Guest Post: Three neglected 1970s classic films

I am very pleased to be able to present a guest post from the talented John Rieber. John works in ‘The Business’ in California, and knows a lot about films. His own blog features some witty and hilarious reviews of exploitation films, as well as fascinating features on world travel, and very unusual food! Here’s a link for you to check it out. https://johnrieber.com/

Three Neglected 1970’s Classic Films!

I was driving through Beverly Hills the other day and ran into the legendary Actor/Director Richard Benjamin – which reminded me of one of the greatest – and most obscure – movies of all time.

“Who did this room? Parker Brothers?”

If you haven’t heard that line, then you haven’t seen “The Last Of Sheila”, one of the great mystery films of the 70’s – and a hilarious look at Hollywood -with a great Hollywood cast, and a fascinating creative team behind it.

“Psycho” Meets Sondheim!

“The Last Of Sheila” is a great “Hollywood Insider” whodunnit – and it was written by two consummate Hollywood players. The plot is based on murder-mystery party games that co-authors and puzzle enthusiasts Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim wrote and performed in their homes in the early 1970’s.

Perkins became a star through his legendary performance as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film “Psycho”, and Sondheim was one of the great Broadway composer/lyricists.

Here is the plot of “The Last Of Sheila”: Movie Producer James Coburn invites a Director, Writer, Starlet, Agent, and Manager to spend a week on his yacht on the French Riviera. On the surface, it’s a reunion of sorts, but there is a more serious turn ahead for all of them.

One of the great things about this film is the cast – a “who’s who” of Hollywood in the early 70’s…such as James Mason, who plays a washed-up Director desperate to get back behind a camera – Mason as you know was brilliant in Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita”. Dyan Cannon plays a slightly ficitonalized version of legendary Super Agent Sue Mengers, and Richard Benjamin is a Writer who needs a job.

Raquel Welch was one of the biggest sex symbols of that time – and she brings all of that to her role as the starlet who needs constant love and affection.

Raquel has rarely been better than she is here – and her scene with Dyan Cannon is a delicious tongue in cheek poke at getting ahead in Hollywood.

Cannon: [while suntanning] “Will you put some sunscreen on me? I have to do 25 minutes on my stomach.”
Raquel: “To make up for the 25 minutes you spent on your back last night?”

The entire “Last Of Sheila” film takes place along the French Riviera, including great locations off the coast of Cannes, but one night the weather turned bad. Raquel wasn’t a fan of the weather conditions, but she was a pro.

“This glamorous picture in the wonderful sunny Cote d’Azur has turned out to be a bit of a splodge,” Welch told a journalist at the time. “This is not my idea of an enjoyable evening, but they’re paying you the money. I just go ahead and do it and don’t complain.”

Herbert Ross directed “Sheila”, and this legendary Director also directed the Oscar-nominated “The Goodbye Girl”, “The Turning Point” and “Footloose” too!

Next up is a somewhat obscure film from 1973 – “O Lucky Man!”

“O Lucky Man” is a brilliant, little known masterpiece starring Malcolm McDowell, who also conceived the idea for the film.

McDowell is a great character actor, with dozens of movie roles in a career that includes films like “Time After Time” AND “Caligula”, and has lasted more than 40 years…but here is how Malcolm McDowell exploded onto movie screens in the late 60’s.

It All Began With “If…”, a searing look at class structure in Great Britian, directed by Lindsay Anderson. “If…” is a prescient look at rebellious youth, and the film was released on the eve of the real student upheavals of the late 60’s.

“If…” won the Palme d’Or for best film at the Cannes Film Festival during the French student riots of 1969…it was a chaotic time in history, with student protests and riots that spread around the world.

McDowell’s brilliant screen debut in “If…” caught the attention of Director Stanley Kubrick – who had just made “2001: A Space Odyssey.” He was in the process of adapting another novel into a film – the disturbing vision of the future: “A Clockwork Orange”. He cast McDowell and made him a star.

After the success of “If….”, Malcolm McDowell suggested to Lindsay Anderson that they should work again. Anderson replied that good scripts don’t grow on trees and that McDowell should consider writing his own if he wanted to give himself a good part. Although the actor was only 30 at the time, he based the film around the concept of his own life story – and then brought it to writer David Sherwin who then crafted the screenplay.

