Andrew Robinson

Dirty Harry (1971, Don Siegel)

Dirty Harry only has one significant problem. It has a bunch of little problems, but it gets past those–sometimes manipulatively, sometimes just nimbly thanks to director Siegel and star Clint Eastwood–but the big one. It can’t overcome the third act. Villain Andy Robinson (I can’t forget to talk about him) has kidnapped a bunch of school kids. Eastwood’s got to stop him. It should incorporate the film’s (significant) stylistic successes–the big scale action sequence (Siegel loves shutting down a city block with Eastwood playing super-cop) and the harrowing thrills (the middle of the film has this phenomenal sequence where Robinson’s running Eastwood all around San Francisco from pay phone to pay phone).

Instead, the finale has neither. It feels tacked on, sure, but a lot of Dirty Harry feels tacked together. And I’m not just making that observation because I know from director Siegel’s memoir he, Eastwood, and screenwriter Dean Riesner literally sat around and taped scenes they liked from the various failed drafts of the script. Most of the time the tacking works–it leads to strange, nice scenes, usually giving Eastwood some depth–but not at the end. At the end, it flops. The big final action sequence? Well, it’s not big, but it should be. But it doesn’t work. Even if the film’s final shot, with the beatific, haunting Lalo Schifrin music, is awesome.

The film starts in the daytime–literally, with Robinson killing his first victim on a sunny, presumably warm day–and gradually moves the action to night. Much of the second act is at night. Most of the second act, counting screen time and not present action elapsed, takes place at night. Nighttime is where even affably, charmingly churlish super-cop Eastwood gets to be scared. The movie works up to it, establishing Eastwood as much of a caricature as it can–doing a good job of it, of course, and doing the occasional aside to make sure the audience knows he’s their kind of bastard.

The finale’s not at night. It’s during the day. A very, very problematic day. Plot holes galore in its timing. Plot holes really shouldn’t matter in the last fifteen minutes of a serial killer thriller.

So the daytime throws Siegel off a bit with the finale. As does the setting. As does the pacing (he’s only got about ten minutes to wrap things up). But he also seems to let editor Carl Pingitore take a break, which is a big mistake. Pingitore’s editing intensifies as the film does, through the first and second acts; it’s incredible during the nighttime suspense sequences. Siegel, Pingitore, cinematographer Bruce Surtees–Dirty Harry is often breathtakingly well-made. Often set to the perfect Schifrin score.

Plot holes, Siegel’s lax direction, and daylight timing aren’t the finale’s only problem. Dirty Harry’s big little problem–and one of its most surprising successes–has its (muted) blow-up at the end: how can these silly cops and politicians not get over their liberal sensibilities and understand Robinson’s dangerous?

By the end of the film, Robinson’s killed a wealthy, beautiful, young white woman, a ten year-old boy, a fourteen year-old white girl (who he raped), a cop trying to stop him (Robinson shot him up with an assault rifle), and maybe someone else. Maybe not. But definitely those four. Yet mayor John Vernon and district attorney Josef Sommer want to make sure Robinson’s “rights” are “protected” more than anything else. Double quotation works because, while the rights are specific, how to ensure their protection isn’t. Anyway, even worse, they’re convincing Eastwood’s boss–Harry Guardino in a nice, ruffled performance–they’re right.

Eastwood’s new partner is a pre-affirmative action but come-on hire. Except, after working a couple nights with Eastwood, college educated, Hispanic Reni Santoni comes to understand not just the reality of the street but also how much no one listens to Eastwood. How could they? Their characters are too thin to have ears.

Harry’s coats its dog whistles in beautiful filmmaking, but it doesn’t do anything to disguise any of them. So when it turns out the reality of the street is Eastwood’s rampaging super-cop basically gets along with the bad guys. Even when they’re black guys. It’s all in the game, though sort of in a pre-cop movie, post-Western sort of way. It can even make for likable Eastwood moments.

It just doesn’t add up when Robinson’s the villain. He’s a proto-incel gun nut who fantasizes about killing marginalized people. The film frequently dehumanizes the character with these whiny, squealing wails. It’s supposed to make it okay for Eastwood to torture him. But it also makes the character even more unlikable because Robinson’s wails are so good, you just want Eastwood to kick him in the face until he shuts up.

