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Four Thrillers from MGM

Electra Glide in Blue (October 10/12)

Electra Glide in Blue follows Robert Blake's John Wintergreen as he carries out his day-to-day duties as an Arizona-based motorcycle cop, with the murder of a local triggering an inquiry that could pave the way for Wintergreen's ascension to detective. There's little doubt that Electra Glide in Blue fares best in its first half, as filmmaker James William Guercio, having kicked the proceedings off with an almost hypnotic opening stretch, effectively establishes a low-key yet compelling atmosphere that's heightened by Blake's stirring turn as the affable protagonist. It is, as such, worth noting that the episodic, character-study-like vibe is initially not as problematic as one might've feared, with the ongoing emphasis on Wintergreen's exploits (eg he hits on a girl armed with Alan Ladd trivia, he and his partner pull over a hippie, etc) possessing an oddly engrossing feel that does, for a while, allay Guercio's almost excessively deliberate sensibilities. The movie's momentum does, however, take a palpable hit once the focus shifts to Wintergreen's investigation into the aforementioned murder, with the routine (and fairly tedious) nature of this stretch compounded by a meandering midsection that's rife with frustratingly pointless interludes (eg a weird encounter with Wintergreen's slutty girlfriend, a head-scratchingly irrelevant concert sequence, etc). The movie's atmosphere of '70s excess becomes more and more pronounced as it lurches towards its predictably downbeat conclusion, which ultimately cements Electra Glide in Blue's place as a sporadically intriguing yet pervasively uneven (and dated) piece of work.

out of

Lady in White (November 2/10)

An unapologetically old-fashioned ghost story, Lady in White follows 1960s adolescent Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) as he experiences a bout of paranormal activity after he's locked in his school's cloak room overnight - with the film, as a result, primarily detailing Frankie's efforts at unraveling the mystery behind the aforementioned ghost's grisly demise. Director Frank LaLoggia does an effective job of immediately establishing the central character's small-town existence, with the movie's appealingly nostalgic feel initially compensating for the filmmaker's reliance on as slow and deliberate a pace as one could envision. There inevitably reaches a point, however, at which the uneventful storyline simply becomes too much to comfortably bear, as the viewer inevitably begins to grow anxious for something to disrupt the almost aggressively genteel atmosphere. It certainly doesn't help that the majority of Lady in White's horror-based elements fall completely flat, with the decidedly (and disappointingly) campy nature of the narrative's spooky interludes ensuring that the movie is rarely as creepy as LaLoggia has clearly intended. (Having said that, the filmmaker has peppered the proceedings with a handful of admittedly striking sequences - including a tense scene wherein a man is shot outside a courthouse.) The film's many problems are exacerbated by the ease with which most viewers will be able to discern the killer's identity, and there's subsequently little doubt that Lady in White has firmly established itself as a well-meaning yet thoroughly underwhelming piece of work.

out of

The Mechanic (December 11/10)

Directed by Michael Winner, The Mechanic follows aging assassin Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) as he attempts to pass on his knowledge to an eager young apprentice (Jan-Michael Vincent's Steve McKenna) - with the transition inevitably proving to be far more perilous than Arthur might have expected. It's clear right from the get-go that The Mechanic has aged horribly in the years since its 1972 debut, with the film's interminably slow pace undoubtedly standing head and shoulders above its many, many faults. Winner, working from Lewis John Carlino's episodic screenplay, opens the proceedings with a sequence in which Arthur meticulously sets out to knock off a hapless target, and while certain aspects of this stretch are admittedly quite interesting, the 15-minute scene ultimately stands as an indicative example of everything that's wrong with the film (ie it's deliberate to the point of aggravation). Bronson's subsequent efforts at transforming his character into a wholeheartedly captivating figure fall completely flat, with the ongoing emphasis on hopelessly dull interludes - ie Arthur and Steve plan their first job together - contributing heavily to the film's pervasively tedious atmosphere (and this is to say nothing of Winner's almost astonishingly low-rent visual sensibilities). The violent twist ending is entertainingly mean-spirited, admittedly, yet it's hardly enough to compensate for what is otherwise a meandering, relentlessly unwatchable piece of work.

out of

Never Let Go (April 16/11)

Never Let Go is a strange little movie revolving around a cosmetic salesman (Richard Todd's John Cummings) whose life is turned upside down after his car his stolen, with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing John's ongoing efforts at retrieving his auto from the vicious gangster (Peter Sellers' Lionel Meadows) responsible for its theft. (It eventually becomes clear that the car is representative of John's lifelong penchant for backing down from tough situations, which presumably explains why he so tenaciously refuses to drop the issue.) Director John Guillermin has infused Never Let Go with a striking, film noir-inspired visual sensibility that proves instrumental in initially capturing the viewer's interest, as the film is otherwise, in its early stages, devoid of elements designed to compensate for the thin, less-than-engrossing storyline - with the underwhelming atmosphere compounded by Todd's consistently bland turn as the harried protagonist. It's clear, then, that Never Let Go's most potent weapon is Sellers, as the actor delivers a captivating and frequently electrifying performance that elevates the proceedings on a fairly regular basis. (In an early scene, Sellers' character intimidates a witness by stepping on his pet turtle.) The slow, sluggish midsection is, as a result, not entirely as problematic as one might've feared, and it's worth noting that the movie does pick up for the climactic fight between Todd and Sellers' respective character - with the effectiveness of this surprisingly violent sequence cementing Never Let Go's place as a perfectly watchable bit of '60s filmmaking.

out of

© David Nusair