship.  Yet, Schrader and Scorsese keep the ending unexpected.  Have we been watching a dangerous villain for the last two hours, or were we watching a hero? Does the bloody and excessive violence that wraps up the picture lean towards heroics or vigilante crime?  These are good questions to ask but they are also consistent with the contradictions of Travis’ mindset.  When all you have to occupy yourself with are the endless, mounting thoughts running through your head, you are doing nothing but debating with your subconscious, and it’s likely you’ll have no other person to assure you that whatever actions and choices you make are the right ones.  One day you wonder if it’s all worth it.  The next day, you feel chosen for a crusade.

So as DeNiro and Scorsese considered a follow up to Travis Bickle in a modern time of the internet, where the world has only gotten smaller and more intimate with itself, I’d be nervous to see what becomes of him.  Travis would likely still be alone, driving his cab twelve hours a day, and listening to the thoughts running through his head.  Only this time, he’d likely be getting responses to journal inputs, that he’d put on blogs and in chat rooms, from unknown keyboard warriors justifying his will for violent cleansings.  Travis would no longer be limited to just his own inner thoughts.  Now, he’d have the influence of others willing to share their own internal ideas of how to clean up the streets.  They might feel helpful and recognize themselves as saviors, but would they be able to decipher what needs saving, what needs improving, and what is the best, healthiest and most ideal way of following through with those missions?  Violence might be their answer. 

You know what.  Perhaps, I’m not being fair.  Maybe I should be more optimistic.  Some of these keyboard warriors who hide behind their computer monitors may attempt to convince Travis that the world is fine as it is and does not need the cleansings that he had always considered.  I don’t know. Sometimes, like Paul Schrader or Travis Bickle, even I go back and forth on what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s the best thing to do.


By Marc S. Sanders

People talk too much.

Ten minutes into Alan J Pakula’s film, that’s all I can think about. William Goldman’s dialogue heavy script pounds away at depicting Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s uncovering of the Watergate break in, and it shows that simply, people talk too much. So much so that just a stutter or a name in passing conversation will dig the hole deeper and deeper towards self-incrimination, and that of other accomplices. Once a source trips up, then a good reporter can pounce.

Names, dates, slamming doors, rotary phones, typewriters and papers fly fast and furiously during Pakula’s film and that’s what upholds the breakneck pace of the investigative journalism. In a film like this, a crime is depicted and investigated, only the words are the real weapons.

I don’t find All The President’s Men to be a history lesson in the corruption of Nixon’s administration. Rather, I only see what was necessary for Woodward & Bernstein to truthfully prove the corruption took place. The reporters, played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, seem to run on endless adrenaline of coffee, cigarettes and fast food effectively showing their drive while donning loose ties, wrinkled shirts, and crumpled notepads amid unkept desks and apartments. It’s visually convincing. A story like this doesn’t sleep, nor does it take a vacation. A story like this makes a viewer feel like he/she is still up at 2am, catching a cab to meet a shadowy source in a haunting parking garage; thanks Hal Holbrook for Deep Throat (“Follow the money.”).

Redford has a great scene where Pakula never stops running the camera on close up for over six minutes. All that Redford is doing is dialing, and talking on the phone while maintaining two different conversations. I don’t know if this moment happened in real life but I imagine the best reporters in a pre internet phase had to hold out for opportune times like this to fall into their laps. The cut does not end and Pakula was instinctively wise to do that. The scene itself serves that harrowing pace. Less is more in a moment like this. Props to Redford for maintaining the statuesque momentum.

Equally so, Hoffman has a couple of good moments with Jane Alexander (his eventual costar in Kramer vs Kramer.). She beautifully depicts a victim of intimidating threat, and Hoffman must tread carefully with his questions by strategically letting himself into her home, puffing on a cigarette, sipping cold coffee, speaking softly and eventually getting out his notepad as she gradually breaks down her shell. Alexander doesn’t make it easy and so their scenes work so well in taut suspense of low whispers.

