George Kennedy

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974, Michael Cimino)

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is the story of men in all their complexities. Their desire for money, their desire for women, their desire for stylish clothes. Whether a young man–Jeff Bridges–or an older man–Clint Eastwood–how can any of us truly understand these deep, complex beings.

I wish the film had that level of pretense, but it doesn’t. Writer-director Cimino has a lot of machismo issues to work out and he also wants to draw a lot of attention to Eastwood’s character’s Korean War valor. Is it a commentary on the Vietnam War? It would suggest a deeper level to the film, which is otherwise initially Bridges and Eastwood’s comedic misadventures avoiding George Kennedy, while the second half is Bridges, Eastwood, and Kennedy teaming up to rob a bank. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s Eastwood-lite second half is a sequence of questionable sight gag “comedy” and boring car chases. Oh, and the lamest heist sequence ever. Cimino’s direction is all about the Idaho and Montana vistas. He doesn’t pace well, though editor Ferris Webster does no favors.

Frank Stanley’s photography is fine. It’s occasionally too impersonal, but it’s not like a better lighted pool hall was going to fundamentally fix the film. Cimino’s script–and his resulting film–are real shallow. Kennedy’s the closest thing to a full character just because Kennedy has to contend with big contrary actions. Cimino forcefully shoehorns them into the script, complete with dialogue to foreshadow, and Kennedy manages to make them work. No one else is as lucky.

Except maybe Geoffrey Lewis. He’s the film’s comedy relief, someone everyone–Kennedy, Bridges, and Eastwood–can bully. Men like to bully. It makes them men. Bullying and knowing almost nothing about concussions, even though all implied backstory is to the contrary of the latter. Lewis actually works in the background, just because Cimino treats him like scenery. But Lewis stays busy.

Eastwood’s got a nothing character. Initially he’s just running away from Kennedy. Then he teams up with Bridges and they have cinema’s lamest bromance. Cimino forces in some exposition on Bridges, which Bridges delivers in an annoying, obnoxious, insipid fashion. Eastwood gets none. He has no character. He delivers a decent performance nonetheless, apparently able to pretend there’s some depth to not just his character, but the film itself.

And Bridges. As it turns out, Bridges maybe gives the film’s most appropriate performance. He’s doing something, it’s not working, so he just does more of it. Also the perfect description of Cimino and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

A weak score from Dee Barton rounds it out. Besides the Montana travelogue, which is gorgeous, a lot of cameos from seventies character actors, and Kennedy’s performance, there’s not much to the film. It needs a better director and a much, much better script.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Cimino; director of photography, Frank Stanley; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Dee Barton; produced by Robert Daley; released by United Artists.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Thunderbolt), Jeff Bridges (Lightfoot), Geoffrey Lewis (Eddie Goody) and George Kennedy (Red Leary).


Airport (1970, George Seaton)

While it did start the seventies disaster genre, Airport barely qualifies. The first hour of the film is excruciating soap opera melodrama—airport chief Burt Lancaster is stuck in a loveless marriage with harpy Dana Wynter, so he’s got a flirtation going with widowed Jean Seberg. His sister, played by Barbara Hale, is stuck in a loveless marriage with pilot Dean Martin, who’s carrying on with stewardess Jacqueline Bisset.

Lancaster is only stepping out on Wynter because she’s awful to him… Hale’s great to Martin, but she’s barren, so it’s tacitly agreed he’s expected to step out. Seaton’s script is really direct about that point—it’s Hale’s fault.

Casting Martin as a megalomaniac pilot is an interesting choice. His performance is awful, but it’s appropriate. Once the disaster kicks in, however, he gets a little better.

Lancaster looks disinterested and bored with the film; Seberg is okay, though her role is seriously underwritten. The first half of the film belongs to Helen Hayes, playing a stowaway. She’s the best thing in the film.

Maureen Stapleton’s good (though the script fails her); Whit Bissell probably gives film’s second best performance.

The second half, the disaster part… is actually somewhat worse. It moves faster, but it’s less competent as Seaton make Martin into an angel.

Seaton’s direction is awful. Though the film clearly has a budget, he shoots the interiors like he doesn’t. His Panavision composition is shockingly inept.

