Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Orion Files: 1981

Orion continued to make films, though there was some apprehension about financing big budget productions, an attitude that led to them passing on Raiders of the Lost Ark. As I said in the first part of this series (and will repeat liberally throughout), this weird pseudo-snobbery on their part would reap great benefits and also bite them in the ass at the same time. Still, 1981 was a productive one for them. Not an amazingly profitable one, mind you but productive.

We ended the first part of this series with a crummy thriller set in Egypt and for the opener in this part, we get another one, this time based on a novel by Robin Cook. Lesley-Anne Down is an Egyptologist doing some research on an ancient architect who gets caught up in murder and intrigue, as tends to happen quite often in movies like this. Frank Langella also stars as the head of the UN antiquities division who Down falls in love with (A dull, chemistry deficient love. But love nonetheless). The film got panned when it was first released and given how languid the pacing is (it's nearly two hours but feels much longer), it's not hard to see why. Really the most amusing thing for me is that it has small roles for John-Rhys Davies and John Gielgud, both of whom would appear in far better films in 1981 (Raiders of the Lost Ark and Arthur respectively). Sphinx has all the ingredients for a good thriller (good cast, an interesting premise, nice locations) but it does nothing with these. The cast is barely there, the locations are just there and the story is muddled with last second twists and idiotic events to the point where it seems like the film is pulling them out of its ass to pad the running time out. The end result is a silly yet utterly boring bad film that is hard to care much about.

Damn good sword and sorcery flick that retells the King Arthur legend in lush, vivid, yet sort of lackluster fashion. A terrific cast (Nicol Williamson is especially fun as Merlin) does what it can with the rather plain script but it is a visual feast if nothing else. John Boorman directs it just fine but one does sort of find themselves wishing he'd been on the same drugs he was on when he made Zardoz. It wouldn't have made the movie better, but it would certainly pep it up a bit.

Of all the films Michael Caine has done, this one could have a legit claim at being the worst. An early Oliver Stone film, this is your bog standard "evil hand" horror film with Caine as a comic book artist who loses his hand in a gruesome accident and is subsequently stalked by said appendage. Or is he? I can honestly say I kind of like Jaws: The Revenge better than  this one. At least it has unintentional hilarity working in its favor. This is just crap.

Charming smash comedy that made Dudley Moore as huge comedy star and landed John Gielgud a well deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Moore plays a rich drunk who falls for a working class girl played nicely by Liza Minnelli and Gielgud plays Moore's butler. There are many funny moments throughout and it ends up being one of the better romantic comedies I've seen.

1981 was a pretty damn great year for werewolf movies (The Howling and An American Werewolf in London were and still are two of the best werewolf movies ever) and Wolfen is an interesting variation on it as in it's a wolf horror movie minus the "were". Albert Finney is the highlight (was there ever a movie where he wasn't?) in the lead role as a NYC cop and there are some nice attack scenes. It's not a perfect film (in fact if you don't know what you're getting into it can be quite a letdown) but it does benefit from a strong cast and the aforementioned attack scenes. Like most horror films (amongst other genres) from Orion, however, there is that faint sense of guilt coming from them because they've released a genre picture.

Just as we had Michael Caine's worst movie in this post, it can also be said that we have pone of Chevy Chase's worst outings (though to be fair, everything he's done since Christmas Vacation has been either kind of horrible or something good he managed to screw up). Here, he stars with Carrie Fisher in a really bad comedy that mixes the auditions for the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz with obligatory short jokes; Nazi spy hijinks and Billy Barty who I really hope got paid well for his role as a German spy who answers to Hitler personally. I haven't watched this but just going on the synopsis, I'd say I'm missing nothing. Not a damn thing. At all. If I want to see Carrie Fisher scantily clad, that's what we got Return of the Jedi for!

Very intense, gritty cop drama from Sidney Lumet about a tough cop (Treat Williams) who finds his loyalties divided when he's asked by a federal investigation to help nail dirty cops, some of whom are friends of his. Williams gives an intense performance and the story is quite epic (at 167 minutes, it's the cinematic equivalent of a doorstop novel) though to be honest, this ground was covered pretty well by Lumet's 1973 movie Serpico.

This is a rather obscure thriller starring two ordinarily good actors with sound career judgement. Jane Fonda plays the widow of a wealthy businessman and Kris Kristofferson is a bank owner who she ends up with and the plot revolves around some sort of slush fund scam that ends up destroying the economy of the entire world. I know, sounds gripping. Doesn't it? I didn't view this because in general, if I stifle a yawn while reading the plot summary... You get the point.

One of Burt Reynolds' better films of this period (though considering his body of work in the 80's, this isn't saying a whole lot), Sharky's Machine is a pretty solid action movie starring Burt as a tough Atlanta cop who ends up falling for the call girl he does a surveillance job on. Action is solid (a pity that Burt wasn't a better director as his stuff here is good), we get a great cast of character actors. Charles Durning and Bernie Casey are fellow cops while Henry Silva makes for an adequate psycho villain though his tendency to yell insanely before he shoots someone gets more than a little silly. Actually, it's sort of a crappy performance really but the rest of the film is good enough I can overlook some bad acting. It's a true shame Burt made more films like Cannonball Run than this.

1981 would mark the end of Orion's partnership with Warner Brothers and the beginning of its existence as a separate studio. 1981 brought with it some great success (critical if not financial) and a few underrated gems, as well as some out and out duds and missteps. Yes, they had the fourth highest grosser of the year in Arthur, but as I noted, they also passed on Raiders of the Lost Ark which ended up being the biggest hit of 1981. The next few years would be interesting, to say the least.

Coming soon: Orion 1982-1983

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About Me

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