The Driver, and six more movies

Today at the Neverending Film Festival — a suburban man goes swimming, a brutal cop investigates a murder, people are kept under glass, a man is stalked in a dream, two nameless characters play cat-and-mouse in cars, a kid blows up the school to save it, and body-part transplants with chop socky on the side.

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
The Driver (1978)
Masterminds (1997)
The Psychology of Dream Analysis (2002)
Soylent Green (1973)
The Swimmer (1968)
Wonder Women (1973)



Dec. 11, 2022

Best of show: The Driver.

Honorable mention: Soylent Green.

Big surprise: Wonder Women.

Big disappointment: The Swimmer.

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Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

After making The Amazing Colossal Man in '57, writer-director-producer Bert I. Gordon wanted to squeeze some extra money out of all that movie's miniature props, so he made this. For further budget stretching, there's an extended scene at a drive-in that's playing The Amazing Colossal Man.

Mad puppeteer John Hoyt is so obviously out of his mind, even an out-of-work receptionist isn't sure she's willing to work for him, but he talks her into taking the job.

How mad is he? He's devised a way to shrink people down to puppet-size, and he pulls the strings. He's a nice guy, though. Never snarls or gets mean. He just likes having people as puppets/pets.

"What's the use? Nobody can hear little people like us. It's awful when you think there are people all around us, and we can't even get through to them."

The concept could've led to a good B-sci-fi flick, and Hoyt is suitably creepy, but the script is underwritten, with standard-size people making dumb decisions and shrunken people not as panicked as they certainly would be. Also, despite the title, the puppet people never attack. 

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Driver (1978)

Ryan O'Neal plays The Driver of the getaway car. He's stoic, steely, a no-shit kinda guy, rarely speaks and doesn't carry a gun. Every heist he works has to play by his rules, but he'll drive you out of any tight situation.

Based on every role I've seen him play, O'Neal is the opposite of all that, but he's fine here, if you can forget Paper Moon and What's Up Doc and all.

Bruce Dern is The Detective, a cocky and corrupt cop who'll do anything legal or illegal to entrap The Driver, even assisting in setting up a bank robbery. He's as arrogant as The Driver is cool, and there'd be ten lawsuits against him just for his search techniques on the train, but being a cop, he has qualified immunity.

The Driver, The Detective — nobody has names here. Names would only be a distraction. In the credits, other characters are identified as Glasses, Teeth, Fingers, and Frizzy, and if you've just watched the movie you'll know who they are.

In a flick called The Driver, there will be chase scenes. If you've seen a few movies, you know the more obvious tricks — rear-projection on a green screen, or filming the chase at 25 mph and then doubling the speed in post-production. Such fakery always looks fake.

Nothing here looks fake, except the lack of traffic jams. I almost believe Ryan O'Neal was driving the car, almost, and then when the chase ends up in a warehouse, it's like chase chess.

In addition to the high-speed action, guess what? There's also a story, and it's smart and interesting.

There's not much music, but it's by Michael Small (The Parallax View), and the background bugling during that warehouse scene is perfect.

In another great chase sequence, The Driver's car is susceptible to a police PIT maneuver, where a back quarter-fender is nudged by pursuers, which usually causes any driver to lose control. It often kills the perp, which is why cops love it, but they didn't do it in the movie, and I wondered why. To my surprise, Wikipedia says cops didn't figure out the physics of ending a car chase by causing a fatal wreck until a decade later.

One of several things I liked about this film is that deep in the background, mostly in the eyes of actors in some smaller roles, you can see how other cops feel about The increasingly crazed Detective. They think he's lost his grip. And they're right, but like real cops in that situation, they don't do anything about it.

There's only one thing to grumble about in this near perfect action thriller, so this is me, a retirement-age fat fuck who's never done anything, giving advice to writer-director Walter Hill, who made about 25 great movies including this one, and who's been dead for 25 years:

There are two crucial women in this story, Isabelle Adjani as The Player and Ronee Blakley as The Connection, and they're both beautiful white brunettes. They're never in the same scene together, so I thought they were the same person, and was quite bewildered when one of them gets killed and the other is in the next scene. Put one of these ladies in a blonde wig, please, or cast a black or Asian woman — something to distinguish between them.

Verdict: YES. I'd give it a BIG YES if I'd detected any point to it, but it's really just entertainment. Damned fine entertainment, nothing more.

There's another fine movie called Drive (2011), with Ryan Gosling as an expert getaway car driver who follows the same persnickety rules as O'Neal in this movie. I'd read that Drive was an homage or rip-off of The Driver, and that's what drew me to watch this. The story in Drive is completely different, but O'Neal and Gosling's characters are exactly the same, and Drive could be the (very good) sequel to The Driver.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Masterminds (1997)

Who the hell is Vincent Kartheiser that he gets top billing beside Patrick Stewart?

Stewart plays Rafe Bentley, the new head of security at Shady Glen, a snooty private school where Kartheiser was all-too-understandably expelled. He's secretly a bad guy, though.

Playing an obnoxious high school kid, Kartheiser nails it so very well I don't think he's acting, and he's the hero. It's Die Hard, with an annoying adolescent instead of Bruce Willis killing the bad guys one by one, and with a flat script and no particular direction.