Combined with Alfred Newman’s truly atrocious score, Airport is a miserable viewing experience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George Seaton; screenplay by Seaton, based on the novel by Arthur Hailey; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Stuart Gilmore; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Ross Hunter; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Mel Bakersfeld), Dean Martin (Capt. Vernon Demerest), Jean Seberg (Tanya Livingston), Jacqueline Bisset (Gwen Meighen), George Kennedy (Joe Patroni), Helen Hayes (Ada Quonsett), Van Heflin (D.O. Guerrero), Maureen Stapleton (Inez Guerrero), Barry Nelson (Capt. Anson Harris), Dana Wynter (Cindy Bakersfeld), Lloyd Nolan (Harry Standish), Barbara Hale (Sarah Bakersfeld Demerest), Gary Collins (Cy Jordan), John Findlater (Peter Coakley), Jessie Royce Landis (Mrs. Harriet DuBarry Mossman), Larry Gates (Commissioner Ackerman), Peter Turgeon (Marcus Rathbone), Whit Bissell (Mr. Davidson), Virginia Grey (Mrs. Schultz), Eileen Wesson (Judy Barton) and Paul Picerni (Dr. Compagno).


The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988, David Zucker)

Oh, okay… it’s less than ninety minutes. I was wondering why The Naked Gun felt so fast. It’s because it’s short.

That observation isn’t a negative one—the film is a constant delight, with Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker (and Pat Proft) coming up with a good laugh or gag every thirty to forty seconds. Someone should sit down and figure out how the humor’s paced. Some of the gags get amusing because they keep them up (Leslie Nielsen being a terrible driver) as opposed to being particularly original, but then there are these fantastic inventive gags….

About halfway through, I realized Zucker (the directing Zucker) let the camera sit on his actors. His composition isn’t great—it’s not bad, but it’s not particularly dynamic—but his direction is excellent. He has these long shots in this one exchange between Nielsen and Ricardo Montalban where he holds the shots to give each of them the maximum opportunity. While Nielsen’s amazing—his performance in Gun is sometimes unbelievably good, he even holds it up as the script’s approach shifts (from other people realizing he’s a dimwit to the film’s reality being slightly conked)—Montalban is great too. Zucker gives his best actors—Nielsen (obviously), Montalban and George Kennedy their own segments. Montalban and Kennedy’s both involve food.

Unfortunately, even though she’s not bad, Priscilla Presley is out of her league acting-wise.

Nancy Marchand is excellent in a smaller role and John Houseman’s cameo is wonderful.

The Naked Gun is a superb comedy.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Zucker; screenplay by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Pat Proft, based on a television series created by Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Michael Jablow; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Robert K. Weiss; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Leslie Nielsen (Frank Drebin), Priscilla Presley (Jane Spencer), Ricardo Montalban (Vincent Ludwig), George Kennedy (Ed Hocken), O.J. Simpson (Nordberg), Susan Beaubian (Mrs. Nordberg), Raye Birk (Pahpshmir), Jeannette Charles (Queen Elizabeth II), Ed Williams (Ted Olsen), Tiny Ron (Al) and Nancy Marchand as The Mayor.


The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991, David Zucker)

Watching The Naked Gun 2½, its’s almost immediate clear the missing Z-A or is it A-Z (being Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams) are the ones who made the first film funny. They don’t contribute to this one’s script—instead it’s just the other Z, David Zucker (who also directs) and Pat Proft. The script is so 1991 topical it’s painful… and it’s lame too.

The topical stuff—George H.W. Bush is a character (being the president and all) and there’s a lot about the Democratic Party being in trouble—would probably be funny on a sitcom. Or maybe on a “Saturday Night Live” sketch (why they didn’t get Dana Carvey is beyond me). Then there’s some stuff about evil energy companies. That aspect is still topical, I suppose.

Particularly stupid is the film taking place in Washington, D.C. They explain Leslie Nielsen is just visiting from Los Angeles, but apparently George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson transferred.

Nielsen’s able to keep it together, even though the script only gives him a good laugh every three minutes (instead of every thirty seconds like the original), but Kennedy looks exhausted. Simpson’s good. Priscilla Presley is weak too (Zucker and Proft break her and Nielsen up off screen so they can reunite in the story—awful decision). Robert Goulet’s awful.

The film also has a stupid female police commissioner character just like the first one. It’s a subtle bit of misogyny.

The jokes occasionally work, but it’s a lukewarm, lousy sequel.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by David Zucker; screenplay by David Zucker and Pat Proft, based on a television series by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Christopher Greenbury and James R. Symons; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, John J. Lloyd; produced by Robert K. Weiss; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Leslie Nielsen (Det. Lt. Frank Drebin), Priscilla Presley (Jane Spencer), George Kennedy (Det. Captain Ed Hocken), O.J. Simpson (Det. Nordberg), Robert Goulet (Quentin Hapsburg), Richard Griffiths (Dr. Albert S. Meinheimer / Earl Hacker) and Jacqueline Brookes (Commissioner Anabell Brumford).


