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David Brown

Review: The Sugarland Express

[Originally published in Movietone News 31, April 1974]

Sugarland is a small, undistinguished Texas burg not far from the Mexican border. The Sugarland Express is one commandeered highway patrol car and a caravan of half a dozen other h.p. cars, then a few dozen local police cars, then a couple Louisiana highway patrol cars, then a few hundred civilian cars, trucks, campers, and at least one Houston-based TV news van, all bound for the aforesaid Sugarland, Riding in the lead car are an escaped convict, his wife (also recently a con), and one relatively new state policeman whose dialogue sounds like a mélange of the Highway Patrol rule book, the safe-driving code, and Reader’s Digest. The convict may be even more hapless than his prisoner: he broke out—walked out—of the minimum-security prerelease farm from which he’d have been freed in another month anyway, persuaded by his wife that swift action is needed in order to rescue their infant son from a foster home. Before his journey had fairly begun he found himself guilty of grand theft auto, speeding, resisting arrest, stealing a policeman’s gun, and kidnapping—all within about eight minutes. Now it promises to become a very bad scene, what with Clovis (the con) garbling the syntax of all those threats that are supposed to keep his cop prisoner in line, Lou Jean (the wife) impetuously shoving a riot gun at police cars that draw too near, and half the local constables and deerslaying rednecks in the state trying to be the agent of retribution for these desperados.

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Review: The Black Windmill

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

Drabble would, after all, have been a better title than The Black Windmill. The structure thus designated is not even mentioned till the film is two-thirds finished, whereas the fictional master criminal “Drabble” hovers over the picture almost as decisively as “Juggernaut” in the new Lester movie. Drabble catches the muzzy Englishness that is the film’s most strategic appeal, which comes through via such in-passing pleasantries as Scotland Yard man Clive Revill’s weary exasperation with his partner as they search and bug Michael Caine’s room, MI.5 stick-in-the-mud Donald Pleasence’s loss of sour face as he inadvertently says “Sean Connery” instead of “Sean Kelly” during a top-level security conference, or Pleasence’s desperate endeavor to maintain a blank look as his senescent superior fondles and is fondled by his murderously loving wife (Felicia Farr—of Charley Varrick fame—in an unbilled cameo, if I’m not mistaken). One may safely suppose that the opportunity for such moments had its fond appeal for Siegel, who spent his youth in England. Such suppositions are the only way to find, or posit, traces of the director in the film; for after a decade’s worth of consistently personal cinema, Siegel has simply taken on an average thriller property and given it, overall, little more than slightly above-average treatment.

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Review: The Eiger Sanction

[Originally published in Movietone News 42, July 1975]

Clint Eastwood does his own mountain-climbing rightly enough, as a camera swooping out from closeup to acrophobic helicopter longshot verifies time and again. One tight-lipped smile of appreciation for that, and little remains to be said in favor of Eastwood’s fourth directorial outing. From the behind-the-credits sequence of an unidentifiable supporting player ambling through some locations-for-locations’-sake European streets, The Eiger Sanction lacks shape, rhythm, and any notable tone or point-of-view. Its grotesques—Thayer David as a 100-percent albino named Dragon who directs an international Murder Inc. from a secret red-lit room, George Kennedy as a hot-damn-buddy Western type, and Jack Cassidy as a patently treacherous faggot—are (un)directed so broadly, yet without a true sense of outrageousness, that one is inclined to feel sympathy for the performers (though only Kennedy seems to deserve any). More ordinary sorts are blatantly set up over and over to be knocked down by an incredibly predictable putdown script (Gregory Walcott, as a Dragon man who keeps rubbing Eastwood the wrong way, is such a clod that the only thing conceivably dangerous about the character is his incompetence as a tough guy). After sharing with us his own amusement at being proffered as a professor of art history who has retired from the killing game in order to enjoy the stash of masterworks bought with his ill-gotten gains, Eastwood walks uninterestingly through the rest of his part, counting on the uninflected slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am machismo that didn’t see him through High Plains Drifter either; on the evidence of his second and fourth films (he didn’t take a role in Breezy and I’d appreciate a chance to reconsider Play Misty for Me), he should leave the direction of himself to other people. The story involves the Eastwood character in one of those murky internecine projects wherein, by the time the action has run its course, we’ve had it demonstrated ad nauseam that the potentiality for betrayal is inherent in any relationship a truism that has been worked out more scrupulously in other thrillers where the conclusion didn’t seem so foregone.
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Review: Jaws

[Originally published in Movietone News 42, July 1975]

Jaws begins with a chillingly realistic sequence of shots that are at the same time metaphysically portentous and eerily beautiful. The camera pans slowly across a group of college people singing and drinking around a beach campfire, cuts a fluid swath along a bluish twilight New England sand dune, eases into a placid sea behind a pretty girl, and follows her as she swims fatefully out over those murky depths where we all know what is waiting. As the girl splashes innocently against a postcard sunset, we cut to a couple of quick shots whose point of view is somewhere below the water, evilly hovering, gazing up at the girl’s form and the dusk sky which swims and shimmers above her like an out-of-focus image of another world. The underwater camera and the presence it represents move progressively closer, intercut with shots of the girl from the surface, until finally she gets this funny look on her face, bobs once or twice like a cork floater on a fishing line, and goes shooting through the water at shark speed. And then she’s gone. There’s this silence, this beautiful fading sunset, a few harmless waves lapping the beach….

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