Wednesday, January 31, 2024



This intense, well-acted entry into the Horror Hag genre that began after the success of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? in 1962, is without a doubt one of the most thoroughly unpleasant movies ever made. Olivia de Havilland is trapped in the elevator in her beautiful house when the power goes out. With no way to call for help, she is terrorized by a bizarre group of thieves who break in to rob her blind and then decide to kill her. Another example of the violent cynicism of the 1960s deconstruction of American culture. With James Caan, Ann Sothern, Jeff Corey, Rafael Campos, and Jennifer Billingsley.


I finally got around to watching this very popular 80s Tom Cruise flick. Not a bad way to spend a quiet, mediocre night in front of the TV. The main reason to watch it is to study all of the acting tricks Mr. Cruise has been using since his younger days to ingratiate himself with the moviegoing masses. Like all romcoms, there is an endless onslaught of pop tunes to keep the viewers entertained, distracted, and, quite possibly, awake. Elizabeth Shue functions as a living, breathing reaction to Cruise and the aforementioned acting tricks. Within those particular confines, she does an acceptable job. Bryan Brown threatens to steal the picture and almost succeeds.


The only reason to appreciate this film is the chance to see Monica Vitti lighten up and have a little fun after having starred in four deadly serious films for Michaelangelo Antonioni. Despite the fact that she changes clothes for every scene and has to kill a few people, the film demands zero from her in terms of acting.

True, she is joined by a cast of talented actors (Terence Stamp, Dirk Bogarde, Rosella Falk), all of whom play their roles with tongues firmly in cheeks. And there is a lot of color, some exotic sets, and enough 1960s artistic sensibility to make you think you've died and gone to Woodstock. With all of these positive factors going for it, you might think the film would be worth watching.

You would be wrong.

It must take a lot of effort and dedication to make a movie this boring, but noted director Joseph Losey has risen to the occasion admirably. There is a plot. At least I think there is. It's best not to attempt to figure it out. Healthy minds have been known to snap while trying to make sense of stories like this one. Far better to just relax, enjoy the scenery, and gaze at Miss Vitti as you wait for the movie to finish, at which time you can berate yourself for the 119 minutes you have lost forever.


This film is conclusive proof that director Oliver Stone is:

(Please choose one of the following.)

1. A potential murderous psychopath who drinks blood for breakfast.

2. An escapee from a mental institution who needs to be sent back.

3. In serious need of extensive drug therapy.

4. A cinematic sadist who should never have been allowed near a movie camera.

5. A singular, courageous, iconoclastic film auteur who possesses (or perhaps is possessed by) a dark, disturbing vision of American society and its celebration of violence.

6. All of the above.



  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! Maybe I should concentrate on "snark" from now on!

  2. Some terrific snark, Mike. I re-watched Modesty Blaise last year following along with solitaryronin’s series on (almost) all the films directed by Joseph Losey. Within that context I enjoyed the film although certainly not one of Losey’s best. Monica Vitti was a comedic actor before Antonioni discovered her as his muse. And I think her subsequent career was mostly comedies. The screenplay for Modest Blaise was not to Losey’s liking and was being revised often during the shooting. Losey became ill for a while and Bogarde directed some scenes. It is a bit of a mess.
    I recall renting Natural Born Killers at the video store. When I returned it the clerk asked if I liked it and I told him that it was the worst film I had ever seen. He was crestfallen as he regarded it as a masterpiece. I have never liked an Oliver Stone film, either directed or written. I probably should give him another look after all these years but definitely not NBK!

    1. Thanks Roger! I do plan to give Modesty Blaise a second watch one of these days. I'm so used to seeing Monica Vitti consumed by angst and alienation, I can't see her any other way. The only other film I've seen her in is An Almost Perfect Affair, a Big Lots $3.00 special. It was really bad. Maybe I can explore some of her other work. I'm glad you agree with me regarding Natural Born Killers. It represents pretty much everything I dislike about the direction the cinema has taken. Oliver Stone is a mixed bag for me, as I've come to appreciate JFK more with subsequent viewings. Not that the film has anything to do with reality. It's a conspiracy theory fever dream that I find thoroughly engrossing.

  3. LADY IN A CAGE intrigues me. It sounds like an early example of the home invasion movie. I am guessing that Rafael Campos' character is just as unpleasant in this film as he was in THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (1968), though one could hope that his wardrobe is not as obnoxious.
    Saw MODESTY BLAISE only once a looonnng time ago and thought it was an undisciplined, trendy mess. I think it hoped to succeed by just being oh so '60s mod. The whole thing comes across like a big shrug that we are supposed to think is hip. I like a touch of the absurd and satire as much as the next guy, but I'm not sure that's what they were aiming for with this. It just seemed like a mod misfire.

  4. Your critique of Modesty Blaise is spot on. "Mod misfire" encapsulates the whole project! You should check out Lady in a Cage and see what you think. It was a very popular film when it came out. But when I saw it not long ago on the Criterion Channel, it just depressed the hell out of me. I would say that Rafael Campos is playing the adult version of the character he played in Blackboard Jungle in 1955. The guy didn't have that much of an acting range and he always had that boyish appearance. I really can't remember what he was like in Astro-Zombies. Thanks for commenting!