Directed by Monte Hellman
Starring Warren Oates, Richard B. Shull, Harry Dean Stanton, Laurie Bird, Ed Begley Jr.
Shout Factory is bringing Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter (1974) to Blu-Ray, which is very good news indeed.
Hellman didn’t make many movies, which is a real shame. This is one of his best. It’s got a great cast — Warren Oates, Richard B. Shull and Harry Dean Stanton are some of my favorite character actors ever, and Laurie Bird is, well, Laurie Bird.
Cockfighter had a hard time with distribution, complete with titles changes (Born To Kill, Wild Drifter, etc.) and all kinds of oddball ad campaigns. It obviously was a tough sell. But it’s a terrific picture full of outstanding performances. Highly, highly recommended.
Category Archives: 1974
Directed by Monte Hellman
Directed by John Sturges
Written by Lawrence Roman
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Jr.
Film Editor: William H. Ziegler
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cast: John Wayne (Det. Lt. Lon “McQ” McHugh), Eddie Albert (Capt. Edward Kosterman), Diana Muldaur (Lois), Colleen Dewhurst (Myra), Clu Gulager (Frank Toms), David Huddleston (“Pinky” Farrell), Jim Watkins (J.C.), Al Lettieri (Manny Santiago), Julie Adams (Elaine), Roger E. Mosley (Rosey)
For weeks, I had a melody stuck in my head. I knew it was from a film score, probably from the 70s, that was all I could figure out. My first thought was that it might be the work of Lalo Schifrin, or maybe part of David Shire’s score for The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974).
Then, watching an episode of The Rifleman, I saw the credit for the show’s producers, Jules V. Levy and Arthur Gardner. They later teamed up with John Wayne’s Batjac to make McQ (1974) and Brannigan (1975). That jogged my memory — the tune was from Elmer Bernstein’s score for McQ. I promptly pulled out the movie, which I hadn’t seen in at least a decade.
John Wayne in a contemporary cop story is a bit jarring. John Wayne in a contemporary anything is a bit jarring. Seeing him drive around in a Trans Am is odd. So is seeing a tiny snub nose revolver in Duke’s huge hands (he has a Colt Python and a S&W Model 10). That weaponry gives way to something more fitting to the great John Wayne — a MAC-10 submachine gun. But you quickly get used to all this — John Wayne is John Wayne.
They say this picture came about because Wayne turned down Dirty Harry (1971). John Sturges was brought in to direct. Sturges and Wayne working together sounds like a dream come true. It’s a shame it was this late in both their careers. Sturges’s handling of the action scenes is as masterful as ever, but it’s a lot talkier than it needs to be. This was Sturges’s next-to-last film.
Wayne is Lon McHugh, a Seattle cop. A good friend on the force is gunned down, and as he looks into it, Duke discovers there are crooked cops stealing confiscated dope and selling it, with the help of a big-time local smuggler (Al Lettieri). McQ becomes a target of the cops, the crooked cops and the bad guys. That’s not the kind of thing John Wayne approves of, and he gets to the bottom of it as the bodies and wrecked cars pile up. It plays exactly like what it is, a 70s rogue cop movie filtered through John Wayne — which means the anti-hero thing is dialed way back.
One of the picture’s highlights is its cast. Wayne’s terrific. Eddie Albert and Clu Gulager are fine as cops. David Huddelson is cool as a P.I. friend of McQ’s. Julie Adams has a single scene as Wayne’s ex-wife. And Roger E. Moseley is fun as one of Wayne’s informants.
Al Lettieri makes a swell bad guy, as always. He’d been in The Godfather (1972) and The Getaway (1972), and he’d follow McQ with Mr. Majestyk (1974). Sadly, he’d have a heart attack and pass away the next year. What a shame, he had a lot of movies left in him.
Acting honors go to Colleen Dewhurst as Myra, a waitress and addict Wayne reaches out to for information. She brings a real sadness to the role, and Wayne offering her some cocaine (taken from a smalltime crook) is heartbreaking. If you hate the rest of the movie, her scenes are worth the whole thing. Of course, she’d appeared with Wayne before, in The Cowboys (1972).
There’s a good car chase, with an interesting twist. Wayne’s in a 1973 Brewster Green Pontiac Firebird Trans Am chasing a green and yellow delivery truck. He takes a number of detours and side streets to catch up to the truck, only to spot an identical truck in his rearview mirror. Duke’s reactions and impatient slow burn behind the wheel help make for a very effective sequence.