It’s also kind of okay because at that point in the film he’s killed two adults and two children in a variety of circumstances and methods. Harry’s other problem with making its political statement is how ill-suited it integrates with the story. Dirty Harry doesn’t have much character development. In its place is this subtext about the problems with liberal intellectual politicians letting pedophile, cop-killing spree killers literally run wild. At least be invested in that subtext.

Until the third act, the film does a pretty good job of integrating that subtext. It usually gets loud for a moment, then quiets down for a while. In between are some great scenes. Getting over that thin aspect of the script is one of Dirty Harry’s successes, because Siegel and Eastwood are able to leap and bound over the thinness. Until the third act.

So Dirty Harry doesn’t finish as strong as it should. It’s hard to imagine how it could. Aside from the final action sequence actually being suspenseful.

There’s a lot of good acting–Eastwood, Guardino, Santoni, Robinson (kind of until the third act), John Vernon (ditto). Amid all those third act problems, Ruth Kobart gives the phenomenal performance in a small role. The film’s expertly made. Siegel’s Panavision direction–with Surtees’s photography–is outstanding. Those great Pingitore cuts, that great Schifrin music.

It’s just got a bad finish.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Don Siegel; screenplay by Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink, and Dean Riesner, based on a story by Fink and Fink; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Carl Pingitore; music by Lalo Schifrin; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Harry), Harry Guardino (Bressler), Reni Santoni (Chico), John Vernon (The Mayor), Andrew Robinson (Killer), John Larch (Chief), Josef Sommer (Rothko), John Mitchum (De Giorgio), Mae Mercer (Mrs. Russell), Ruth Kobart (Bus Driver), and Woodrow Parfrey (Jaffe).


Trancers III (1992, C. Courtney Joyner)

There’s a certain exhaustion about Trancers III. Director Joyner doesn’t have much chemistry with star Tim Thomerson, leading to way too much time spent on the evil super-soldiers. This Trancers sequel, in addition to a really lame Terminator 2 vibe with a novelty android, is all about explaining the origins of Trancers. But not in an interesting way, but a really boring one.

Thomerson and Helen Hunt, on the rocks since the previous sequel, get one scene together. Hunt has two scenes (one on the phone with Thomerson) but only the one actual scene. She tries really hard, but there’s no way to make anything out of it. Joyner is awkward at integrating information from the previous movies, which means dialogue problems, and he’s bad at directing the actors trying to articulate that dialogue.

It should be sad, seeing the heart of the franchise fizzle out, but it’s not because by the time Hunt and Thomerson have their moment, Trancers III is already in the dumps. It starts in the dumps, what with the secret military experiment laboratory underneath a strip club. Actually, maybe Trancers III starting with that tell tale sign of trouble–a “theme by” music credit, which means the filmmakers weren’t able to bring back the original series composer–it lowers expectations. Then there’s a dumb TV commercial with Thomerson advertising his PI business (a Robocop nod) before he disappears, except a weak voice over. Joyner doesn’t know how to make Thomerson fun. It’s not a question of trying to make him funny, it’s about making Trancers and Thomerson fun. Joyner fails at it.

Real quick–Andrew Robinson. Robinson’s the evil mad scientist, only he’s a macho army guy mad scientist, which should be funny. It’s not. Maybe if Adolfo Bartoli were a better photographer, the bad sets would look better but he isn’t. And Robinson’s performance suffers. He’s going crazy–his accent goes from country to Scottish and back again–it just doesn’t amount to anything.

Melanie Smith is okay as Thomerson’s new sidekick, but not really any good. She’s okay for the Trancers III regular cast, who are mostly bad. Decent cameo from Stephen Macht though and it’s fun to see Telma Hopkins. Megan Ward’s bad, unfortunately. Not really her fault, but she’s still bad.

There’s no reason for a Trancers III, so if you’re going to make one, don’t make it lame. There’s just no reason to make such a lame Trancers movie. It wastes Thomerson, it wastes Hunt, it wastes Robinson.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by C. Courtney Joyner; screenplay by Joyner, based on characters created by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Adolfo Bartoli; edited by Lauren A. Schaffer and Margeret-Anne Smith; music by Richard Band, Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Milo; produced by Albert Band; released by Paramount Home Video.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Lena), Megan Ward (Alice Stillwell), Melanie Smith (R.J.), Andrew Robinson (Col. Daddy Muthuh), Tony Pierce (Jason), Stephen Macht (Harris) and Telma Hopkins (Cmdr. Raines).