As he later showed in Green Room, Stewart is delightful as a bad guy. Brenda Fricker gets a few kickass scenes as the school's principal, but always in the next scene there's Vincent Kartheiser, being a cocky kid I'd like to kick in the balls.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Psychology of Dream Analysis (2002)

Before he became a big-name success (Brick, Looper, and some Star Wars crap), Rian Johnson wrote and directed this short. It's about a woman who never dreams of herself in her dreams, and discovers she's instead tuned in to the dreams of a man she doesn't know, so she tries to win his affection in his dreams.

The concept is creepy, but the main problem is that it's a story told instead of acted out — entirely narrated, with no dialogue or scenes to speak of. It's in too big a rush, trying to cover everything in just ten minutes, and the narration is wrong in tone, as if the events being described are comedic or trivial when they don't appear to be.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Soylent Green (1973)

This opens with a two-minute montage that quickly skims the surface of American history, from early settlers to the industrial era, to the painful and polluted here and now of 50 years ago. It leaves a lot out, of course, but as the images accrue, it's depressing, subversive, and remarkable, for a mainstream movie. I do wish the rest of Soylent Green measured up.

In the distant future of 2022, a member of the board of the Soylent Corporation — the world's largest and maybe only food manufacturer — has been murdered. Charlton Heston plays Detective Thorn, investigating this crime by beating people up, talking tough to everyone he encounters, searching without warrants, etc. 

I've never seen Heston so unlikable. He's a tough cop with no soft side, who punches anyone who disagrees with him, and seems to hate everyone on earth but his crusty old flatmate (Edward G. Robinson). Even Mike Hammer, another brutal detective, is motivated by justice, but Heston's Thorn seems motivated only by meanness, same as Bruce Dern's cop in The Driver (above).

This movie has a big plot twist that's widely known, so I'm going to break my no-spoiler rule and write about it. If you don't want to know, then close your eyes now, and don't open them until the next review.

Soylent Green presents multiple levels of dystopia:

⦿ The world has been ruined by pollution and overpopulation.

⦿ Traditional foodstuffs are hard to get, and people are going hungry.

⦿ Decent living quarters are difficult to come by, leaving many people to sleep on the streets (or, strangely, on stairways, though I don't know why anyone would sleep on a stairway, when there's room on the sidewalk).

⦿ Soylent is a giant, evil, and corrupt corporation monopolizing the world's food supply.

⦿ Women are apparently only "furniture" — there are only two women, briefly, in the film who don't seem to be prostitutes.

⦿ The Bill of Rights no longer offers even the illusion of protection against thuggish police.

⦿ "Soylent Green is made out of people."

One of these things is not like the others. The first six things I've mentioned are hellish problems, but the seventh is a solution.

Eating processed human flesh and meat seems like a good idea, in a world so ravaged and ruined and hungry as this movie's 2022. Seriously, if Aunt Greta is dead why not eat her, with or without some fava beans and a nice chianti? What a waste, in a starving world, to inject a perfectly edible corpse with formaldehyde, encase it in wood, and allow it to rot six feet under.

The film also shows a very sweet, respectful, pleasant-looking euthanasia center, where clients drink hemlock and fade away under soothing lights of their favorite color, while watching pleasant nature videos. Argue with me, please — customers are coming to this place willingly, and death is what they want, so why is this presented as a bad thing? 

Soylent Green is based on Harry Harrison's fine novel Make Room! Make Room!, but it's from Hollywood so the story's been substantially changed (among many other details, there's no cannibalism in the book). In the credits, it says, Screenplay by Stanley R Greenberg, based upon a novel by Harry Harrison, but Greenberg's credit is twice the size of Harrison's, and that seems unfair. My wild guess is that Harrison spent a hell of a lot more time with this story than Greenberg did, and he also told a better story.

Verdict: YES, but it's a fairly unpleasant YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Swimmer (1968)

I've heard about this movie for almost as long as I've heard about movies. It's the story of an upscale suburbanite who decides to "swim home," walking across his heavily wooded swanky sprawled-out Los Angeles suburb, trespassing into everybody's back yards to swim across their pools, and then on to the next house with the next pool, until he gets home. 

"Pool by pool they form a river, all the way to our house."

People and critics I trust have told me the movie is a masterpiece. The swimmer, named Ned or 'Neddy", is played by Burt Lancaster, and same as the movie, everyone's always said he was a great actor, but meh.

He's the same slice of ham here as in every role. Whatever character he plays, Lancaster speaks lofty, like Ain't things grand? It's an annoying affectation, and it's how he always talks — every line is spoken as if it's at least mildly profound.

If this was the great movie everyone says it is, maybe I could finally get past the Lancaster effect, but The Swimmer starts quite badly.

Ned gets wet in to two neighbors' pools, and at both houses people aren't merely glad to see him, they're delighted. "Hello, Ned!" and "Neddy, where've you been?" from about a dozen people. If someone shows up unexpectedly in your back yard, even someone you like, that wouldn't be your reaction, or anyone's, but here it's almost everyone's reaction.