The picture’s big finish features another car chase, this time with the crooks chasing Wayne on the beach at speeds of around 75 miles an hour, ending with an incredible car-flip stunt. Hal Needham, the stunt man who’d later turn director (Smokey And The Bandit, etc.), broke his back developing the stunt. To quote Car And Driver, “the cop flick also contains the debut of the McQ Cannon, as it has become known. Created by Hal Needham and still in use today, it allows a car to be barrel rolled without a ramp by basically fitting explosives to its undercarriage. The test run on a dry lake almost killed Needham, so the film’s spectacular beach rollover was performed by Gary McLarty.” It’s quite a scene.
Elmer Bernstein’s score is a perfect blend of 70s’ jazz-funk crime picture music and the kind of score Bernstein had written for previous Wayne movies like The Sons Of Katie Elder (1965). Bernstein has also scored Sturges pictures like The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963). The composer’s work for McQ works really well for the film and (in my case at least) gets stuck in your head with ease. A CD of the complete score was released by Film Score Monthly.
During the shooting of the beach sequence, the cast and crew stayed at The Polynesian Motel in Oceans Shores. Wayne stayed on his yacht, The Wild Goose, and sailed around the area on weekends.
McQ is no Rio Bravo (1959), and it’s no Dirty Harry (1971). But it’s got a lot going for it, mainly Wayne himself. He could carry a picture without breaking a sweat. The cast is terrific and the action scenes are exceedingly well done. What more do you need?
On Christmas Eve, 1974, the Adam-12 episode “Christmas” aired. It’s a good one.
Remember, while you’re sitting at home tonight enjoying eggnog and watching It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), or maybe Donovan’s Reef (1963), with family and friends, your local police are out on the job keeping us safe. God bless ’em.
Gerald Isaac Stiller
(June 8, 1927 – May 11, 2020)
Jerry Stiller, surely one of the funniest men ever, has passed away at 92. Of course, he’s known for his incredible work on Seinfeld and King Of Queens, but I’ve always loved his part in one of my favorite 70s films, The Taking Of Pelham 123 (1974).
What a gift to the world this guy was!
(born Allen Goorwitz; November 22, 1939 – April 7, 2020)
COVID-19 has claimed a great character actor, Mr. Allen Garfield.
He’s in some key 70s films, like Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) and Altman’s Nashville (1975), along with The Candidate (1972), Friedkin’s The Brinks Job (1978) and The Stunt Man (1980). And he’s got a great part in one of my all-time favorites, Slither (1973, above).
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, David Prowse, Madeline Smith, John Stratton
The last of Hammer’s Frankenstein series, Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell (1974) was also the final picture from Hammer’s terrific director, Mr. Terence Fisher.
Cut quite a bit, sitting on the shelf for a year or so and given a lame release in the States by Paramount, Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell has always gotten a bad rap, though it’s enjoyed a bit of a reappraisal in recent years. When Shout Factory kicked off their Hammer series, I was hoping they’d end up with this one — it deserves their level of attention.
Peter Cushing is as terrific as ever as the obsessively obsessed Dr. Frankenstein, his experiments hampered by all the physical damage he underwent in the previous films, namely burns from Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969). David Prowse is a much better monster here than in the unfortunate Horror Of Frankenstein (1970, not part of the Cushing Frankenstein saga). Of course, these two would be reunited a few years later in Star Wars (1977) — Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin and Prowse as Darth Vader. As the innocents pulled into Frankenstein’s madness, Shane Briant is quite good, while Madeline Smith isn’t given enough to do. Why make her a mute?
Terence Fisher doesn’t disappoint. His direction is as assured as ever, though the tone of Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell is certainly darker than the previous ones — which were plenty dark already. The cinematography this time comes from Brian Probyn and its color is more muted than Arthur Grant’s work on the two previous Frankenstein films. It certainly matches the tone of the film.
I’m curious to see what Shout Factory will be able to bring to this one in May. Highly recommended.