Shoot to Kill (1988, Roger Spottiswoode)

Shoot to Kill is an exceptionally bland action thriller. It shouldn’t be bland–there’s a decent concept to it. Kirstie Alley is a wilderness guide, cut off from the outside world, and one of her obnoxious fly-fishing white male character actors is secretly a killer. Who will it be? Richard Masur? Clancy Brown? Andy Robinson?

Unfortunately, Shoot has almost nothing to with Robinson, Brown, Masur or even Alley. It’s all about Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger out to save Alley and stop the unknown killer. Berenger’s a rugged mountain man, Poitier’s a street smart FBI agent. Only neither of them ever gets to exhibit their skills. They both bumble because it perturbs the plot and creates opportunities for drama. Director Spottiswoode captures that drama in the blandest way possible, composing his Panavision frame for eventual VHS pan and scanning. Shoot to Kill is one of those eighties action movies so ineptly directed–with Spottiswoode wasting Michael Chapman’s photography–it probably plays better on an eleven-inch, standard definition television.

With commercial breaks.

It does seem like it should be better though. Poitier and Berenger certainly seem respectable and, to some extent, they are. They just don’t have characters to play. Alley’s the most convincing just because she’s able to suggest her character’s relationship with Berenger, even though they don’t have any establishing scenes.

And Poitier’s in trouble right from the start. He’s got this huge FBI stand-off at the beginning and it does nothing to establish his character as anything but a sensitive, hard-working bumbler. At least when Berenger bumbles, he falls off a mountain or something. Not Poitier. He just screws something up and Spottiswoode doesn’t go for a reaction shot because Poitier can’t be self-aware or the script doesn’t work.

Though the script–from Harv Zimmel, Michael Burton and Daniel Petrie Jr.–rarely works. For its better moments, Shoot to Kill gets away with it because (even though Spottiswoode wastes them) it has good locations, whether the mountains or Vancouver. Standing in for Vancouver. The San Francisco stuff doesn’t work out.

Bad music from John Scott doesn’t help anything.

The cast, misdirected and occasionally miscast, is professional. They make the film nearly tolerable, until it collapses. Even when an action set piece should be good, Spottiswoode screws it up. It’s not really his fault in some ways; the whole thing is misguided and poorly produced.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode; screenplay by Harv Zimmel, Michael Burton and Daniel Petrie Jr., based on a story by Zimmel; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by George Bowers and Garth Craven; music by John Scott; production designer, Richard Sylbert; produced by Ron Silverman and Petrie; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Sidney Poitier (Warren Stantin), Tom Berenger (Jonathan Knox), Kirstie Alley (Sarah Rennell), Clancy Brown (Steve), Frederick Coffin (Ralph), Richard Masur (Norman), Andrew Robinson (Harvey), Kevin Scannell (Ben), Michael MacRae (Fournier), Milton Selzer (Mr. Berger), Les Lannom (Sheriff Arnett), Robert Lesser (Minelli) and Walter Marsh (Sam Baker).


Dark Horse Presents 86 (June 1994)

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The issue opens with a sci-fi story–from Watt-Evans and Robinson–about a female space traveler who finds a world filled with adorable little creatures out of a Disney cartoon. It turns out they’re very amorous to the human female, which provides for a rather amusing story. Watt-Evans’s story is well-paced and always thoughtful. There are the technical problems of the protagonist, but she’s always around the funny little green guys. It’s too bad Robinson’s art isn’t better.

Star Riders is weak. Everything good about the first installment is missing here. Gagnon complicates everything with technical jargon and sci-fi details. Racine’s art gets real lazy–quite an achievement considering he appears to have photocopied his pencils and called them inked.

Janes and Plunkett’s Eighth Wonder is too short and too slight this issue. Some nice Plunkett art, but unfortunately Janes’s narrative seems to have stalled.

CREDITS

A Breath of Fresh Air; story by Lawrence Watt-Evans; art by Andrew Robinson; lettering by Vickie Williams. Star Riders, Part Two; story by Étienne Gagnon and Edward Martin III; art by Alex Racine; lettering by Williams. The 8th Wonder, Part Two; story by Peter Janes; art by Kilian Plunkett; lettering by Williams. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Dark Horse Presents 76 (August 1993)

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Madwoman sort of whimpers off to its end. Jordorowsky tries to do way too much–he introduces two new characters and kind of changes up the point of the story. He also introduces the possibility its all about getting a drug princess out of jail. It doesn’t even have a solid ending, instead making a joke about the protagonist’s sexual promiscuity. It’s a weak finish… but the art from Moebius is good.

