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Summer of Movies: Bookending the ’70s with They Might Be Giants (1971) and Winter Kills (1979) June 29, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1970s, Movies.
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Watching these two right after one another got me thinking a lot about how they’re both products of their time – more specifically, products of a very precise time.

The ’70s began with all sorts of hope and promise – we were fresh off the moon landings and remnants of all the peace ‘n’ love crap from the late ’60s still had a residue in the culture. I found They Might Be Giants as a good example of this particular zeitgeist. George C Scott plays a judge who has gone insane, thinking he’s Sherlock Holmes. Joanne Woodward plays the therapist brought in to treat him, and it turns out she’s actually Dr. Watson.

Based on a stage play (and feeling like it often), Scott does Holmes more as Don Quixote (the origin of the title – those windmills might be giants, after all) and eventually wins over the sad ‘n’ frustrated creature-of-boring-habit Watson into his happier world of make believe. He galavants around NYC and we meet all the street crazy friends he has who play along with his fantasy, and eventually we wind up with a very similar manifesto to Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s the seemingly crazy who not only can see the magic of living, but MUST see it in order to go on – while those of us who are supposedly sane not only can’t see it, but won’t.

Whimsy, romance and imagination… but all in all, a lot of plot strands that don’t really go anywhere, despite some fine performances from Scott, Woodward and assorted supporting cast members like Jack Gilford, Oliver Clark and Rue McLanahan. In the end, tho, it felt more like a collection of scenes and monlogues.

Evidently, Woodward had a horrible time making this film. It nearly drove her to quit acting. But she loved working with Scott, who she called a wonderful gentleman.

I always figured Scott to be a perfectionist on the set, but wonderful to other actors. After all, it was in deference to them & his hatred of actor competition that he refused his Oscar for Patton. I wonder if there’s an entire generation who know only know of George C Scott via getting hit in the groin with a football in Hans Moleman’s masterpiece rather than the versatile guy he was. He wasn’t ALWAYS angry! Well, just most of the time, like in Strangelove or The Hospital or Hardcore or Patton… he made perhaps my all time favorite Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Mostly for the end, when happy smilin’ Scrooge turns up at Bob Cratchit’s and Cratchit thinks he’s gone truly insane – Scott totally sells that angle!

He’s happy/crazy in this one, too, sort of the way the ’70s began as happy/crazy. The ’70s ended on much more of an assortment of sour notes, from malaise to a horrible economy to hostages and the rest.

One major cultural shift was the mainstreaming of paranoid conspiracy theories, a trend that’d only continue to build through the ’90s with X-Files and the like, paving the way for 9/11 truthers and other morons.

But back in MY day, kids, we had endless Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, and that brings us to Winter Kills, from 1979.

Jeff Bridges plays the stepbrother of the JFK figure, who begins to investigate the twenty year old assassination. Through a myriad of intrigue and a supporting cast basically turning up for one scene apiece (Anthony Perkins, Sterling Hayden, Dorothy Malone, Eli Wallach among others), the “all the key witnesses died in mysterious circumstances!” angle of the JFK mischigoss weighs heavily here. Only Bridges and John Huston as the Joe Kennedy character figure throughout. The major problem, however, is that of tone – this one didn’t know whether to be a dark comedy or an actual political thriller. So, we see-saw in between a lesser Three Days of The Condor type movie to a weak-tea version of Manchurian Candidate. I doubt Richard Condon’s novel was a weak-tea version of his earlier Manchurian Candidate, and a lot of this felt like it worked WAY better as a 1970s dark comic novel along the lines of a Joseph Heller type affair.

The paranoid thrillers of the early 70s – like Condor, along with Parallax View, The Conversation and the like are far superior.

Onwards and upwards with Summer of Movies – next up are a bunch of Edward Dmytryk films, some old noirs grabbed from Youtube, and even some old TV movies for more ’70s fun.

 

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