Nixon’s cohorts really are not the antagonists here. In essence, Goldman’s script (based on the reporters’ published book) welcomes the challenge of acquiring factual reporting as the overall conflict. This is best represented by Jason Robards’ portrayal of Post Editor Ben Bradlee. Robards won an Oscar, and he so deserved it. He wouldn’t give “Woodstein” a break until the truth willed itself out by the proper means that are necessary. He’s intimidating in the role but he’s open minded enough to not ignore the young reporters’ instincts. I love watching his scenes; the way he commands an office from a chair with his feet up or fidgets and writes with his red pen. When his boys finally get a solid piece, Bradlee’s character breaks for one moment to knock on a desk and clap his hands as he walks away from his men. They got it. He didn’t relent, and they finally got it. I love that moment. Simply marvelous.

All The President’s Men remains a favorite film of mine. The dialogue moves so fast that after seeing it a number of times I still haven’t connected all the dots, and yet that’s what I appreciate about it. I see something new every time.


By Marc S. Sanders

Without question, what would become the absolute most prophetic film ever made is Sidney Lumet’s biting, satirical masterpiece called Network with its script from Paddy Chayefsky. 

Network works on all cylinders because it was released following a shedding of maybe the last of pure American innocence.  The country had finally pulled out of a losing war in Vietnam.  Our President Nixon was shamed out of office.  Happy housewife programs like The Donna Reed Show and Leave It To Beaver were behind us.  The outright, prejudiced Archie Bunker was who Americans were tuning in to each week.  There was even an incident of a newscaster, named Christine Chubbuck, who shot herself dead on live television.  Looking back, today in 2022, it all seems inevitable that we would arrive at where we are now; where we are always seeking some semblance of showmanship and we’ll get our own brand of infamy no matter how desperate we become.

Chayefsky’s script focuses on the fictional network of UBS in present day, 1976.  Well known newscaster Howard Beale (Peter Finch) announces on air that the following week will be his last broadcast as the network has opted to let him go due to poor ratings.  So, he entices his viewers to tune in when he will kill himself live on the air.  It’s a hilarious scene actually due to the ignorance of everyone else in the studio.  The director is flirting with his assistant. Another crew member is eating a sandwich.  No one is even paying attention to the centerpiece they have on the air.  Howard Beale has been taken for a granted as a has been for so long, it really doesn’t matter what he has to say as long as he’s reading the cue cards.  Who’d ever announce on live television in front of millions of viewers that he was intending to kill himself?

Max Schumacher (William Holden), the head of the news division, takes his friend into hiding from the media frenzy suddenly created.  Yet, the next night and after much convincing, Beale is permitted to go on the air again, and make a statement to undo whatever outlandish damage this has all become.  Instead, he decries that life is bull shit.  Max, fed up with the corporate tugs of war already, opts to leave him on and ironically a new opportunity presents itself.  Beale’s moment of insanity and his gradual mental breakdown might be real, but man, this could also pull the UBS news division out its ratings slump and bring it ahead of CBS, NBC and ABC. 

The young and energetic Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) in the entertainment division, works her way into the news division and takes over its programming from Max.  She convinces the corporate honchos like Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) to use Beale as a ratings appeal.  The entire company eventually understands what Diana foresees could actually work when a rain-soaked Beale storms on to the studio set urging his viewers to shout out their windows that they are “mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”  Now, the evening news consists of sections featuring Howard’s ranting and ramblings, as well as Sybil The Soothsayer and other such nonsense, most notably a new program from an actual terrorist group known as The Ecumenical Liberation Army. 

From there, the detritus of what UBS commits to for lead ratings night after night only validates that television is not about morals and objectivity in the industry of news reporting.  A slight telling moment has Beale come to Max with an old black and white photograph of them posing with the likes of Edward R Murrow and Walter Cronkite.  They reflect joyfully on the memories, but now they are just memories. These kinds of men of the airwaves no longer exist. Beale is now a jester to the masses who tune in for his mad man speeches labeled as “news.” 

Long before the buffoonery of out of touch Presidential Candidates and over opinionated newscasters who lacked any merit or research to uphold their viewpoints, Chayefsky and Lumet were nervy enough to actually believe moviegoers would buy this satire. 

