Warner Bros & Paramount Pictures

Directed by Zack Snyder
Produced by Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Deborah Snyder
Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse
Based on the comic book limited series and graphic novel created by Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (artist)

If you were reading comic books back in 1986 then you probably read the twelve issue limited series WATCHMEN right from the beginning. You were in on the ground floor of a work of art that has come to be called ‘The Citizen Kane of graphic novels’. Actually that should be ‘The Citizen Kane of comic books’ but I’ve noticed how hard the advertising is stresses that WATCHMEN is based on a ‘graphic novel’. It’s as if Warner Bros. and Paramount are trying to hide the comic book roots of the material. They’ve got no reason to. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, the comic book version of WATCHMEN was far more than men and women in brightly colored spandex beating the piss outta each other. It was a political thriller/satire, a murder mystery, a deconstruction of the superhero concept and an examination of the psychology of those people in the brightly colored spandex. And thankfully, the movie version of WATCHMEN is the same.

Thanks to a really cool credits sequence we’re introduced to an alternate world where superheroes came into prominence during the World War II era. Although costumed crimefighters such as Hooded Justice, Captain Metropolis, Silhouette and Dollar Bill are called superheroes they actually have no real superpowers. They’re ordinary men and women who put on masks, wear costumes and go out to fight crime. It isn’t until the 1950’s that the world gets its first real superbeing: Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup) who, like a lot of DC and Marvel characters gains superpowers due to a scientific accident. Ironically, its Dr. Manhattan’s creation that intensifies the Cold War between The United States and Russia. The Russians are kinda spooked that America has a glowing blue god who can reshape matter and energy at will. Thanks to Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian/Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) the Vietnam War is won in a week. Both Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian go to work for the U.S. government while other costumed heroes are forced into retirement due to legislation outlawing superheroes.

Things heat up rapidly when The Comedian is brutally killed and his murder is investigated by Rorschach/Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley) a vigilante who ignored the ban on masked heroes. Rorschach believes someone is out to kill all the retired heroes and goes to visit them one by one, hoping to persuade them to join him in his investigation. Silk Spectre/Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman) thinks he’s crazy. Dr. Manhattan doesn’t care. Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson) thinks he’s paranoid. And the richest, smartest man in the world, Ozymandias /Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) is too busy trying to create a new energy source to be bothered. But before long events will drive all these former heroes back into their costumes as it soon becomes apparent that the world is on the verge of a nuclear holocaust and they may be the only ones who can prevent it.

For years WATCHMEN has stumped some of the most creative directors working in the industry today. We’re talking about guys like Terry Gilliam and Darren Aronofsky, both of who thought the graphic novel was unfilmable. And then along comes Zack Snyder who does such a terrific job and is so faithful to the source material that you wonder what the fuss was about. All of the characters look as if they stepped right out of the graphic novel and Zack Snyder recreates scenes in such detail it’s scary. And there’s plenty of Easter Eggs all through the movie for those of us who have read our copies of WATCHMEN to death but that won’t prevent those of you who haven’t from enjoying it.

The acting in this movie is top notch. Jackie Earle Haley easily walks off with the honors in this one. Rorschach is an extremely disturbed and dangerous man and Haley plays him that way, with no sugarcoating. I remember first seeing Jackie Earle Haley way back in 1983 in a raunchy comedy called “Losin’ It” which also starred Tom Cruise and Shelly Long but Haley stole that movie from them easily. He’s got great people to work with in this one such as Patrick Wilson. He plays Dan Dreiberg in such a way that you at first have a hard time imagining this overweight, quiet guy was ever a superhero. But once he puts on that Nite Owl costume his transformation is remarkable to see. And Malin Akerman is nothing short of amazing. I just couldn’t take my eyes off her anytime she was on the screen. Her character occupies a unique place in the superhero history of this world and one of the most interesting aspects of this movie is to watch her complex relationships with the other characters.