At the third house, though, an older woman comes out and asks, "Who gave you permission to use the pool?" 

"I'm Ned Merrill," he answers, as if that's all that's needed.

Entitled White Man swims away, but pool after pool, there are about a hundred passing conversations like this one: "My God, Neddy! Marvelous to see you! We missed you on the race this year. I expected you'd be on the Xanadu with Willy!" and then Neddy walks on, someone else greets him enthusiastically, and he swims the length of another pool.

At one pool, he finds his family's former babysitter, mostly grown up at 20, and asks her a long series of uncomfortable questions about her long-ago crush on him. At another woman's house, she tells Ned to go away at least a dozen times, but he won't leave, and tries to rip her swimsuit off. 

Ned is an extraordinary asshole, and that's made clear so early that the bulk of the movie, with almost everyone happy to see Neddy, became a repeated frustration. 

A few people at these many pools are interesting, and at one of the houses the owners are nudists, so Neddy thoughtfully steps out of his swimsuit, but holds a towel over Little Ned. The only black people, of course, are somebody's waiter, and someone else's chauffeur. 

This is not a bad movie, but it's also not a great or particularly good movie. Asking me to spend two hours with a jackass like this Merrill character is asking a lot, and casting Lancaster makes it even harder to care about The Swimmer.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Wonder Women (1973)

This is a gloriously incoherent action movie about women with machine guns and chop socky.

Nancy Kwan stars as a mad scientist who explains, "It is possible for me to transplant any part of the human body." Yeah, but she keeps her 'mistakes' in cages in the basement.

Ross Hagen (Bikini Drive-In, Sexual Roulette) plays the insurance investigator who wants to foil her dastardly plans.

In one memorable scene, two strangers, a man and a woman, lock eyes across a smoky bar. The man says, "Do you know, you've got great legs, baby."

The lady with legs says, "Thank you."

He says, "But they're too long. I don't like long legs. They get in the way."

She replies, "Well, let's see what we can do about keeping them out of the way."

Twenty seconds later, when they've finished boinking, she pulls a gun, fires it at his head, but he blocks the bullet with his pillow.

What? Did I just see a guy block a bullet to his head by lifting a pillow to his face? Rewind. Yeah, that's what happened.

Earlier, another actor — probably classically trained, but with a tiny role in his first movie — gets two seconds of screen time to be shot and die, and delivers a death face suitable for framing. 

Later, there's an explicit 'mind sex' scene. That's when both people stay fully clothed and seated in separate chairs, but with brain clamps wired to each others' heads, causing great ecstasy and stains that might be difficult to wash out.

Filmed in the Philippines. Catchy 1970s synthesizer score. Lots of titties, but not so many as to make this a tittie flick. Sid Haig as "Mr Gregorious." And yes, please, I will have the flaming volcano soup.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Coming soon:

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)
King of New York (1990)
Out of the Blue (1980)
Paris is Burning (1990)
Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)
Symptoms (1974)
The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. Burt Lancaster was quite good in Seven Days in May, which was a pretty good movie and a much better book. But he played a cocky, asshole, full-of-himself Trump-like general. I'm not talking about the shell of a Trump that's slouching through the Florida swamps as we speak, but the Man Who Would Be President: He aimed for Washington and landed short in Alabama. Where was I?

    Oh yeah, so that role was made for him. And he filled it capably. But you wouldn't call him a versatile actor. Jesus, I had a hell of a time spelling versatile. I don't have a strong suit, but if I did, it wouldn't be spelling.


    1. Seven Days in May is one of the thousands of movies I kinda remember seeing but not much about it. I remember 'em better if I write about 'em, so now I write about 'em.

      Is it a good movie I oughta watch again and remember?

    2. Remember the first time you fell in love? Me neither, but I remember the first "adult" novel I read. I was about 12, and the family went on vacation to Orcas Island. I had picked up a paperback of Seven Days in May at my Uncle's suggestion (he said they were working on a movie based on the book). I'm was a slow reader then as I am now, so I spent the whole week on the beach reading that book. I fell in love with reading, and immediately started plowing through my Mom's Isaac Asimov collection. When I was 21, somebody turned me onto detective fiction and I haven't stopped yet. But I'm still 80% non fiction.

      And I really do remember her name.


    3. Well, of course you remember her name. Even if she ends up dumping you like a moldy loaf of bread, like mine did me, you never forget your first love.

      And likewise, I'll never forget my first grown-up novel. It was The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman. It got me going into sci-fi novels, an infatuation that lasted twenty years. My detective phase was only a couple of years, much later, and now, of course, I just re-read the same dozen books over and over.

      Seven Days in May is on my watchlist, not my reading list, though. Time is of the essence at my age.

  2. You have never been wronger. The Swimmer is a great great movie.

    1. I won't argue. Everyone says it's brilliant. Now, everyone plus you.

    2. I'm with you, Doug. The Swimmer was less than engaging. -- Arden

    3. Everyone else can go swimming, you and I will stay dry.

    4. I was born to rock the boat
      Some may sink but we will float
      Grab your coat, let's get out of here
      You're my witness, I'm your mutineer



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