Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Films of 1976

1976 was sort of a mediocre year in some ways and a very good one in others.  Let's take a closer look.

The Best:

10. Breakheart Pass

Fun western murder mystery with Charles Bronson.  Not essential (this was a sort of lean year, as I think you can tell) but fun enough.

9. The Omen

Any other year this would be either on my worst list or guilty pleasure list but this sort of cheesy Exorcist cash-in is a fun horror flick from Richard Donner that has good work from Gregory Peck and some memorably gruesome death scenes that get it a space in the top ten.

8. Taxi Driver

As with Raging Bull in 1980, this is an example of a very, very good Scorsese film that I saw once and really don't need to experience again.  Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel and Jodie Foster are stunningly good in their roles and the bloody climax is still one of the most gruesome things Scorsese has given us... Well, that and the sight of Jonah Hill's junk in The Wolf of Wall Street.  Actually, that might be more horrifying than anything on display in Taxi Driver now that I think of it.

7. Silent Movie

Mel Brooks' most inventive comedy is this satire of Hollywood that is done without any sound.  An all-star cast and some great sight gags highlight this clever, hilarious movie.

6. Logan's Run

Logan's Run is an endlessly entertaining sci-fi flick starring Michael York as a young man who lives in a world where nobody lives past age 30.  Part of the big boom in science fiction during the decade, this features some nice f/x work and good acting from the cast.  It's not the best thing you will ever see but it's still solid entertainment.

5. Assault on Precinct 13

John Carpenter's second movie is a nicely paced action movie about a bunch of cops and criminals trapped in a small police station being menaced by a psychotic gang.  More or less a re-working of the basics of Rio Bravo, this features some nice action beats, a killer score and one of the most shocking kills in film history when a young girl gets shot dead by the gang.  It's not the best Carpenter film out there but it's a lean, mean thriller all the same.

4. Murder by Death

I'm not generally the biggest Neil Simon fan out there (truthfully, I find most of his work to be a little too cute for its own good) but this spoof of classic detective novels is hilarious.  Sporting all all-star cast playing famous detectives from fiction only with slightly changed names (Sam Spade is Sam Diamond, etc.) Simon assaults the audience with a barrage of puns and jokes, most of which hi9t their mark.  Of the huge cast, I especially enjoy Alec Guinness as a blind butler, Peter Sellers as the Charlie Chan-esque detective and Peter Falk as Sam Diamond.  It's a really funny film.

3. Rocky

Sylvester Stallone's breakthrough came with this fantastic boxing drama that's both a moving inspirational tale and a fantastic sports movie.  Chock full of good performances (even Burt Young, who I normally can't stand, is good here) and iconic moments, this is one of Stallone's best.

2. St. Ives

I'm a sucker for a good detective story and this one certainly fits the bill.  Good work from the cast (Bronson gives a nicely relaxed performance, as does John Houseman) and some fun cameos from future stars (Bronson is menaced by a young Jeff Goldblum and Robert Englund) make this a nice, breezy lost gem.

1.  The Outlaw Josey Wales

The best film of 1976 is this fantastic western from Clint Eastwood.  A simple take of revenge on the surface, it's also a nice meditation on the importance of having connections with other people and making peace.  Pretty much as close to an anti-war film as you will ever get from the man.  Clint does a fine job of directing things as well as acting and it not only works as a fairly serious Western but it also delivers the usual funny/cool Clint moments his audience expects.  I actually think this is better than Unforgiven in many ways.  The appearance of a few Eastwood regulars like Sondra Locke help give the film a more personal feel.  Just a fantastic film that should have gotten more attention when it was released.

The Worst:

Burt Reynolds' sequel to his pretty damn good flick White Lightning is an overly long, poorly shot action film with some admittedly nice boat stunts making things somewhat tolerable as Reynolds go4es after an old friend played by Jerry Reed who also did the theme song for the movie.  It's not the worst thing we will see from the man (Oh believe me, it gets much much worse) but it's still a pretty huge letdown considering how sharply made the first film was.

The sound system used for the theater and the huge cast is pretty much the only reason to sit through this long, cliched WWII film that has a story that was about twenty years past its sell-by date.  Hell, most of the acti0on is stock footage anyway which makes the entire affair seem somewhat pointless.

This is the way Hammer Films ended.  Not with a bang, but this damp squib of an Omen/Rosemary's Baby cash-in that really only comes to life when Christopher Lee is onscreen.  Shame, really.

It pains me to put an Eastwood film in this section but the third Dirty Harry movie really does seem to just slog through the motions.  Apart from a fun opening where Harry foils a robbery as only he can (driving a car into the store and shooting everybody) and the pretty solid stuff with Eastwood and new partner Tyne Daly, this one just goes through the paces.  Hell, the main villain is barely memorable enough to warrant and cool death he gets.  A LAWS rocket for the guy whose name we can barely remember?  Man!

Guilty Pleasures:

I've written about this weird little gem before but it really is worth tracking down just so you can say you saw it.  Brainwashed kung-fu guys who are unstoppable, the worst performance of the Dragon Lady stereotype you will ever see (the only plus is that the actress is actually Asian) and some pretty good action highlights this one.

Once again, Dino DeLaurentiis proves that when you want a thoroughly enjoyable movie that is also a huge, steaming pile of monkey crap, he's the go-to guy.  The classic 1933 movie is given a 70's upgrade which amazingly enough makes it even more dated than the original.  The joys are too numerous to lists in a short review but I will try: We get Jeff Bridges looking like a homeless man, Charles Grodin horribly miscast as an evil corporate guy, Jessica Lange falling for a giant ape played by Rick Baker in a pretty damn good costume, two seconds of the worst giant ape robot I have ever seen, an amazingly inappropriate death for Kong that makes Sonny's death in The Godfather look tame and some of the cheesiest f/x I have ever seen in a big budget movie.  Leave your brain at the door, bring your sense of humor and have a blast.

1976 wasn't the best year for film but it was damn sure one of the most entertaining.  For the most part, things moved along fairly well with some underdog hits and a few stinkers.  Good stuff to be had.  Until next time...


  1. Silent Movie - "Mel Brooks' most inventive comedy is this satire of Hollywood that is done without any sound." save one word of dialog, remember? :-)

  2. I LOVE the DeLaurentiis Kong. :)

    1. Always knew you had good taste, John.


About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.