So should you see WATCHMEN? Absolutely. It’s not just a great superhero movie. It’s a great movie, period. The characterizations and story aren’t just excuses to have golly-gee-whiz special effects and big fight scenes. Even though the movie is complex and there are flashbacks and flash forwards it’s never confusing. And it’s truly a pleasure to watch a director at work who knows how to film action/fight scenes and doesn’t take the lazy way out by resorting to shaky-cam. It’s a movie with intelligence and one sign of its intelligence is that the superheroes don’t fight supervillains. They’re fighting something even more deadly: social conditions and their own moral values. It’s an amazing piece of filmmaking indeed and between this and “300” Zack Snyder has a place in movie history.

163 minutes:
Rated R:  This is most definitely a superhero movie for adults. There’s graphic violence, nudity and language.  Send the kidlets to bed before you watch this one, folks.

The Night Of The Hunter


Produced by Paul Gregory
Directed by Charles Laughton
Screenplay by James Agee and Charles Laughton (uncredited)
Based on the novel by David Grubb

My disdain for most so-called horror movies is by now well known. I can sit through most horror movies and never flinch or blink. The first time I saw “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” during it’s original theatrical run my friends had to tell me to shut up because I thought the movie was a spoof and I was laughing out loud. The “Friday The 13th” movies are just dumb. Except for the first one that actually was a nifty little slasher flick. I can watch the “Nightmare on Elm Street” and the “Phantasm” movies they same way I read comic books or watch animated movies. They’re fun to watch. But scary? Nah. “The Blair Witch Project”? Don’t make me laugh. I’ve been to Chinese take out places in Brooklyn that are scarier. “Open Water”? You must really be joking.

Movies that scare me are movies that might actually happen to me. Take the “Out-Of-Towners” which is supposedly a comedy. But you watch Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis who are stuck in New York during a horrendous garbage strike.   Everything goes wrong including their hotel losing their reservation, their luggage being lost and they get robbed and are forced to sleep in Central Park, searching for their dinner from garbage cans.  By the time you get to the end of the movie you may be wondering what the hell you were laughing at. Or how about “In Cold Blood” with Robert Blake and Scott Wilson who choose a family at random to murder.  Or “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” where Joan Crawford is an invalid in a wheelchair terrorized by her crazed, alcoholic sister played by Bette Davis. Or “Deliverance” where a group of city guys go canoeing down a river and end up in a life or death struggle with a gang of backwoods hillbillies. I think by now you get my point as to what I consider a real horror movie.

So that brings us to this movie: I’m always being asked: “Derrick, what’s the scariest, most frightening movie you’ve ever seen? What makes you scream like a pigtailed nine year old girl every time you watch it?”

My answer with no hesitation is THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.

Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) is sharing a cell with a condemned man doomed to hang (Peter Graves) In a moment of weakness the doomed man confides to Harry that he’s hidden $10,000 dollars in his house. When Harry is released he takes the guise of a wandering preacher and makes his way to the man’s hometown. Harry quickly ingratiates himself into the community and even romances the man’s widow, Willa (Shelly Winters). Willa’s two children John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) don’t trust the preacher one little inch. The children know where the money is and they’re both determined not to let the preacher get his hands on it. They clearly see him for what he is.  Harry marries Willa and ruthlessly murders her in one of the most blood-freezing scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie that is all the more shocking in that Willa appears to be a willing participant in her own murder.

And if that wasn’t hair-raising enough, there’s a scene where it’s shown what Harry does with her body that I won’t dare spoil here. It’s a scene that truly has to be seen to be believed. John and Pearl go on the run down the river but Harry Powell relentlessly follows them, a nightmarish figure on a horse that is as patient as Death itself. The two children are eventually taken in by an old woman (Lillian Gish) whose faith in God and a loaded shotgun is unshakeable. The movie comes down to a battle in an isolated farmhouse between these avatars of Good and Evil not just for the money but also for the souls of the children.

Part of the reason why THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is so frightening to me is the way it’s filmed. This was the only movie directed by Charles Laughton and he borrowed heavily from German Expressionism to create a dream-like world. Considering that the main characters are children, it’s an appropriate way to tell the story since it can be looked on as a child’s nightmare. It’s not a realistic movie as the sets actually do look like sets and the inside of houses are stylized with strange angles. But it works. It creates its own world that you buy into because it may remind you of your own dreams. It’s a wonderfully fascinating film just to look at with some truly frightening moments.