No matter the medium, satire is maybe the riskiest category of entertainment.  Someone is going to be pissed off and offended.  Others won’t believe this could ever be possible.  In elementary school, I remember reading a short story that proposed cutting down on overpopulation by having people eat their young.  You know what?  After much discussion with fellow classmates at the time, the idea had some logic to it.  Recently, Adam McKay wrote and directed a film called Don’t Look Up that presented a what if scenario to the inevitable end of the world by means of an incoming comet crashing down into Earth.  Unlike Network, some of the elements in that film didn’t work for me.  So, satire is a crap shoot.

Had I seen Network when it was first released, I wonder what I would have thought.  Would I have bought all of its absurdity?  I believe I saw it before reality television became such a novelty and ever since that first time watching, I truly accepted the logic that comes across the decision makers at the UBS network.  Corporate functionality, no matter the industry, relies on monies.  Nothing else matters.  UBS quickly learns that image can be spared.  Money is what keeps everyone happy and afloat.  If the performance of the company falters, changes need to be made; no matter how desperate those actions may appear to be. 

So, Howard Beale becomes a sensation for the UBS network and he is at least besting or tying with top rated shows like All In The Family and Little House On The Prairie.  Yet, Howard is also a mentally ill raving lunatic who needs treatment.  What happens when he declares something to the public that is detrimental to the corporate future of UBS, its top one percent, and its shareholders.  You can’t censor a lunatic with reason.  Ned Beatty as Arthur Jensen, the all-powerful, emperor like CEO, delivers a commanding scene that is one for the ages in response.  He truly deserved his sole career Oscar nomination here…all for one scene perfectly staged in a dimly lit board room with his giant stature poised behind rows of green banker lamps.  He turns Beale into his own prophesized pawn.  Now, that may satisfy the man at the top of the pyramid, but at the end of the day, what about the ratings?????

Chayefsky’s script is one of the greatest ever written.  Not only are the satirical ideas so clearly drawn, but the dialogue is biting with truth in its sarcasm and wit.  When Diana suggests giving The Ecumenical Liberation Army its own weekly program depicting real life footage of their massacres and kidnappings across the country, a staffer retorts “What do you wanna call it?  The Mao Tse Tung Hour?”  When Beale asks the god like image of Arthur Jensen “Why me?”, the response is simply “Because you’re on television, Dummy!”

Maybe we thought the limit of influence stopped with television.  The script for Network felt sure of that.  Yet, we’ve graduated from the simplicity of television and we’ve entered the age of the internet.  Suicides and violence, pornography, slander, opinions and viewpoints can all easily be conjured up by the devices we use to access the internet and we can slant our own news stories in our own way.  News is no longer reported with an objective, omnipotent narration.  It’s dramatized.  I may be a resident in Florida but if someone captures a live on-going police car chase happening on the freeways of Los Angeles, it’s brought to my attention for the thrill of the story.  From a news perspective how is a car chase on the other side of the country relevant to me?  I don’t know the drivers or what motivated them.  I don’t live there.  So, it’s not going to affect my commute home.  Yet, my local news station finds it imperative to show it to me.  No matter the heights of insanity a subject may be, if it’s watchable with a ratings potential, I can rely on my local journalists to bring it to me fast and immediate with zoom in close ups and hi definition.  They’ll even replay it for me in slow motion a hundred times, just to stretch the story until the commercial break.

Network also explores the corporate obsession America entered into by the mid-70s.  Chayefsky uses the Diana Christensen character as a departure from the wholesome Donna Reed image.  Women are working in the offices now.  They are beautiful, smart, strong and assured.  Yet, have they also lost their humanity?  Has this happened to only women?  Diana uses her edge to sleep with her mentor, Max, a much older married man of 26 years.  The aging Max surrenders to his libido but is it worth it?  Diana is too quick in bed and while she’s love making, she’s orgasming to the latest ratings poll from her wunderkind, Howard Beale.  Chayefsky demonstrates how maddening corporate America has become by sucking any emotion of love, loss, happiness and sadness that people are heretically born with.  It’s as if a cancer has killed whatever natural stimuli people were gifted with, and he’s not wrong.  People don’t work 9 to 5 jobs any more.  They work 12 to 12.  When they are not working, they are enhancing their “social status” by means of social media. 

