Universal Studios

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Produced by David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck

Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb

Music by John Williams

I headed into the den with a 3 liter of Coca-Cola, a bag of potato chips the size of a Dickensian urchin and a carton of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups.  My wife Patricia knows the signs well and asked me what movie I was going to watch.  “JAWS” I reply.  She shook her head slightly and said; “How many times have you seen that?”  I really couldn’t answer her.  In between its original theatrical run where I first saw it and now, I really couldn’t say.  Maybe eleven or twelve times. Probably more.  But to me it really doesn’t matter.  I don’t keep count.  JAWS is one of those movies that I can cheerfully watch over and over again.  Patricia is like most people, I think: she watches a movie once and then she really can’t be bothered to see it again.  My brain is hardwired a different way.  A movie like JAWS I can see over and over again because for me it’s so rare that elements of horror, high adventure, human conflict, drama and even comedy are married so well to a bedrock solid story and acting so natural that you forget you’re watching a movie and have an out-of-body experience that transports you to another world.  It would happen again two years later when Steven Spielberg’s boy George Lucas conquered the world with “Star Wars” but that’s another review.  Let’s get back to JAWS.

Amity Island is a summer resort town gearing up for its big Fourth of July weekend.  Amity Island residents and merchants depend on the summer tourist dollars to support them through the fall and winter so they’re not happy when the mangled body of a girl is washed up on the beach.  They’re even less happy when Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) determines that the girl was the victim of a shark attack and plans to close the beaches.  Town Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) assures the merchants and residents that everything will be fine.  Mayor Vaughn has a positively brilliant genius for self-delusion because even after a young boy is killed by the shark he still insists that there’s nothing wrong in Amity and they’re going to have a great summer.

Brody isn’t so optimistic and he enlists the help of marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) to help him catch and kill the shark.  A shark that Hooper informs both Brody and Vaughn just isn’t any shark: it’s a Great White Shark.  A fish that is the Galactus of all sharks.  Hooper says it best: “It does nothing but swim, eat and make baby Great White Sharks.” But it isn’t until the shark kills another innocent and almost gets Brody’s son that Brody can get the beaches closed and gets the authorization from Mayor Vaughn to hire professional shark killer Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the shark.  Quint wants $10,000.  Brody says fine as long as he and Hooper can go along.  Quint reluctantly agrees and the three men set off in Quint’s boat ‘The Orca’ to track down and kill the beast.  It’s a quest that takes up the second half of the movie and it’s one of the most nail-biting quests in movie history.  It’s frightening, horrifying and even touching.

JAWS has been called a modern-day “Moby Dick” and there’s a lot of validity in that.  The three men all are obsessed with finding and killing the shark for their own reasons.   Hooper is simply crazy about sharks and has been since one almost ate him when he was a boy.  Brody feels an overwhelming sense of guilt for the death of the young boy.  Quint is a survivor of the World War II sinking of The USS Indianapolis in which a large number of men spent days in the water being attacked by packs of sharks.  The Amity Great White itself exhibits behavior that both Hooper and Quint have never seen in a Great White Shark before, giving the creature an even deeper layer of menace.  In fact, it even seems to be leading the three men further and further out to sea…

Chances are you’ve probably seen JAWS so I don’t have to tell you how great a movie it is.  JAWS works on a lot of levels during the first half of the movie.  I like the politics of how a summer resort island depends on tourist dollars and how that can make otherwise perfectly reasonable human beings turn a blind eye to the fact that they have an eating machine swimming around their island.  I like how Police Chief Brody is almost a comedic character in a lot of scenes.  Roy Scheider brings an amazing amount of humanity and warmth to the character of Brody.  He’s not a superman.  In fact he’s really not all that good a Police Chief.  But he is a good man who wants to do the right thing and he’s willing to put his ass on the line to do it and in the end that’s what really matters.  Richard Dreyfuss is outstanding as Matt Hooper and you really get the sense that the two men forge a solid friendship as they figure out what to do about this situation.  Murray Hamilton has a hard job in this movie but I admire the way he pulls it off.  I’ve discussed JAWS with so-called movie fans who say that they don’t think the movie is realistic because anybody with any common sense would have closed the beaches after the first shark attack (these are the same people who think that “Friday The 13th Part III” is a horror classic) but Hamilton’s character is one that exists in the real world and even though he makes horrendously bad choices we understand why he makes those choices even though we don’t agree with them.  It’s a much underrated performance and among the best in the movie.  In fact, the only performance that I can do without is Lorraine Gary as I don’t think she’s as good an actress as Tanya Roberts and I think Tanya Roberts is the worst actress to have ever lived.