Robert Mitchum is not just a great actor. He’s a titanic actor and his role as Reverend Harry Powell is one of the finest he’s ever played. He’s got a classic scene where he explains why he has the words ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ tattooed on his hands. The scene where he murders Willa is almost unbearable to watch. And when you get to the last half of the movie where he’s terrorizing the children and the old woman at their isolated farmhouse I defy you not to want to hide under the covers. And there’s a scene where John and Pearl are hiding in a dark basement and Harry is at the top of the stairs and calling down to them: “Chiiiiiilllllll….dren?” that has been copied thousands of times in inferior movies.

Shelly Winters is very good in her role here in this movie. She always did do a good job of playing sexually repressed woman who seem just two steps away from exploding into orgasms. And it doesn’t hurt that back during the 50’s she truly was smokin’ hot. I think that many of today’s moviegoers are only familiar with her films from the 70’s and 80’s. Take a look at the movies she did in the 50’s and 60’s and you’ll see why Shelly Winters was considered a blond bombshell comparable to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield.

Lillian Gish does a terrific job as Rachel Cooper, the old woman who takes in John and Pearl. Despite her age she’s a formidable opponent and there’s a wonderful scene where Harry is sitting on his horse out in the field and Rachel is sitting on her porch in her rocking chair with her loaded shotgun across her lap. Both of them are quietly singing the same hymn. It’s a powerful scene.

So should you see THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER? Absolutely. Netflix, buy, borrow or steal the DVD or Blu-Ray.  I don’t care. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is a movie I’ve seen maybe a dozen times and every time it still scares me. And if you want to be truly scared outta your wits, turn out all the lights in your house or apartment and watch THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.

By yourself.

Go on.  I dare you.

93 minutes


Dimension Films

Directed by Wes Craven
Produced and Written by Kevin Williamson

This is the shortest review I’ve ever written. Sit up straight and pay attention.

I had always believed that “The Blue Lagoon” was the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life. Then I saw CURSED.

If you see stacks of CURSED DVDs in the $2 bargain bin at Wal-Mart or Target, trust me that they are there for a reason. CURSED is without a doubt one of the overall worst movies I have ever seen to date. That Wes Craven has his name on it totally baffles me because Wes Craven knows how to make a horror movie and this piece of utter trash barely qualifies. CURSED is not even worth seeing for Christina Ricci who looks absolutely gorgeous and she turns in the best acting job she can do along with Joshua Jackson. The both of them do the best they can with what they’ve got. The only reason why I can think they participated in CURSED is because of contractual obligations or they had mortgage payments due and needed the paycheck. I can respect them for that.

You’ve been warned. I take no responsibility if you decide to disregard my warning so it’s on you. I wasted an hour and 30 minutes of my life I’ll never get back so you don’t have to. Even if you get a chance to see it for free do not watch CURSED. It’s not even a good bad movie. Its total trash and a waste of your time.

I’m gonna say it one more time. Do not watch CURSED.

P.S.: Since watching this movie I have indeed found one worse than this, believe it or not

97 minutes

Rated R

In A Lonely Place

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Robert Lord
Screenplay by Andrew Solt
Based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes

Let’s face it; it’s not easy to make movies about writers. At the end of the day a writer’s job is to sit down at a desk for hours and hours and…well, write. That doesn’t make for a very exciting movie. It’s not like making a movie about a painter or an artist. They at least move around and do grand things when they’re being brilliant. But writers are at their most creative and brilliant when they’re apparently doing nothing or very little at all. Hardly the stuff of exciting motion pictures. Despite that there have been a surprising number of well made movies about writers and they usually focus not only on the writing process but how the writer affects those around him like in “Barton Fink” and “The Whole Wide World.” IN A LONELY PLACE is such a movie. It’s about a writer and it’s about how he affects the lives of people around him. But in a lot of ways it’s unlike any movie about a writer I’ve ever seen.

Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a hotshot Hollywood screenwriter struggling to come back after a series of flops. While hanging out with his good pal, the alcoholic has-been film legend Charlie Waterman (Robert Warwick) at his favorite watering hole, Dix is thrown a promising job courtesy of his long suffering agent of 20 years, Mel Lippman (Art Smith) There’s a popular book that a top studio is dying to turn into a movie and they want Dix to write the screenplay. The problem is Dix doesn’t want the job and doesn’t even want to read the book.

