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LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: ROBERT SHAW

Robert Shaw will always be a Legend of the Silver Screen in my eyes thanks to his portrayal of Quint in Jaws. Quint is without a doubt one of the coolest movie characters of all time. In addition, he’s been memorable in everything from The Sting to From Russia with Love. Today, we’re going to focus on three flicks that are all disappointing in one way or another, yet remain watchable thanks to Shaw’s immense talent.

Our first Shaw film is…

A TOWN CALLED HELL (1971) **

In 1895, a group of Mexican revolutionaries massacre a bunch of people in a church. Ten years later, a widow (Stella Stevens) rides into town offering a reward to anyone who can help find the man who slayed her husband. An alcoholic priest (Robert Shaw) offers his assistance, but he may be harboring a dark secret.

Although not made in Italy, A Town Called Hell is still very much steeped in the Spaghetti Western tradition. It has the look and feel of a Sergio Leone western and Stella’s gimmick of carrying around a coffin comes right out of Django. Also, the flick has a washed-out horribly pan-and-scanned print that gives it that TBS-at-11:35-pm-in-the-80’s vibe.

What’s frustrating about A Town Called Hell is that all the ingredients were there for a good oater, but it just never quite clicks. The story is potentially intriguing, yet most of the movie just sits there. It’s a shame too because in better hands it might’ve been a crackerjack western.

Ultimately, director Robert (Casino Royale) Parrish can’t bring all the plot threads (Stevens’ quest for revenge, Shaw's shady past, etc.) together in a satisfying manner. The flashback-heavy structure is a bit offbeat, but it’s also kind of awkward. Shaw is very good, as is much of the supporting cast (which includes Martin Landau and Telly Savalas). The lone exception is Stella Stevens, who is woefully miscast.

Note: The town is actually called “Bastard”, not “Hell”.

AKA: A Town Called Bastard.

Our next Shaw flick is…

BLACK SUNDAY (1977) **

(Special Note: You know, if I was really on my shit, I would’ve had this review ready for last week’s Super Bowl; so apologies in advance for that.)

Don’t confuse this Black Sunday with the Mario Bava horror classic starring Barbara Steele. It’s actually a cat-and-mouse terrorist thriller based on the novel by Thomas (the Hannibal Lecter series) Harris. It’s all about Robert Shaw trying to stop madman Bruce Dern from exploding a dart bomb from the Goodyear blimp at the Super Bowl during the halftime show (which wouldn’t be much of a disaster considering most halftime shows I’ve seen).

I was looking forward to Black Sunday, mostly because it was directed by John Frankenheimer, the man who made one of the all-time classics… Reindeer Games. Well, this is definitely no Reindeer Games, Johnny. The problem is that Shaw’s hunt for Dern is much too drawn out. While there are a smattering of gripping sequences (there’s one moment involving an exploding head that made me jump), overall the film runs on way longer than it should have.

As deliberately paced as much of the movie is, the climax feels rushed. It’s curious that Frankenheimer spent two hours bottling up the tension, then he just whizzes through the climax in under two reels. It’s especially odd that he got better coverage of the Super Bowl game than of the Goodyear blimp terrorizing the crowd. And things are also wrapped up way too quick in the end. It’s almost like Frankenheimer realized he needed to shit and get off the pot and then didn’t even bother to wipe.

The thing that keeps you watching is the two key performances by Shaw and Dern. Shaw is tough and authoritative; but he’s also quite well-rounded. The one scene where he expresses regret for not killing a female terrorist, even though she was totally defenseless at the time is particularly memorable. And Dern has a lot of great monologues in this. If you’re a big Dern fan, the quibbles with the film will be meaningless as he gives one of his all-time best Crazy Dern performances.

For me though, Black Sunday never really fired on all cylinders. I was thinking it was a ** ½ flick for the most part, but the botched finale kicked it down a notch. Of all the Harris novels-turned-films; this is by far the weakest.

And our final Robert Shaw movie is…

THE DEEP (1977) **

Robert Shaw stars in another adaptation of a Peter Benchley novel, but comparing The Deep to Jaws will only bring you disappointment and pain. Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte are inexperienced divers who find a sunken sink full of morphine. Some evil Haitians led by Louis Gossett Jr. try to intimidate them with voodoo to try to get their hands on the dope. So Jackie and Nick partner up with the crusty old Robert Shaw to get to the morphine first (not to mention some treasure too).

The scenes on dry land are kind of tense, but once Nolte and Bisset hop in the water, the movie sinks like a stone. The underwater sequences, though gorgeously photographed, are sluggish, overlong, and bog the film’s momentum down like a sumbitch. And a lot of these scenes are also haphazardly edited (like the moray eel attack), which doesn’t help matters any.

The Legendary Robert Shaw is pretty intense and likeable throughout. He’s definitely the standout here. And Louis Gossett Jr. has some good moments as the villain. It was also fun for me to see two of my favorite character actors Bob (Delinquent School Girls) Minor and Robert (Sidehackers) Tessier (although it was a bit weird seeing Mr. Clean with hair) in small roles.

However, the two leads are mostly dreadful. Nolte is bland as all get out and turns in what may be his worst performance ever. He looks so fucking bored and expressionless that he often blends in with the background. Bisset is lovely, but listless and is easily out-acted by her wet T-shirt.

I wasn’t expecting another Jaws here, but The Deep is still a complete disappointment. I think I was most dismayed because it was directed by Peter Yates. I mean this is the guy that gave us Krull here; you’d think he’d be able to make it work. Sure, the flick comes alive in fits and starts, but it never really catches fire. And I have to say I thought the last minute addition of bloodthirsty sharks into the mix reeked of desperation to remind everyone of Jaws.

And speaking of which; Louis Gossett Jr. later went onto to star in Jaws 3-D.

Next week’s Legend: Roger Moore.

Comments

( 2 comments — Comment )
darksteel6
Feb. 9th, 2012 06:42 pm (UTC)
Glad you love Reindeer Games too, that ending was off the chain in so many ways! One Frankenheimer film i'd love to see you review is "The Challenge" though you might have to resort to trying to find that one in the thrift store, as it's never gotten a DVD release and VHS copies are over 50 dollars on sites like Amazon.

You also seriously need to review "Ronin"



thevideovacuum
Feb. 9th, 2012 07:35 pm (UTC)
I saw Ronin in the theater and remember thinking it was a ** 1/2 movie. * 1/2 for the plot and *** 1/2 for the action. If I see it at the thrift store I'll be sure to reassess it.
( 2 comments — Comment )

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