Robert Shaw walks away with the acting honors in this one.  His Quint is a memorable character in every sense of the word in that we get the real sense that this is a character that had a life before this movie started.  Most people cite Roy Scheider’s “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” as the classic scene in JAWS but Robert Shaw had one just as good with Richard Dreyfuss that never fails to crack me up: Hooper is loading a shark cage aboard Quint’s boat…

Quint: What d’ye have there?

Hooper:  Anti-shark cage

Quint: (after a beat) Anti-shark cage.  You go in the cage?

Hooper: Yeah

Quint: Cage goes in the water?

Hooper: Yeah

Quint: Shark’s in the water?

Hooper: Yeah.

Quint then walks away singing “Spanish Ladies” in such a manner that is so well timed you can’t help but bust out laughing.  At least I can’t.  That whole scene between Shaw and Dreyfuss is a wonderfully played comedic bit that The Marx Brothers would have been jealous of.  Shaw and Dreyfuss have another great scene later on where they drunkenly compare battle scars and sing “Show Me The Way To Go Home”

I’ve gone on long enough.  Either you’ve seen JAWS and you agree with me or not.  Or maybe you haven’t seen it.  If you haven’t I strongly recommend that you do so.  It’s a movie that succeeds on the level of sheer entertainment value.  Trust me, 75% of the crap Hollywood throws on the Cineplex screens today doesn’t compare with JAWS in terms of suspense, excitement, characterization and great storytelling.  It was the movie that made Steven Spielberg a major player in Hollywood and it was the first “summer blockbuster” being the first movie to make $100 million dollars in theatrical release.   It’s also a fine example of the talent and professionalism that Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw brought to their work.   Among the many fine and outstanding roles they both played, their work in JAWS will be remembered as among their best.

124 minutes

Rated PG

Force 10 From Navarone


Columbia Pictures

Directed by Guy Hamilton
Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff
Written by Robin Chapman and Carl Foreman
Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean

FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE catches the attention right away with the rousing theme song by Ron Goodwin, which is a stirring, heart-pumping military march in the style of John Williams’s classic “Raiders of The Lost Ark” march or his theme for “1941” and when I saw the cast, I quickly grabbed some goodies and settled in to see just what this was going to be about.

First off, a lot of the cast looks like this film was an excuse to have a reunion for actors who have all at one time co-starred in James Bond films. You’ve got Robert Shaw who played the assassin Red Grant in “From Russia With Love.” Barbara Bach aka Agent Triple X from “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Richard Kiel, the steel-toothed Jaws from “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker” and Edward Fox who played M in Sean Connery’s comeback Bond movie, “Never Say Never Again.” And the director is none other than Guy Hamilton who helmed 4 Bond movies; “Live And Let Die”, “The Man With The Golden Gun”, “Goldfinger” and my favorite James Bond movie, “Diamonds Are Forever” Hamilton also directed one of the best and least appreciated action/adventure movies of all time: “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begin”

So with a crew like that, plus Harrison Ford and Carl Weathers, I figured that the movie had to be pretty good and I was right. Oh, sure, it’s got plot holes big enough to throw a tank through and there are some slow spots where the characters stand around explaining things we already know, but on the whole, I had a great time watching this movie. If you like World War II action/adventures like “Kelly’s Heroes”, “Where Eagles Dare” and “The Dirty Dozen” then you’ll be right at home with this one.

Even though it’s supposed to be a sequel to the classic Gregory Peck/David Niven/Anthony Quinn “The Guns of Navarone”, that earlier mission is hardly referred to. Harrison Ford is an American colonel heading to Yugoslavia with his ten-man team on a top secret mission (is there any other in movies like this?) and he is ordered to take along Shaw and Fox who have their own mission to accomplish. Ford doesn’t like it a bit but orders are orders and all that.

While Ford and his team steal an airplane for transport (it’s all part of the plan, don’t worry) they pick up Carl Weathers in a convoluted bit of plot twisting to enable a black man to be part of the team since the Armed Forces were still segregated at the time of WWII. It’s an awkward scene that eats up valuable screen time and reminded me of those scenes from early Schwarzenegger and Van Damme movies where the writers felt they had to stick in a scene to explain why Schwarzenegger and Van Damme were living in the U.S. but had Austrian and Belgian accents. Which I found really pointless since I live in New York and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting somebody with an accent.

Right from the start, the mission is screwed and Ford’s team is wiped out leaving him with Shaw, Fox and Weathers to help him complete his mission: blow up a strategically important bridge that can’t be blown. Three previous teams tried and were all wiped out. Shaw makes a deal with Ford: help me do my mission and I’ll help you do yours. Ford isn’t too sure about this since Shaw’s mission is to assassinate a traitor who nearly wrecked the Navarone mission but Shaw’s got an ace up his sleeve: Fox’s character is the top demolition man in Europe (maybe in the world) and Shaw assures him that Fox alone can do what Ford’s ten men were supposed to do. So the deal is struck and the four set off on their adventure.