However, the hat check girl Mildred (Martha Stewart) has read the book and loves it to death. She begs Dix to read it and write the screenplay. Dix asks her to come over to his place and outline the story for him. He figures that he can get enough from that so he can bullshit his way through the actual writing of the screenplay. Mildred is ecstatic to be part of the moviemaking process and agrees. They spend a sociable enough evening where Mildred does indeed tell Dix enough of the book’s story, plot and characters for his purposes and he sends her home with cab fare.

But the following morning Dix is awakened by an old Army buddy of his, Brub Nicholai (Frank Lovejoy) who is now a police detective. And Brub is investigating a murder in which Dixon Steele is the main suspect: Mildred was horribly and brutally killed the night before.  Brub’s superior Captain Lochner (Carl Benton Reid) wants Brub to use his friendship to get close to Dix and prove he killed Mildred. Brub doesn’t believe Dix did it. But Dix has a long history of violent behavior. Lochner believes Dix killed Mildred due to his odd lack of emotional response upon hearing of her death. Brub has known Dix ever since the war and says that Dix has always been like that. Brub plainly admires Dix, calling him a genius, claiming that Dix has ‘a superior mind’ Brub resents his own wife Sylvia (Jeff Donnell) calling Dix ‘sick’. Sylvia makes no secret of the fact she’s uneasy around Dix and tells Brub; “if that’s what a genius is like I’m glad you’re average”

Dix gets a temporary break due to the testimony of his neighbor Laurel Grey (Gloria Grahame) who swears to Lochner that Mildred left Dix’s house alive and well. But even that is called into doubt when Dix and Laurel begin a torrid love affair that jumpstarts Dix’s creative juices. He works on the new screenplay with an energy he hasn’t had in years, fueled by Laurel’s affectionate help. Everybody sees a change in Dix but Laurel is seeing a side of Dix she doesn’t like. Dix has a paranoid streak a yard wide and no control on his temper at all. This is a guy who goes way past nuclear and into supernova when he gets his mad on. And Laurel comes to gradually realize that even if Dix didn’t kill that hat check girl, he may be totally capable of killing her if he lets his anger and paranoia have its way.

IN A LONELY PLACE is one of those movies that was considered campy melodrama when it was first released but now is regarded as a classic of film noir and I’m one of those who agree. It’s a fascinating movie about a talented man with flaws as large as his talent and the most interesting thing about the movie is how his friends deal with him, his talent and his flaws. Humphrey Bogart is a Film Icon due to his tough guy roles but he’s just as good if not better when he plays against type and his Dixon Steele is a guy who I actually believed was a writer. There were a lot of little touches that Bogart gave the character that I’m convinced he must have gotten from writers he knew because they rang true. Dixon Steele is a man who’s intelligent, charming, charismatic and frightfully insightful. But at the same time, he’s a man capable of sudden psychotic rages and near hysterical paranoid fits that terrify even those who love him best. It’s a totally wonderful performance from Bogart.

Gloria Grahame is just as wonderful as Bogart as she matches him line for line in that delightful Old School Hollywood Dialog that the just don’t write anymore. There’s something about her eyes and the way she looks that leads me to think she’s just as psychologically damaged as Dixon but she at least has an awareness of her flaws that Dix’s ego won’t allow him to acknowledge.

The direction by Nicholas Ray is wonderful and if you’re not familiar with him then IN A LONELY PLACE is a great place to start. Some of his other films include the deranged “Bigger Than Life” where James Mason goes totally apeshit thanks to his addiction to Cortisone and tries to murder his family. There’s the excellent noir detective film “On Dangerous Ground” where Robert Ryan plays a burned out homicide cop. He’s sent to a frozen wasteland north of a nameless crime ridden city to investigate the murder of a young girl and ends up falling in love with the blind sister of the chief suspect.

If you’re a fan of film noir, Humphrey Bogart or Nicholas Ray then you definitely should put IN A LONELY PLACE on your list of movies to Netflix or buy. It’s also a popular movie on Turner Classic Movies as they show it on a pretty regular basis. Watch and enjoy.

