For further background on the year in film please refer to the Some Other Movies From 1979 entry.
Some things that happened in 1979:
- The US and the People's Republic of China established full diplomatic relations. Sorry, Taiwan!
- Pol Pot's regime fell in Cambodia. Good riddance. For details see The Killing Fields.
- The Dukes of Hazzard appeared on CBS. As a kid I had a General Lee toy.
- The Ayattolah Khomeini assumed leadership of Iran (for details see Argo).
- Walter Carlos became Wendy Carlos. Her soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange is classic in more ways than one.
- China attempted to invade Vietnam. Both sides claimed victory afterward.
- The compact disc was displayed publicly for the first time.
- Idi Amin fled Uganda. For details see The Last King of Scotland.
- McDonald's introduced the Happy Meal.
- The Sony Walkman went on sale in Japan.
- Michael Jackson released Off the Wall. Still my favorite of his albums.
- There were many advances in space exploration, among them Voyager 1's pictures of Jupiter's rings, the launch of the Columbia space shuttle, and the launch of Skylab.
- The government of Canada failed in a no-confidence motion.
Ray Winstone stars in this film about a British borstal. It makes a lot of good points regarding the process of institutionalization and the performances are excellent. You might be reminded of the earlier One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but Scum is still an excellent film in its own right.
Some Good Ones1. The Rose That Swallowed a Thorn
Is it just me or did the late 70s arrive later in South Korea? You don't really see glimpses of that decade until this movie. Suddenly there's color, suddenly there's sunlight, and suddenly there's disco.
In The Rose That Swallowed a Thorn a young girl tries - and fails - to self-actualize by dating a series of men. Despite the upbeat beginning everything goes downhill from there. It's on the melodramatic side, and there are pacing/editing issues, but it's not bad.
2. Escape from Alcatraz
I can't say it's one of Clint Eastwood's best movies, but it's far from his worst. It was on TV all the time when I was a kid, and I thought I'd renew my acquaintance. It's a solid if unsurprising movie.
Don Siegel, one of Eastwood's longtime collaborators, directed this film, with Eastwood as convict Frank Morris, a man bent on escaping America's toughest prison. I have the feeling that if Hollywood told the same story today it would be far less grounded in fact. As it is Siegel keeps things fairly realistic and a sense of peril permeates the movie.
Fun Fact: Patrick McGoohan, who appears as the warden, was the star of the TV series The Prisoner. In that TV show he played a man bent on escaping a far stranger kind of prison island. He'd go on to play King Edward I in Mel Gibson's Braveheart.
3. Salem's Lot
David Soul stars as a writer returning to small town Maine to research an old house. James Mason costars as a sinister dealer in antiquities. Tobe Hooper directed, with a script based on Stephen King's novel. At 3+ hours this TV miniseries involves a certain level of comittment, but if you approach it more as "mystery/supense" and less as "horror" you won't be disappointed.
4. Mad Max
As with Escape from Alcatraz above I'd already seen this one, but it was so long ago I couldn't remember much. When people mention Mad Max my first thought has always been "The Road Warrior was much better," but when I actually thought about it I couldn't come up with a single reason why.
In Mad Max a YOUNG Mel Gibson plays a highway patrolman in the near future. Cars are trashed, manly men settle scores, and the Australian Outback scrolls by endlessly. Mad Max: Fury Road it most definitely isn't, but you can get a feel of where director George Miller was starting from.
And is it just me, or is Mad Max - at least as seen in this movie - an incredibly irresponsible person? He knows the bikers are gunning for him, and yet he takes his family on vacation before they've been apprehended. That, and he keeps leaving both his wife and son alone for long periods of time. Kind of hard not to blame him a little for what happens after.
Fun Fact: This movie once held the Guinness World Record for most profitable film. It was filmed on a miniscule budget and went on to make millions.
It's the late 70s. You're making a sexually explicit historical epic centered around the rise and fall of the Roman emperor Caligula. Who's your first choice for the lead? Yeah, Malcolm McDowell...
I get why critics at the time hated it. Bob "Penthouse" Guccione was attached, and even though he'd had previous encounters with Hollywood he wasn't really making his presence felt until this one.
But - if you look past all the penises and vaginas - this is still a good movie and also one of McDowell's finest performances. The rest of the cast - those with speaking parts, that is - are very good as well. So if you're working your way through the more eccentric movies of the 70s, I'd encourage you to give this one a chance. It tells and interesting story and it isn't afraid to shock you in the telling.