And quite the adventure it is. The movie is nothing but a series of fights, chases, captures and escapes. The four-man team is constantly being captured and betrayed by various characters that are rarely what they seem at first. It’s like everybody in this movie is a double or even triple agent and everything possible that can go wrong does. They have to fight their way in and out of Nazi strongholds, sneak into munitions depots to steal explosives, bargain with Yugoslavian freedom fighters who change sides at the drop of a shell casing, all the while trying to find out who the traitor Shaw is supposed to kill is and who he’s really working for. And after all that is done they still have to blow that damn bridge.

While the acting is nowhere near Oscar caliber, the cast and the director are all old hands at this kinda stuff and they all turn in serviceable acting jobs that support the material and genre they’re working in and no more. Nobody’s trying to win any awards with this one, and they all seem to be having a great time except for Harrison Ford who reportedly hated working on location in Yugoslavia, which probably accounts for the pissed-off scowl which is his main expression throughout the film. But I liked seeing the young, energetic Ford again and this movie will remind you why at one time he was the top action star in the world and his acting inexperience (this was his first major Hollywood film after a little thing he did called “Star Wars”) actually works since his Lt. Colonel Barnsby is an inexperienced field commander who is in way over his head and doesn’t want to admit it.

Robert Shaw and Edward Fox are the real acting stars of this movie and I liked the easy rapport they had. They quickly convinced me they were two solid friends who have worked together for a while now who like and respect each other. They bark and bite at each other like an old married couple that bicker and fuss in a manner that makes everybody around them crazy but who work splendidly well together.   They have all the best lines in the movie as they calmly comment on and criticize the frantic action going on around them in their droll, reserved British manner.  Shaw in particular has a beautiful piece of creative bullshit when he convinces a Nazi general who’s captured them that the Force 10 Team are all actually deserters.  Fox picks up on what his partner’s about and effortlessly continues the line of bull. Watch Ford’s expressions during the scene as he struggles to try and keep up with the two old pros who were talking their way out of Nazi traps when he was still in basic training.

Carl Weathers is a criminally underrated actor. He’s done some splendid work in films like “Predator”, the Rocky series and the off-the-hook “Action Jackson” (and I’m still waiting on the sequel to that one, dammit!) as well as television series like In “The Heat Of The Night” and “Fortune Dane”. He primarily works here as a way for the other characters to have a way to explain things that they already know without looking stupid, since Weather’s character has no idea what he was getting into when he stowed away aboard their plane but he’s got some good scenes and a nice little knife fight with Richard Kiel near the movie’s end.

So should you see FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE?  Sure you should.  It’s a highly enjoyable WWII adventure that’s just right for a Saturday afternoon and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed at all. Don’t strain too hard trying to make sense of the many twists and turns of the plot and just enjoy the action on the screen and those wonderful Fox and Shaw performances.

118 Minutes
Rated PG-13

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974)


United Artists

Directed by Joseph Sargent

Produced by Gabriel Katzka and Edgar J. Scherick

Screenplay by Peter Stone

Based on the novel by John Godey

There are movies that just have to be made in New York.  There’s no way around it.  Of course you can change the location of a movie with a few taps on a keyboard but somehow when a movie is filmed in New York it gives the story a weight that makes you feel as if “yeah, I can see that happening in a town like New York” and this feeling is demonstrated excellently in the outstanding crime thriller THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE  This is a movie that couldn’t have been made anywhere else.  It’s such a New York movie, full of the energy, vitality and unique qualities that make New York and the people who live and work in it so utterly exciting, baffling and downright enjoyable. It’s a typical New York day…or at least as typical as any day in New York and people are on their way to work, school or play.  And on the Number 6 train leaving Pelham Bay Park at 1:23 in the afternoon it’s a day that is about to get as bad as a day in New York can get.

Four men board the train armed with machine guns and dressed in the same trench coats, wearing the same caps pulled low over their faces, glasses and mustaches.  With military precision they effortlessly take control of the first car of the train with frightening swiftness, separating it from the rest of the train along with all its passengers, essentially hijacking it.  Parking it onto an off section of track they make their demands known: unless the City of New York pays them a ransom of one million dollars they will kill all the passengers in the car.  And the city has only one hour to pay up.  The terms are non-negotiable.  Pay or people start dying from severe lead poisoning of the worst kind.  Now of course this is met with some skepticism.  As one character puts it: “They’re hijacking trains now?  What are they gonna do?  Fly it to Cuba?”  But the hijackers make it known real soon they mean business. Luckily Lt. Zack Garber (Walter Matthau) of The Transit Police is on the scene.  He’s been escorting a group of Japanese transit officials through the Command Center (in a scene that is very funny but be warned…it’s also not Politically Correct.  But remember, this movie was made in 1974) and he quickly takes charge of the negotiations with the leader of the hijackers, a British mercenary who only identifies himself as Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw)