94 minutes

The Phantom

Paramount Pictures

Produced by Robert Evans and Alan Ladd, Jr.
Directed by Simon Wincer
Written by Jeffrey Boam
Based on “The Phantom” created by Lee Falk

I have absolutely no idea why some movies become major hits and others fail miserably. Especially movies such as THE PHANTOM which ranks right up there with “Superman: The Movie” Tim Burton’s first “Batman” “Batman Begins” “X-Men: First Class” “The Rocketeer” and Ang Lee’s “The Hulk” as one of the best superhero movies ever made. Hell, it’s a damn good movie, period. The cast is outstanding, the locations beautiful, the action non-stop, the music appropriately heroic and romantic. This was a movie that should have been a blockbuster hit in theatres. But it failed to find an audience. I was one of those who saw it during the original theatrical run. I went during a matinee and there was just myself and two guys in their seventies who remembered reading “The Phantom” in the newspapers as kids. We all had a great time watching the movie. Since then I’ve recommended THE PHANTOM to a lot of people who have seen it and loved it. They claim that they never saw advertisements for the movie but that may be just as well. The tagline for the movie was so colossally stupid I hope the egg roll that thought of it was demoted to Junior Washroom Attendant (What the hell was ‘Slam Evil!’ supposed to mean?)

It may be that people just looked at the ads and assumed that The Phantom was a rip-off of Batman set in the jungle. Actually, The Phantom debuted in 1936 and Batman didn’t appear until 1939. Indeed, The Phantom is credited as being the very first costumed superhero. But so many things that made The Phantom unique has been taken as adopted by creators of other superheroes that it’s not surprising that many modern day viewers dismissed the movie as being an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Batman and Spider-Man. Which is really a shame. THE PHANTOM is remarkably faithful to the source material and a movie done with a tremendous amount of respect and love for the character.

The origins of The Phantom is told to us during the credits: In 1516 a young boy named Kit Walker is serving as cabin boy aboard his father’s ship. During a routine voyage to Africa to trade goods the ruthless Singh Brotherhood, a feared band of pirates, attacks the ship. The boy Kit is the only survivor and escapes to be washed up on the shores of Bengalla. The Bandar tribe befriends him, teach him their language and heir ways. Kit finds the body of his father, partially eaten by scavengers. He takes his father’s skull and swears an oath upon it: Kit and all his descendants will combat piracy in all its forms. And so The Phantom is born. When one Phantom dies, his eldest son takes on the role of The Phantom. As a result, there is a myth that The Phantom cannot die and is immortal. He is known the world over as The Ghost Who Walks and it is this belief that is The Phantom’s strongest weapon in his battle against evil. Only the Bandar tribe, the wives and family of the various Phantoms know the true secret.

THE PHANTOM takes place in 1936 where the current Phantom/Kit Walker (Billy Zane) finds himself up against Xander Drax (Treat Williams) a millionaire industrialist/crimelord who is searching for the Three Skulls Of Togunda: mystical artifacts that when brought together will give him ultimate power. Drax has two formidable henchmen in the mercenary Quill (James Remar) who killed the 20th Phantom (Patrick McGoohan) and female martial arts expert/pilot Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones). But The Phantom has help from the equally formidable Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer, yay!) who has uncovered a connection between Drax and The Singh Brotherhood. Diana’s a plucky, adventurous girl with a mean right hook that still carries a big torch for a boy she loved in college. They had thought about getting married but his father died and he had to leave The United States to take over the family business. The boy’s name was Kit Walker.

Diana and The Phantom meet after Diana’s plane is forced down by Sala and her crew of female fighter plane pilots and The Phantom has to rescue her from a tramp steamer crewed by merciless killers. From then, it’s on to New York where Diana and Kit have a reunion that’s both painful and touching. But then Diana is once again kidnapped by Drax and his crew and taken to the horrifying island fortress of The Singh Brotherhood located in The Devil’s Vortex, from which no man ever returns. But it’s there that the third skull is located, held by the bloodthirsty Kabai Sengh (Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa) the current leader of The Singh Brotherhood. And they have their own plans for the Three Skulls…a plan that will also end their 400-year-old war with The Phantom…

Anybody who knows me knows I eat up this stuff and totally choke on it. I’ve seen THE PHANTOM perhaps a dozen times and I’ll gladly watch it a dozen more. It is the best of pulp action adventure that is presented in such a fun way that I honestly don’t see how anybody couldn’t watch this movie without a goofy grin of delight on his or her face. Billy Zane is totally perfect in the role of The Phantom/Kit Walker in the same way Michael Keaton was perfect for Batman/Bruce Wayne and Christopher Reeve was perfect for Superman/ Clark Kent.