Network is one of the greatest films ever made.  Lumet and Chayefsky put everything on display in its no holds barred honesty.  Still, the performances must be recognized.  This film has one of the greatest casts ever assembled.  Dunaway is magnificent as the young woman with the drive to turn the television industry on its ear.  She deserved her Oscar.  Robert Duvall never received enough credit as the unforgiving corporate lackey resting just under the top while making sure profit is provided before anything else.  William Holden was already in his golden years of film acting by this time.  With Beatrice Straight, playing his wife (in her brief but Oscar winning role), they represent an honorable profession and household that is now long gone.  His character is fired twice within the first hour of the film by the modern corporate mentality, and then he’s resigned to write a tired book about his journalistic accomplishments because there is simply nothing left to do.  He’s a dinosaur in the modern age of television and business.  Peter Finch was the first to win a posthumous Oscar for his turn as Howard Beale.  If this character were real and was televised as the film demonstrates, I can’t deny that I would buy into his raving rhetoric.  I’d have no idea what he’s talking about.  I wouldn’t care, but I would tune in later in the week when John Belushi would mimic him on Saturday Night Live.

With each viewing of Network, you find something new to relate with every time.  The reason is that it stays consistent with the evolution of our planetary function.  Even in this age of Covid where stories are never consistent yet always hyped for dramatic impact, there is something to nod at and understand from the messages of Network.  It could be a world war, a new president, an assassination, a school shooting, a police chase, a riot or a pandemic.  Network had already considered the response to any topic that’s ever been the top story. 

Network is one of the most important films ever made.


By Marc S. Sanders

Rocky is a story about a bunch of losers.  It really is. It’s actually a film that does not represent or follow the standard ho hum formula that so many other well-recognized sports films that are so familiar, since it premiered on screens in 1976. 

If you examine Rocky, what you’ll find is a story about a boxer by the name of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone in a role that broke through everything for him), who is not shown doing much boxing or even training.  Instead, the southpaw boxer known as The Italian Stallion, is displayed as a heavy collector for a loan shark in and around the south side of a dirty Philadelphia.  Early on in the film, Rocky delivers monies to the loan shark and his driver asks Rocky “Did ya get the license plate?”  Rocky asks for what, and the driver snaps back with “For the truck that ran over your face.”  It’s delivered with a little humor but it’s also sad.  Is there anyone to uplift poor Rocky’s spirits?  His one-time trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), kicks him out of the gym because he’s tired of Rocky at age 30 wasting his life with the scum of the streets.  Rocky lives in a filthy apartment barely making scratch from underground fights.  About the only redeeming quality Rocky seems to show is his tender loving care for his two turtles, Cuff and Link.  So, it is surprisingly charming when he sweet talks a mousy, petite woman named Adrian (Talia Shire, truly in an underrated performance) for a date. 

Adrian is also a loser, or at least she’s treated like one by her brother, Paulie (Burt Young).  He’s constantly putting her down for her looks and lack of men in her life and any other opportune moment he can find.  It’s the only way that Paulie can build confidence in himself; by putting his sister down.  Beyond that, all he has going for him is his job in the meat locker.  His one dream is for Rocky to give him a job working for the loan shark.  Such aspirations.

By luck, Rocky is called upon by the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), to fight him in the ring.  Anyone else would jump at this chance.  For Rocky, it’s just a way to earn a fast $150,000 and use his face as a punching bag for Creed on live television.

All of these characters within this circle come out of their shells once Rocky is given the opportunity of a lifetime.  The first win for Rocky is when he wins over Adrian on an adoring, near penniless date when he takes her ice skating on Thanksgiving night.  They’re only given ten minutes to skate together.  The transition thereafter is quite revealing.  Director John G. Avildsen transforms Adrian’s appearance by removing her ugly glasses and hat.  Rocky is pleasantly surprised by the red winter coat she wears later in the picture.  Adrian becomes more talkative and expressive.  Initially, she couldn’t even look Rocky in the eye.  When Rocky gives her a shout out at a press conference on TV, Adrian laughs and cuddles up next to Rocky.  Someone has finally treasured her and she adores it so appreciatingly.  Shire really demonstrates a nice character arc, where she comes out from under the strong arm of her brother to find her independence and make choices for herself.  An amazing scene occurs near the end between Shire and Young.  The pent-up frustration the siblings have for one another finally boils over.  This scene is what won both of these actors their Oscar nominations.  It’s a moment in all of the Rocky films that doesn’t get enough recognition.