The Delta Force (1986, Menahem Golan)

The Delta Force is…

1) the only Chuck Norris movie my mom let me watch as a kid (I think it’s the only Chuck Norris movie I’ve ever seen).

2) “the most homoerotic movie I’ve ever seen,” according to my wife.

3) somewhat interesting for the first forty-five minutes.

The Delta Force stars four Academy Award winners (Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, George Kennedy and two-time winner Shelley Winters), one Silver Berlin Bear winner (Hanna Schygulla) and one Academy Award nominee (Robert Vaughan). The only two who give good performances are Marvin and Balsam. Kennedy, Winters and Vaughan aren’t bad. Schygulla, in one of her only (I think) English language performances, is bad. Well, maybe not bad… but not any good at all. She does get one of Delta Force‘s more interesting scenes, a German flight attendant (sorry, bursar) who gets to pick out all the Jews on the plane. She doesn’t want to–being German and all (in a scene with some dialogue lifted out of a certain “Fawlty Towers” episode–John Cleese and Connie Booth should have sued)–but does it anyway. The kicker? She makes a mistake, calling up a Russian (Yehuda Efroni), who isn’t Jewish. This mistake kicks off Delta Force‘s most interesting scene–the Arab terrorists (Robert Forster, who, like Marvin, is enough of a professional not to look embarrassed, and David Menachem) make the German flight attendant call all the Jews on the plane up to first class, which has been emptied. Now, the plane’s got 144 passengers (Forster is nice enough to remind everyone as the sequence begins) and guess how many of them help the Jews? Keep in mind there are two terrorists with a gun and a grenade apiece, the plane’s in flight. Okay, just guess. Guess how many of the American Christians help the Jews being led to their deaths?

Do you need a hint? Think about the 1930s.

That’s right… zero. Not a one. They even keep their mouths shut. The Russian complains he isn’t a Jew. After all is said and done, when it won’t make any difference, Catholic priest Kennedy at least gets up and sits with the Jews in first class. There’s no explanation to why he isn’t disgusted by the display he’s witnessed from his fellow gentiles.

In the first forty-five minutes of Delta Force, there are quite a few of these disquieting moments. Menachem gets a couple scenes where he’s incredibly sympathetic to his hostages and–conversely–a couple scenes where he’s incredibly brutal to other hostages. Forster’s portrayed as completely evil, but then he too gets a couple scenes of strange humanity. These aren’t subtle displays of contradictory behavior, they’re as neon as they can get, but they’re very interesting.

The second half of the film, with Chuck Norris and William Wallace’s romantic getaway to scenic Lebanon–the script’s so incredibly stupid in the second half, it’s never clear whether or not the Lebanese government and military are actually endorsing the terrorists or if there’s some faction of the military supporting it or whatever… it’s idiotic.

Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh, the second half. There’s a couple interesting scenes when the film tries to make American audiences terrified of the Arabs. But it’s all so dumb–Norris rides around on a souped up motorcycle (he’s apparently insecure about something) and blows up the bad guys (who are some of the stupidest villains in movie history)–it’s almost impossible to remember the engaging first half. My wife couldn’t believe I’d watch the movie after having seen it before–the last time must have been when I was thirteen or so–and I told her the reason it seemed better in my memory (to be fair, the first half is fine) is because I used to see it on television, with commercials. It runs over two hours and to get it into a two hour slot, they would have had to cut more than a half hour… which probably came out of the lousy second half.

She didn’t believe me.

As jingoistic as Delta Force gets–the rescued hostages sing “America the Beautiful,” not the “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “This Land is Your Land,” certainly not in a Chuck Norris movie–it’s hard for the cartoon action scenes in the second half to erase the memory of the first half. The first half of the film is a metaphor for the Second World War. Of 138 people, only one would stand up with the Jews. Kennedy getting up there placates, but it’s really just like the thirties. The fine American Christians didn’t care what the Nazis were doing to the Jews.

It’s such a shocking scene, I wonder who wrote it.

As for the movie overall… my wife described Marvin’s performance perfectly. He keeps acting like he’s in a real movie and expecting his co-stars to respond in kind. When they don’t, there’s a flash of confusion on his face before he can reorient himself. Susan Strasberg isn’t in it enough. Bo Svenson is awful. Steve James is okay. Kim Delaney is lousy. Norris is, big shock, terrible. His love interest, Wallace, is terrible too.

It seems like Golan didn’t really know how to direct actors, so he just got solid professionals for the hostages–but then made big mistakes, like casting Natalie Roth as Strasberg’s kid. It’s Susan Strasberg acting opposite a kid who wouldn’t make it as a non-speaking extra in a commercial.