I really like how The Phantom is presented in this movie. First of all, Billy Zane insisted that the suit not be padded. So those muscles you see are actually his. And yeah, Billy Zane wears a purple bodysuit and makes it look damn cool. But the suit isn’t a bright purple. It’s a dark, muted purple that is even darker by what appears to be black tribal markings/tattoos on the suit that brings down the purple even more. It gives The Phantom’s costume the appearance of a tribal ceremonial garb he’s adopted for his purposes which works well with the jungle background of the character. And The Phantom is wonderfully low tech. He gets around on a magnificent Arabian stallion named Hero. His enforcer is a wolf named Devil. He carries no gadgets, just two black .45 automatics that he uses with such skill that he can knock a gun out of a man’s hand with a single shot. His radio is operated by his faithful servant/boyhood chum Guran (Radmar Agana Jao) who has to pedal the electric motor to give it power. Guran also won’t let you smoke in The Phantom’s base of operations, The Skull Cave.

It makes for a terrifically physical hero who relies more on his wits, brains and athletic abilities to get out of scrapes than we’re used to in these kind of movies. The Phantom can’t pull stuff out of his utility belt to get out of trouble which makes for a lot of really tense action scenes where you’re really wondering: “How’s he going to get outta this one?”

If you don’t know that I totally love Kristy Swanson, then be advised now that I do. I remember seeing the original “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” movie she starred in back in 1992 and I immediately became infatuated with her. And I love her in THE PHANTOM. She’s a vastly underrated actress who should have had a bigger career. She deserves it. She’s gorgeous, she’s intelligent and every time she’s on screen you believe what she’s doing. James Remar and Catherine Zeta-Jones have a great deal of fun with their badguy roles. And Patrick McGoohan is wonderful as the former Phantom who might be an actual ghost coming back to advise his son on how to handle the family business or he might be a psychological quirk that Kit needs to get through his job.

So should you see THE PHANTOM? Without a doubt, yes. In my opinion it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made and should be seen just for the performances and production values alone. It’s an awesome looking movie, period. The costumes the cars, the whole 1930’s period is recreated in fantastic style. And the damn movie is just so much fun. The Phantom is a hero is actually enjoys being a hero and it’s a change to see a hero who enjoys doing what he’s born to do to. He doesn’t angst about it or moan and cry or worry about paying rent or whatever. Simon Wincer directs this movie with a great sense of style and you get the feeling that everybody had a wonderful time making this movie.

If you’ve been reading my reviews and trust my opinion at all then go get yourself a DVD or Blu-Ray of THE PHANTOM, get the snacks and drinks of your choice and have yourself a great time watching a great movie. Enjoy.

100 minutes
Rated PG

Mister Buddwing



Directed by Delbert Mann

Produced by Delbert Mann and Douglas Lawrence

Screenplay by Dale Wasserman

Based on the novel “Buddwing” by Evan Hunter

James Garner is one of the most liked, best respected and just plain real people working in Hollywood to this very day.  I feel like he’s a friend since I remember watching him in the TV western “Maverick” with my father when I was a kid back in the late 60’s/early 70’s.  And through the years I’ve watched and enjoyed James Garner in both movies and TV shows.  I could be wrong but I’d be willing to bet that James Garner was the first TV star to parley that small screen stardom to movies successfully both financially and critically.

Most certainly he clicks with audiences.  Even when I was a kid my father would say that anything James Garner was in, he’d watch.  And even today my father will drop anything he’s doing to watch “The Great Escape”.  And Mr. Garner has most certainly secured his spot in Television History as the star of what many consider to be the best Private Eye series ever: “The Rockford Files”.  Me, I’d give that honor to Tom Selleck and “Magnum, P.I.” but we’ll save that argument for another time.