The Chairman finishes up too. Moore introduces more characters and major plot point. It’s exceptionally poorly written. All I can think is the editor knew Moore personally. Robinson’s art continues to be bad.

However, the issue opens with Hermes versus the Eyeball Kid, which is a delight. Campbell is having fun this entire first installment. It’s funny but there’s also his delicate plotting–Campbell sets up the many characters with complex relationships. He’s off to a great start.

CREDITS

Hermes versus the Eyeball Kid, Part One; story and lettering by Eddie Campbell; art by Campbell and Peter Mullins. The Chairman, Part Three; story by Charles Moore; art by Andrew Robinson; lettering by Pat Brosseau. The Madwoman of the Sacred Heart, Part Seven; script by Alexandro Jordorowsky; art by Moebius; lettering by Dave Cooper. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Dark Horse Presents 75 (July 1993)

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Another mediocre issue.

DeLint and Vess’s Savoy story, about a woman masquerading as a highway robber to confirm her man’s fidelity, ought to be a lot better. Vess has some great panels, but he occasionally will have some indiscernible action sequences. With DeLint writing a “ballad,” he doesn’t exactly make things clear. Once the narrative clears up, it’s a lot better. But never anything special.

The Chairman is even worse this installment than the first. Moore apparently feels the reader doesn’t need any introduction to the new characters this time–and Robinson doesn’t make anyone look different, so it’s a miserable eight pages. Every time I feel like I’m being hard on it, Moore’s writing gets even worse. Not to mention the concept–sort of Dune with the Catholic Church–is idiotic.

This issue features one of the good Madwoman installments. It continues to be a roller coaster of quality.

CREDITS

Savoy; text by Charles de Lint; art by Charles Vess. The Chairman, Part Two; story by Charles Moore; art by Andrew Robinson; lettering by Pat Brosseau. The Madwoman of the Sacred Heart, Part Six; script by Alexandro Jordorowsky; art by Moebius; lettering by Dave Cooper. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Dark Horse Presents 74 (June 1993)

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I think Madwoman would read better as a single narrative, instead of sectioned off into installments. Jordorowsky makes a major plot addition this installment–the protagonist hallucinates his younger self as an advisor when it comes to being inappropriate with one of his students–and it just changes the tone completely from the last entry. The content might more fit Moebius… but the writing is nowhere near as strong.

Then there’s The Chairman, from Moore and Robinson. Robinson is not ready to be illustrating professionally. His figures are loose, his action is awful… Dark Horse has been publishing good artists in Presents (or at least recognized ones) for quite a while. Robinson is step back. Of course, Moore’s writing is really dumb, sci-fi stuff; they just don’t care.

The Eudaemon story finishes here. Nelson’s art will have these fine panels, then terrible ones. But the writing… wow, it stinks.

CREDITS

The Chairman, Part One; story by Charles Moore; art by Andrew Robinson; lettering by Pat Brosseau. The Madwoman of the Sacred Heart, Part Five; script by Alexandro Jordorowsky; art by Moebius; lettering by Dave Cooper. The Eudaemon, Night of Fear, Part Three; story and art by Nelson DeCastro; lettering by Steve Dutro. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Hellraiser (1987, Clive Barker)

So, Hellraiser is supposed to be scary, right?

Because it seems like a poorly directed, completely illogical (if a wall split open in front of you, would you walk into it?) mess. It’s only ninety-four minutes, including credits, but it’s this exceptionally boring “scary” movie. The scariest thing in the movie might be the off-screen clean-up of the maggot-infested kitchen. It’s the scariest idea in the movie, anyway.

Someone, somewhere, has got to have come up with a theory about Hellraiser‘s rather negative view of heterosexual sex in relation to Barker’s homosexuality. But I can’t muster the interest to look it up. His romantic scenes between Ashley Laurence and Robert Hines are awful. Hines isn’t the worst actor in the film, but he’s close, so he doesn’t help anything.

Laurence is okay. She’s not particularly good, but not bad either. Clare Higgins and Oliver Smith are terrible. Only Andrew Robinson is good. He’s really good, but it’s Andrew Robinson and he’s always been really good and Hellraiser does give him some opportunity to flex. It’s not worth sitting through it to wait for him to have his best scenes, but he is good.