Mickey is the one who gives tough love to Rocky.  He shares with Rocky his own battles in the ring during the first half of his near 50 years in boxing.  All of the blood and sweat didn’t amount to much beyond the gym he has for the local fighters.  What he earned as a fighter was a cauliflower ear and no family except the poor kids who go in and out of his southside gym.  Now he has a chance at the big time and he has to win over Rocky’s affections so that he can train him properly for the fight that’s coming up.

The biggest loser of course is the title character.  Credit must first go to Stallone for an outstanding insightful script that looks much deeper than any of the numerous sequels that followed this film.  The original Rocky is not about punches.  The script eventually transitions into determination with Rocky giving a sorrowful monologue to Adrian acknowledging he’s a loser with no chance at beating Creed.  At the very least, all he wants to do is settle for going the full 15 rounds with the champion and never falling down on the mat for a count of 10.  Only then can Rocky triumph with a personal victory.

Rocky won the Oscar for Best Picture and Avildsen won Best Director in 1976, beating out incredible films like Network, Taxi Driver and All The President’s Men.  I’ve thought about this endlessly over the years.  Why did it win?  I mean look at the competition it had.  The script for Network is one of the most admired and amazing scripts in Hollywood history; now it’s regarded for how prophetic it has become.  The other two films gave brutally honest, yet cynical portraits of the lack of innocence in the United States.  These other films rightfully question if America is the greatest and most thriving country in the world.  Just writing this, I think I answered my own question, though I will endlessly ponder anyway.  Rocky is the one positive entry of nominated films that year.  Rocky Balboa put aside the differences he had with others and overcame the adversity of those that would antagonize and guide him down the wrong paths. 

It’s totally cliché now to say this but Avildsen’s film, Rocky, is an awe-inspiring triumph.  It’s still okay to identify the picture as such, because it was the first to do what only so many imitations thereafter tried to duplicate.  The outcome of the fight within the film was not about winning the belt and the fortunes of money.  It was a breakthrough from a wasted life – the life of a loser; the lives Rocky, Adrian, Paulie and Mickey were all sadly living before the chance opportunity of supporting one another came to pass.  As Bill Conti’s unforgettable soundtrack closes out the picture, you are not just crying for Rocky and Adrian as they profess their love for one another in the middle of a crowded boxing ring.  You are crying because you realize you can believe in changing your life with will, stamina, endurance, personal strength, confidence and then…finally…love.


By Marc S. Sanders

David Carradine plays Woody Guthrie in Bound For Glory, directed by Hal Ashby.  It’s a magnificent performance in a well-constructed film especially by the standards available in 1976, and still today in 2022.  Yet, am I capable of showering the film with additional accolades?

My first viewing of the Oscar nominated picture occurred with my Cinephile pals (Thomas Pahl, Anthony Jason and Miguel Rodriguez).  More or less, we all had the same reaction.  The film is as slow moving as much as the slow-moving trek that Guthrie embarks on from his dustbowl home town of Pampa, Texas all the way to California.  Guthrie is a musician, especially when he’s strumming a guitar and he’s altogether attractive to anyone within earshot as he seemingly makes up the lyrics to his Depression-era Americana songs on the fly.  Anyone reading this has certainly heard of “This Land Is Your Land.”

Woody is married to Mary (Melinda Dillon) with two children, and as the film opens in 1936, his hometown is flat broke.  There are no jobs anywhere.  Families are abandoning their homes that they can’t afford to maintain.  Literally, no one has two nickels to rub together.  It also doesn’t help that the town and outlying areas are plagued with monstrous dust storms.  Ashby with legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler offer up a caption of one such storm towering over the town like a terrible tsunami.  Even on Blu Ray, this is eye opening.  It’s a magnificent visual effect that took me completely by surprise. 