Golan’s direction’s lousy, but compared to action movies today, it’s fine. You can tell what’s going on.

Alan Silvestri’s score’s more appropriate for a sports movie (maybe a handicapped runner overcoming the odds and winning… the silver) but it’s okay.

The Delta Force probably plays better on TV with commercials.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Menahem Golan; written by James Bruner and Golan; director of photography, David Gurfinkel; edited by Alain Jakubowicz; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Luciano Spadoni; produced by Golan and Yoram Globus; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Chuck Norris (Maj. Scott McCoy), Lee Marvin (Col. Nick Alexander), Martin Balsam (Ben Kaplan), Joey Bishop (Harry Goldman), Robert Forster (Abdul), Lainie Kazan (Sylvia Goldman), George Kennedy (Father O’Malley), Hanna Schygulla (Ingrid), Susan Strasberg (Debra Levine), Bo Svenson (Capt. Campbell), Robert Vaughn (Gen. Woodbridge), Shelley Winters (Edie Kaplan), William Wallace (Pete Peterson), Charles Grant (Tom Hale), Steve James (Bobby) and Kim Delaney (Sister Mary).


Shenandoah (1965, Andrew V. McLaglen)

In addition to being the first film of Andrew V. McLaglen’s I’ve seen (which is quite an achievement, considering how much he directed), Shenendoah is the first film I’ve seen where James Stewart plays the patriarch. Unless Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation counts and I don’t think it does, not like Shenendoah. The film sets Stewart as the father of seven sons and one daughter, Virginian farmers sitting out the Civil War. In its approach, initially anyway, the film owes a lot to Friendly Persuasion. There’s a calm friendliness to the family and the first forty minutes is spent listening to Stewart’s fatherly monologues (half of them are excellent, half are mediocre; the one he gives future son-in-law Doug McClure is wonderful). The film establishes its primary characters in these forty minutes–besides Stewart, the youngest son and the married son (played by Patrick Wayne, who’s great) get the spotlight, as does the courting McClure and the daughter–but there’s little distinguishing about the five other sons. They have names, except only one of them even approaches being recognizable, and their purpose in the film is to support.

At the forty-minute mark, or around it, the film changes gears and becomes the most startling anti-war film I’ve seen about the Civil War. Unfortunately, the film’s politics are incredibly safe–these Virginians don’t own slaves because they don’t think its right not to do your own work (my frequent observation about people with lawn crews who have such pride in the foliage they picked from a catalog) and they wouldn’t help a friend fight for his slaves, which doesn’t really matter since the family seems not to have any friends–but there’s never any comment about slavery being wrong. Shenendoah is a Western and Western filmmakers knew their audiences. There’s a little bit of the friendship between the youngest son and a same-aged slave to distinguish it, but it’s hard to believe Stewart’s frequent monologues would never broach the subject. As an anti-war film, though effective, it’s as unbiased as Gone With the Wind. Shenendoah shows the South and the Confederate soldiers as passives, only being acted upon by the aggressive and, at times, evil North. George Kennedy–youngish–shows up for a minute as a kind-hearted Northern officer, but he’s the single humane portrayal of the North in the whole film.

Even more complicated is the film’s morality. Tragedy strikes Stewart’s family in some awful (and unexpected) ways. It’s a bit of a rough film–even though the score maintains the playfulness of the first forty minutes–and those minutes were spent making the audience care for the characters. Even if their names aren’t clear. It’s an intentional move, so the question arises whether the tragedy is Stewart’s just reward for sitting out the Civil War, for abandoning his duty to Virginia. As complicated as those questions could be, Shenendoah doesn’t invite much analysis. It’s entertains and makes the viewer care about what’s going on. The rest isn’t particularly important (its greatest crime is giving Wayne the small part).

As for director McLaglen… if I didn’t know his name from so many other Westerns, I’d never bother to look it up or to have noticed it. He’s fine but wholly unimpressive except for the battle scenes, which are some of the finest I can recall.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen; written by James Lee Barrett; director of photography, William H. Clothier; edited by Otho Lovering; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Robert Arthur; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (Charlie Anderson), Doug McClure (Lt. Sam), Glenn Corbett (Jacob Anderson), Patrick Wayne (James Anderson), Rosemary Forsyth (Jennie Anderson), Phillip Alford (Boy Anderson), Katharine Ross (Mrs. Ann Anderson), Charles Robinson (Nathan Anderson), Jim McMullan (John Anderson), Tim McIntire (Henry Anderson), Gene Jackson (Gabriel), Paul Fix (Dr. Tom Witherspoon), Denver Pyle (Pastor Bjoerling) and George Kennedy (Col. Fairchild).


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