Directed by Kevin Connor
Starring Ian Bannen, Ian Carmichael, Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Margaret Leighton, Nyree Dawn Porter, David Warner, Ian Ogilvym Lesley-Anne Down
Amicus Productions specialized in anthology horror pictures like Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965) and Tales From The Crypt (1972) — and From Beyond The Grave (1974) was the last one. It gave Kevin Connor his first directing assignment, and he’d go on to do pictures like The Land That Time Forgot (1975) and At The Earth’s Core (1976), both with Peter Cushing and Doug McClure.
Warner Archive has announced From Beyond The Grave for an October Blu-Ray release. The great Peter Cushing in high definition is always a good thing. Recommended.
For their 1000th release (or spine number), The Criterion Collection has gone very big with a great big giant box of Godzilla movies. Not those new things — no thank you — but the real ones.
Of course, this being a Criterion release, you can count on each of these the films — all 15 Godzilla movies released from 1954 to 1975 — shining like a jewel. And naturally, there will be tons of extras, from alternate versions to commentaries to documentaries and trailers and so on. Does my heart good to know the work of Mr. Honda and Mr. Tsuburaya will get the level of respect these folks will give it.
The films are:
Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1963, 2.35 AR)
Mothra Vs. Godzilla (1964, 2.35 AR)
Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964 2.35 AR)
Invasion Of Astro-Monster (1965, 2.35 AR)
Son Of Godzilla (1967, 2.35 AR)
Destroy All Monsters (1968, 2.35 AR)
All Monsters Attack (1969, 2.35 AR)
Godzilla Ss. Hedorah (1971, AKA Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster, 2.35 AR)
Godzilla Vs. Gigan (1972, 2.35 AR)
Godzilla Vs. Megalon (1973, 2.35 AR)
Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla (1974, 2.35 AR)
Terror Of Mechagodzilla (1975, 2.35 AR)
I absolutely love some of these movies. One of them I hate with a passion. Son Of Godzilla is criminally lame, and at 10, I considered it the worst movie I’d ever seen (that was before The Witches Of Eastwick). The very thought of making my way through this thing (yes, even Son Of Godzilla) makes me happy.
Stomping its way to TVs everywhere in October. Make sure yours is one of them.
(June 27, 1944 – January 9, 2019)
I just learned that one of my favorite character actors of the 70s, Paul Koslo, passed away back in January. He’s in so much great stuff: The Omega Man (1971), Joe Kidd (1972), Mr. Majestyk (1974, above), Freebie And The Bean (1974), The Drowning Pool (1975) and Rooster Cogburn (1975), to name just a few. How many actors could say they locked horns with John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Paul Newman and James Caan?
Every movie he was in was better for his presence.
Mill Creek has announced an upcoming Blu-Ray that pairs a couple of 70s Blaxsploitation pictures — The Take (1974) and Black Gunn (1972). Both were directed by Robert Hartford-Davis — who also did a few British horror pictures like Corruption (1968) and Incense For The Damned (1971). His Nobody Ordered Love (1971) is a lost film since he pulled it from circulation and ordered it destroyed.
The Take (1974)
Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis
Starring Billy Dee Williams, Eddie Albert, Frankie Avalon, Sorrell Booke, Albert Salmi, Vic Morrow, Tracy Reed
By this time, Billy Dee Williams had already appeared in Brian’s Song (1971), Lady Sings The Blues (1972) and Hit! (1973), but he was still six years away from The Empire Strikes Back (1980). He’s supported by a good cast, as if they didn’t think he could carry the picture on his own.
The cinematographer was Duke Callaghan, whose previous film was Jeremiah Johnson (1972). Mr. Callaghan shot a lot of Adam-12 episodes, so I’m a fan.
Black Gunn (1972)
Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis
Starring Jim Brown, Martin Landau, Brenda Sykes, Herbert Jefferson, Jr., Luciana Paluzzi, Stephen McNally, Bernie Casey, Bruce Glover
Football great Jim Brown made some terrific movies — stuff like Rio Conchos (1964), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Dark Of The Sun (1968) and The Split (1968). This time, the mob is after Brown’s brother (Herbert Jefferson, Jr.). Black Gunn‘s got a great cast, and you can always count on Bruce Glover to be a superb psycho.
The picture was shot by Richard H. Kline, who also gave us Hang ‘Em High (1968), The Boston Strangler (1968), Mr. Majestyk (1974) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1980).
Two cool movies in high definition at a great price. The more of these things Mill Creek pulls from the Columbia vaults, the more I like ’em.