Shortly thereafter, Woody ups and leaves his family with just a note saying he’ll send for them once he settles down in California.  I can only guess he’s looking for a better life, and I can only presume California is the promised land of wealth and well…glory!  I don’t recall a prior conversation that praises the state as the land of milk and honey.

Wexler spoils the viewer with countless moments of scenic design as the film moves on.  We follow Guthrie as he walks the endless roads towards the west with nothing to hold in his hands.  He hops on cars that pass by.  He also hitches rides upon locomotives heading in the western direction.  Ashby reminds us that the sojourn is not easy. Seems like everyone has the same idea in mind as Woody; looking for a better way of life. Fights for sitting space on train cars break out.  Authorities try to shoot stowaways off the trains, and the best place to hide is maybe on the roof of the train, or simply hanging on to a ladder with your elbow painfully folded over, as the train moves on.

Whenever I watch a film, I try to make a habit not to look at the time.  If I do, I feel like I’ve broken the wall of the environment I should be immersed in.  I kept to my rule on this film, but Guthrie’s journey takes so long, that I truly thought once he reached California, that would be the end of the picture.  Not so.  There was at least another hour to go.  Wow, did this thing move at a snail’s pace.  Woody arrives and gets into episodes of infidelity, and more importantly he bonds with another strummer named Ozark Blue (Ronny Cox), who travels the state singing in support of a union for the poor and destitute working odd jobs on farms and railroads earning only pennies by the day.  Woody eagerly takes up the cause even as he is becoming a pop sensation on the radio.  The fight for the rights of the poor becomes so passionate for him that he butts heads with the radio big wigs who insist on knowing what he’s going to sing about on air, to ensure the wealthy sponsors remain happy. 

I read briefly afterwards that much of what is depicted in Bound For Glory is actually not true to Woody Guthrie’s story.  My buddies felt a little betrayed knowing that.  I still don’t know what is and isn’t accurate.  I dismissed all of that, though.  What fascinated me was the technical work of the film.  When David Carradine is leaping on to a moving train or jumping off of it, that’s really him.  We also uncovered that along with Rocky, also released in 1976, Ashby’s picture was one of the first to use a Steadicam and the output is marvelous.  Ashby with Wexell’s lens is unbelievably impressive.  They capture Carradine walk through an ocean of extras while strumming the guitar and singing in the moment; his voice never cracking and all happening in one take.  Carradine is seen standing in between train cars and lying on top of them with the rising or dawning sun in the foreground.  The film delivers a literal moving picture to Woody Guthrie’s most famous song “This Land Is Your Land.”  For a film made in the mid-1970s I certainly believed what was captured was genuine to the mid-1930s. 

Ashby also seemed to be inspired by the The Grapes Of Wrath.  Numerous cars of the time are disproportionally stacked with furniture like dressers, kitchen chairs and tables, along with knapsacks and sleeping bags, while the raggedly clothed children hang out the window or sit on top.  A nipple bottle top is attached to a glass Coke bottle for a baby to drink from.  If you are looking for reference material of what it was like to live in the times of the Depression, look no further than Bound For Glory.

I can’t say I will rush back to watch this film again.  The story never grasped me.  I was waiting for that special turnaround moment to come that would perk up my interest.  It just never arrived.  There’s no question, however, that the merits of the piece stem from the set design and camera work at play.  It is absolutely jaw dropping.  Woody Guthrie’s story, though, not so much.  He had faults. We learn he is not a devoted family man (something we’ve seen many times over in countless stories), and his drive to fight for the rights of the working man doesn’t appear to stretch very far.  After nearly 2 hours and twenty minutes, Guthrie up and decides to resume his countrywide walkabout on trains to sing in devotion for the working class across the country, but beyond a favorite camp fire song, what else did he truly accomplish?  There’s never a time when he sways the authority to see it his way, and there’s never an announcement that a union is established in direct response to Woody’s movement.  At best, we are offered Randy Quaid in a small role as a one of the poor family men who reminds Woody to keep doing what he’s doing.  However, that’s a staple of any biography film really, and in pictures like Malcolm X or The Last Emperor, it seemed that much more effective. 