It’s a modern day retelling of “Candide”, starring McDowell as a young coffee salesman looking to conquer a world gone mad.

“O Lucky Man” is a sweeping epic of youthful ambition that runs headfirst into the moral complexities of the real world.

What I love about the film is that you see Singer Alan Price performing much of the music live in the film. The opening credits are over footage of Price singing the title track in a studio, while Director Anderson films him.

Also, look for Helen Mirren in one of her first roles as well, as the daughter of a wealthy industrialist.

Finally, my last neglected film from the 70’s celebrates an Oscar-winning Actor who was also an action star – Art Carney!

Yes, Art Carney was an action star! One of Hollywood’s most unique crossovers of all time began in 1974, when legendary “Honeymooners” Comic TV star Art Carney won Best Actor for his work in the film “Harry And Tonto.” He was next cast opposite Lily Tomlin in a terrific Hollywood film noir.

“The Late Show”

Director Robert Benton created one of the best films of the decade – with a terrific cast including Art Carney, Lily Tomlin, Bill Macy and Joanna Cassidy. Benton would go on to win an Oscar for “Kramer Vs. Kramer”, but this late 70’s film noir look at LA is a neglected gem.

“Back in the Forties, this town was crawlin’ with dollies like you. Good-lookin’ coquettes tryin’ their damnedest to act tough as hell. I got news for you: they did it better back then. This town doesn’t change – they just push the names around. Same dames… screwin’ up their lives just the same way.”

That’s Art Carney speaking: a broken down gumshoe struggling to make rent, who has seen it all. He gets a new client, Lily Tomlin, who needs help finding her cat.

Tomlin has never been better as a woman full of self-doubt, paranoia and big big dreams. What happens next is one of the best tales of Hollywood noir ever, with terrific acting and a ton of recognizable faces in small roles.

“The Late Show” is poignant, touching, full of action and twists, and oozing with the smell of Hollywood glitter and grime. Director Robert Benton was oscar-nominated for his script. Carney is perfect as a washed up private eye – who gets a chance to show that he’s a tougher guy than he looks. Tomlin foregoes her comedic chops to give a nuanced portrayal of a quirky West Coast new age woman who has a hint of sadness around her.

There are SO many great supporting characters in this film, but none more memorable than Bill Macy, a veteran character actor from TV’s “Maude”, who is pitch perfect as a small time Hollywood hustler.

Macy captures perfectly the kind of small time hustler who Carney has to deal with as he tries to find Tomlin’s cat…the plot, however, is much much more than that, and a truly great gem of a movie.

There you have it: three neglected cult films that are worth seeking out, thanks to DVD, blu-ray and ondemand services.

John Rieber 2016

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24 thoughts on “Guest Post: Three neglected 1970s classic films

  1. Thanks everyone for your comments…I am a huge fan of movies – new, old, mainstream and offbeat – and these three are, for me, great examples of cult movies that can now be re-discovered thanks to on demand, youtube and DVD…”The Late Show” in particular is a beautiful film noir from the late 70’s – the Director’s very next film was Best Picture “Kramer Vs. Kramer” – and “The Last of Sheila” has a razor-sharp script that dissects Hollywood in the most entertaining way…thanks Pete for letting me share!

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  2. I’d give my eye tooth to see “The Last of Sheila.” As impressive as the cast is, it’s the plot (sounds like something out of Agatha Christie) that fascinates me.
    I very much admire Malcolm McDowell in “Caligula,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Star Trek: Generations” (“Now, you’ll have to excuse me, Captain. I have an appointment with eternity and I don’t want to be late.”), “Cat People,” Time After Time,” and other films. So although the film’s plot doesn’t attract me all that much, the actor definitely lures me in.
    “The Late Show” piques my curiosity. I regret to say I haven’t seen “Harry and Tonto.” My bad.
    John Rieber, thanks for enlightening me to these three “neglected” film classics. I’ve certainly neglected them! But at least now I know I’ve sinned….

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