Barker opens the movie with a really gross skin pulling scene, which kind of makes everything subsequent–which tends to be a lot tamer–not so eerie or scary. Christopher Young’s music, which I think is supposed to lend mood, doesn’t help either. It’s a terrible score.

Hellraiser‘s much worse than I expected.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Clive Barker; screenplay by Barker, based on his novella; director of photography, Robin Vidgeon; edited by Richard Marden; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Michael Buchanan; produced by Christopher Figg; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Andrew Robinson (Larry), Clare Higgins (Julia), Ashley Laurence (Kirsty), Sean Chapman (Frank), Oliver Smith (Frank the Monster), Robert Hines (Steve), Anthony Allen (1st Victim), Leon Davis (2nd Victim), Michael Cassidy (3rd Victim) and Frank Baker (Derelict).


Charley Varrick (1973, Don Siegel)

Walter Matthau hated Charley Varrick. He must have been stuck in a contract or something. It’s understandable why he did, however. Matthau’s whole image is one of the likable curmudgeons. Varrick casts him as a gum-chewing (for that Matthau effect) bank robber… who doesn’t do it because he needs the money, but because crop dusting has been taken over by big corporations. He loses his wife (the driver in his bank robbing crew) in the first few minutes of the film–it’s impossible to like her or particularly care, since she just got done shooting two people–and then, with the character’s only possible sympathy coming from his recent widowing, Matthau beds a woman a couple days later (after threatening to kill her). I can imagine Matthau had some problems with the film–it’s the most amoral thing I’ve ever seen. There are no good people in this film, with the exception of a few law enforcement personnel (who the film doesn’t want the audience to sympathize with) and a black family (who, interestingly enough, the film does want the audience to sympathize with). It’s unbelievable.

I’m not sure if Siegel knew what was going on while he was making it–I kind of doubt it, given how virtuously he defended it in his autobiography–but I think, reflexively, the filmmaker knew… In many ways, Charley Varrick is Siegel’s worst film, just because there’s no excuse for the badness. He had a good screenwriter (Dean Riesner) and a fantastic supporting cast. Andy Robinson and John Vernon are both excellent. Joe Don Baker–who Siegel knew the audience would like more than Matthau–plays a redneck Mafia hit man, who’s a complete piece of shit (but revels in it) and is the most entertaining part of the movie. Women are inexplicably drawn to Matthau, but, for whatever reason, one can believe they’d go for Baker. Oh, and the hit man’s name is Molly. So, obviously, Reiser and Siegel spent more time on that character. Robinson, who played the psycho in Dirty Harry for Siegel, showed a lot of promise as a comedic leading man (which, regrettably, never happened). It doesn’t help when the film spends fifteen minutes making him appealing, only to turn him into another pat bad guy. The disconnection may come from Riesner’s writing style on Siegel’s films–he and Siegel would lay out all the scripts (by various writers) and cut paste what they liked. I have no idea whether or not they did it on Charley Varrick (my copy of Siegel’s autobiography is in storage somewhere) but it feels like they did.

Some of this film–the beginning–features some excellent work from Siegel. Beautiful camera movements, a great crane shot… but it all disappears by the middle of the film. Actually, once the film stops centering on Matthau, it gets a lot better. When Universal released Varrick on DVD a couple years ago, they did it as part of their pan and scan classics of the 1970s series–a bunch of eclectic releases no one would want pan and scan. I had the laserdisc so I didn’t get upset, but Varrick’s got a really good reputation and I think a decent DVD release would have led to a (deserving) critical reevaluation of this film. It’s rather offensive and pretty lousy. The supporting cast (and the bland, not-badness of the scenic writing) make it watchable, but I can’t imagine a reason to watch the film again.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Don Siegel; written by Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman, from a novel by John Reese; director of photography, Michael C. Butler; edited by Frank Morriss; music by Lalo Schifrin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Walter Matthau (Charley Varrick), Joe Don Baker (Molly), Felicia Farr (Sybil Fort), Andrew Robinson (Harman), Sheree North (Jewell Everett), Norman Fell (Mr. Garfinkle), Benson Fong (Honest John), Woodrow Parfrey (Harold Young) and John Vernon (Maynard Boyle).


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