Maybe there was more to Woody Guthrie.  I just didn’t feel that Bound For Glory illustrated much beyond the song we all know and love.  So, was that enough? 


By Marc S. Sanders

John Schlesinger contributed to the long line of political paranoid thrillers that came out in the 1970s with Marathon Man, with a screenplay by William Goldman based upon his own novel.  Most films are not constructed this way any longer.  Here is a picture that, albeit may have large plot holes, leaves you curious as to what it all means while you are watching it for the first time.  Don’t belabor yourself with watching it again as a way to piece it altogether with logic and sense.  You’ll only be keeping yourself up at night.

Marathon Man begins with several different incidents occurring at different parts of globe.  A man is tirelessly running through Central Park.  In Manhattan, two elderly men get into a heated road rage argument that leaves them dead in a massive explosion.  A box of band aids is taken out of a safe deposit box and later smuggled beneath a box of chocolates.  In Paris, an explosion occurs after a sharp dressed man gets into a car.  A little later, that man is violently attacked in his hotel room, leaving a very bloody mess.  A couple is mugged, only the hoodlums are dressed in business suits.  Another man is found with his throat slashed in the balcony of an opera house.  A white haired man hiding out in South America starts to shave his head.  What does it all mean?  How are all of these occurrences connected?

As long as vague moments like these don’t carry on too long, I’m likely to be hooked because I consider myself a curious fellow.  Thankfully, Goldman’s script pieces the characters together with a few hair raising twists that I didn’t see coming.

Without giving too much away, Dustin Hoffman plays a marathon runner/Columbia University history major with a bleak family background.  Beyond his comprehension, he is connected or will find himself connected to each one of these early moments in the film.  Once a person very close to him turns up dead in his apartment, the hysteria sets in.  Hoffman plays this quite well as he is always trying to catch his breath while soaked in sweat and remaining the lightest of sleepers.  Schlesinger creates a terrifying moment with a bathroom door that Hoffman is trying to hide behind.  It reminded me of Kubrick’s use of an axe with a bathroom door that would come out four years after this picture, with The Shining.

Laurence Olivier is a mysterious elderly man who has arrived in New York, eventually coming face to face with Hoffman. Thus, leading to one of the most uncomfortable torture scenes in film history.  Cancel any upcoming dental appointments that are scheduled soon after watching Marathon Man.  You’ll thank me for it.

The set up and players are eventually explained, albeit at breakneck speed when the tension is very high.  Put it this way. It’s a challenge to sum up exposition when it’s being dictated in a high-speed car chase.  So, on the first viewing, you might miss a few details here and there.  Nevertheless, I knew who the good guys were, I knew who the bad guys were and simply hearing the word “Nazi” in any given line of dialogue is enough for me to know how sinister this all is.

I can’t deny the ending feels a little hokey as it takes place in a Central Park reservoir system with platform stairwells and waterfalls all around.  Yet the tension remains as a young Dustin Hoffman (a hot commodity of 1970s actors) pairs up with the legendary performer, Laurence Olivier.  As I came to understand, Olivier was suffering from a terrible cancer diagnosis while making this picture.  Unbelievably, he never shows his illness, as his performance is electric with a well-deserved Oscar nomination.  Hoffman was striving for method by exhausting himself personally.  I know about the legendary story where Olivier suggested he simply “try acting.”  Hoffman later clarified that conversation and explained it had more to do with a personal divorce he was going through and late night drinking at Studio 54.  Whatever!!!  The ailments these great actors were experiencing at the time lends perfectly to the paranoia. 

I try to avoid movie trailers these days.  They give away much too much.  I had not seen one trailer or commercial for Marathon Man, prior to experiencing it for myself.  All I was aware of was the infamous dental torture scene with the famous line “Is it safe?”  Out of context, I found it to give me goosebumps.  Within the framework of the film, it’s utterly disturbing and it only heightens the suspense that Schlesinger and Goldman were striving for.