I’ve always liked James Garner more in movies.  Such as “Skin Game” where he and Lou Gossett, Jr. played pre-Civil War era conmen.  Or “The Great Escape” or “Grand Prix” or “Marlowe” or “They Only Kill Their Masters” or “Support Your Local Sheriff” with the delightful Joan Hackett who had Demi Moore’s voice long before Demi Moore was born.  And knew how to use it better.  And then there’s the great western “Duel at Diablo” he made with Sidney Poitier and Dennis Weaver.  Here you have three of the nicest, most gentlemanly men in Hollywood playing total bastards and having a great time doing it.  In later years James Garner delighted me in movies such as “Victor/Victoria” and a movie that I am making your homework assignment for the week: “Sunset” a pulp action adventure from 1988 with Mr. Garner playing an aged but still badass Wyatt Earp acting as consultant to movie cowboy Tom Mix (Bruce Willis).  The two of them get involved in a whole lotta hijinks I wouldn’t dare spoil for those of you who haven’t seen “Sunset” But take it from me: it’s a helluva fun movie.  And most of it is due to the performance of James Garner.

MISTER BUDDWING begins with a man (James Garner) waking up on a Central Park bench.  He has no memory of who he is or how he got there.  A search of his pockets turns up a train schedule, a folded up piece of paper with a phone number written on it and two white pills.  He has no identification but he is wearing a silver opal ring.  The opal is cracked and there is an inscription inside the ring.  All of these are the only clues to his identity.

He calls the number and finds it belongs to a prostitute (Angela Lansbury) who says she doesn’t know him but gives him coffee, money and sends him off on a day long quest to find out who he is.  That quest will introduce him to three very different women.  All of these women he calls ‘Grace’.  They tell him that they aren’t Grace.  But he follows them into some very disturbing scenarios.  Some that appears to play out his past life.

Who is Grace?  Is she real?  Are these real women or just psychotic fantasies of Mister Buddwing?  Are they aspects of the real Grace his disturbed mind has fragmented into separate personalities?  Who are they and who is he?  MISTER BUDDWING isn’t the type of movie you plan for a Saturday night when you and your lady or you and your boys just want to kick back with a fun movie.  It’s one of those movies that likes to play with your head.  Halfway through the movie Mister Buddwing is presented with the possibility that he’s an escaped mental patient with homicidal tendencies.  Certainly his behavior might seem to suggest that.  But as the day goes on and he has his encounters with the three Graces (Katherine Ross, Suzanne Pleshette and Jean Simmons) He gradually comes to realize that there’s a more horrifying reason behind his amnesia.

MISTER BUDDWING is a movie I place in the same catergory with “Angel Heart” It’s a movie where the main character is trying to solve a mystery and the solution turns out to be worse than the mystery itself.  Oh, MISTER BUDDWING is nowhere near as graphic as “Angel Heart” but the solution of the mystery is no less frightening.

The performances are all out of the box.  Angela Lansbury is terrific as the over-the-hill whore who puts Mister Buddwing on the path to find out who he is.  And as the three aspects of Grace: Katherine Ross is just okay.  Suzanne Pleshette has always been one of my favorite actresses and one who I felt never got the career she deserved.  She also looks totally hot in a scene where she’s wearing a white trenchcoat and go-go boots.  Some of the hotness is taken out of what happens later on in that scene.

Jean Simmons is totally amazing with her platinum blond hair and whorish attitude.  It’s a performance unlike any you might have seen her in before and it’s amazing to watch.  And if you needed any other inducement to watch this movie, there’s a scene with Nichelle Nichols and Jean Simmons down on their knees in dresses up to here shootin’ dice and exhorting; “Give it to me the hard way BABY!”

It’s also a movie worth watching for the beautiful black-and-white photography and the view of a New York that doesn’t exist anymore.  Movies like MISTER BUDDWING I recommend not only as a good movie but as a history lesson.  The New York in MISTER BUDDWING I barely remember but it’s one that is worth you visiting.

So should you see MISTER BUDDWING?  Well, unless you have Turner Classic Movies, you won’t.  It’s not available on DVD or Netflix.  But if you are a fan of James Garner and you have TCM on your satellite/cable provider then by all means, please give it a viewing.

110 minutes