In fact, I strongly suspect that Quentin Tarentino got his idea of color naming his gang of thieves in “Reservoir Dogs” from this movie as the other train hijackers are named Mr. Green (Martin Balsam) Mr. Gray (Hector Elizondo) and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman) and the movie is just about as much a battle of wits between Garber and Mr. Blue as Garber tries various stratagems as he buys time to save the lives of the hostages as he racks his brains trying to figure out exactly how the hijackers think they’re going to get away with the money when they’re on a train underneath New York. I really can’t recommend this movie enough.  It’s an extremely well made, tight thriller that doesn’t have a slow moment in the entire running time.  It’s not bogged down with unnecessary romances or backstory filling us in as to why these men are doing what they’re doing.  They want money.  It’s as simple as that.  Lt Garber and The New York Police Department have to stop them.  It’s as simple as that.  The movie is what it is: it’s about a daring crime and we watch on the edge of our seats and wonder how the hell this thing is gonna end and we’re highly entertained while doing so. The performances sell the movie and there isn’t a bad one in the whole piece.

Walter Matthau is best known for his comedies but I think I like him even more as a dramatic actor.  In fact, this movie, a spy thriller called “Hopscotch” and a police procedural movie he made with Bruce Dern called ‘The Laughing Policeman” are among my favorite Matthau movies.  His Lt. Garber is a competent professional.  He’s not brilliant at his job but he does it well.  And I liked how the movie shows that his main concern is saving the lives of the hostages, especially in a scene where he grabs hold of a transit supervisor who has been giving him flack and generally being an obstinate pain in the ass through the negotiations.  In that scene Matthau is just as tough as Robert DeNiro or Sean Connery at their best and he sells it.

Robert Shaw plays Mr. Blue and no more needs to be said.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad Robert Shaw performance and if there is one, please tell me.  Here he’s coldly ruthless, calculating and he’s such a master planner that you have no doubt that he’s going to pull this audacious scheme off.  Hector Elizondo does great work as Mr. Gray who we learn is so psychotically bloodthirsty that even The Mafia kicked him out.  Martin Balsam is a standout as Mr. Green, who is more or less the second-in-command of the outfit and he’s essential to the plan since he’s a fired transit motorman whose intimate knowledge of The New York Transit system is necessary to pull the job off.

One of the best things about this movie is how there is such a New York flavor in it.  Even the background characters have small bits that are standouts such as the diverse group of hostages who make up the social strata of the city and the two cops who have to transport the money from the bank to the subway station have wonderful dialog as they ferociously race to try and beat the hijacker’s deadline.  Jerry Stiller does great work as Matthau’s sidekick even though they don’t share a scene until the last ten minutes of the movie. And one of my favorite scenes of the movie is when The Deputy Mayor (Tony Roberts) is trying to convince his boss (Lee Wallace) to pay up the money.  It’s an insightful scene as to how politicians juggle lives, public opinion and professional gain in making life and death decisions and it’s got such smart dialog it makes me weep in envy.  And take a good look at The Mayor….yep, its same guy who plays The Mayor in Tim Burton’s “Batman”.  You’ve also got James Broderick (Matthew’s Dad) Doris Roberts, Julius Harris, Dick O’Neill, Sal Viscuso, Bill Cobb and Joe Seneca.  It’s a killer cast and they all do excellent work even if they’re on the screen for a couple of minutes.  And the last scene of this movie is absolutely the best any heist movie has ever had.  Even though I hate heist movies where the thieves don’t get away with it, the way the ending is set up is so perfect I forgive.

So should you see THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE ?  Absolutely.  If you’re in the mood for a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners crime thriller that I guarantee will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish then you need to see this one.  It’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s thrilling…it’s a New York movie all the way.  You look at what passes for thrillers that come out of Hollywood nowadays and then you watch THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE, a movie made forty years ago and you have to scratch your head and wonder what the hell happened.

P.S.  There was a Made For TV version of THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE made in 1998 that should be avoided at all costs since it was filmed in Toronto.  Nothing against Canada, mind you, but THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE depends so much on the New York atmosphere and flavor you really owe it to yourself to see the original.  There was a much better remake made in 2009 starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta.

Rated R: For the language mostly and it does get pretty raw at times.  But there’s no sex and the violence is pretty tame by modern standards.  I would advise those of you who are Politically Correct (I’m not and proud of it) that this movie was made in 1974 and so the portrayals of Blacks and Asians may make you uncomfortable.  I’m Black and I wasn’t offended because hey, we did have some of us who acted and spoke like that back then, whether you wanna believe it or not and I know because I was there.  Asians will have to defend their own selves on this one.

104 minutes