Fun Fact: Gore Vidal wrote the screenplay with a heavy emphasis on homosexual sex. Most of his screenplay was ignored by the director, though a few homosexual sex scenes were included in the finished product.
Sean Connery stars as an astrophysicist leading a US-Soviet effort to destroy a meteor. It doesn't generate as much tension as it should, and some of the post-Star Wars special effects leave something to be desired, but the script was good and Karl Malden somehow manages to carry most of the film. Critics despised it, but I thought it was alright.
Fun Fact: Marvel Comics released a comic book to accompany the movie.
Not Bad, Just Not Into It1. The Muppet Movie
I gave it a try, but I'm not five anymore. I think the time when adults could watch movies full of puppets has come and gone. Respect to Jim Henson, but this movie did nothing for me.
Definitely Not Good, But Timely1. Plague (a.k.a. The Gemini Strain)
There is exactly one person in this movie who can act, and this one person (the secretary) makes everyone else look so much worse than they otherwise would. In this SUPER low budget movie a medical research facility accidentally unleashes a lethal bacteria on an unsuspecting population. Does that sound familiar? Maybe like something you've seen on the news?
Some Bad Ones1. Kid with the Golden Arm
Man, the fight choreography in this movie is not awesome. Makes you realize why Jackie Chan got so popular later on. It also isn't quite bad enough to be good. It's a Shaw Brothers film, and it certainly enjoys a following, but I wasn't loving it. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is heaps better.
2. Rock n' Roll High School
It's going to sound crass, but you know what this movie needed? Titties. Big ol' titties. Titties were the saving grace of all the fondly-remembered 80s teen sex comedies, and this movie is a desert when it comes to titties. Instead of titties it's got the Ramones and some actors you might remember from much better movies - but that's all.
This movie enjoys a certain cult status, but even Ramones fans have to admit that The Ramones were only picked because Cheap Trick and Todd Rundgren were busy.
3. More American Graffiti
Dismal, misguided attempt to reacquaint us with the characters from the first movie. The chronology doesn't make sense and much of the movie is shot in a split-screen style that makes it difficult to focus on anything. The director did a lot of TV later on.
4. Spider-man: The Dragon's Challenge (a.k.a. "The Chinese Web")
With this movie I conclude the TV trilogy that began with Spider-man, continued with Spider-man Strikes back, and ends with this movie. It's been a long road, it hasn't always been easy, but I took the challenge and survived to tell the tale.
This one has to be the worst of the three. By this point they'd weakened Spider-man to the point where you wonder why he's present in his own movie, and the action scenes are uniformly bad. True, Spider-man does have a kung fu fight in this one, and I enjoyed this after being denied a karate fight in Spider-man Strikes Back, but damn if that isn't the slowest kung fu fight ever filmed.
This one ends in Hong Kong. It's kind of interesting to see what Hong Kong looked like back in 1979, but the pleasure of seeing it's diminished by the sheer randomness of the movie by that point: visits to a Taoist ceremony, strolls through a market, shots of the ports. It's if those producing this film knew how thin the story was, and decided to fill the remainder of the movie with bits of their trip to Hong Kong.
Fun Fact: Ted Danson and Rosalind Chao are in this. Chao was 22 at the time, and if I may say so she looked amazing in that red dress.
To describe this movie as "turgid" would be an act of charity. It's one of the dullest films I've ever seen. What's surprising is that auteur director Robert Altman helmed it, with none other that Paul Newman in the lead. It's boring: terribly, existentially boring. Having made this and the still more disastrous Health during the same year, no wonder Altman had such trouble making Popeye the year after.
Man, Richard Burton was NOT looking good in 1979. According to Wikipedia he was smoking around 100 cigarettes a day, and drinking three to four bottles of liquor during the same time period. He'd die of a brain haemorrage in 1984, but his lifestyle must have been a contributing factor.
Breakthrough is, by the way, an unofficial sequel to Sam Peckinpah's far superior Cross of Iron. Only one of the actors from Peckinpah's movie returned for Breakthrough, and most fans of Cross of Iron like to pretend Breakthrough doesn't exist. I can't blame them. The plot goes nowhere fast, it's impossible to sympathize with the characters, and Peckinpah's more sardonic take on the horrors of war was entirely forgotten.
So Bad It's Good1. Prophecy
Remember that one movie where Armand Assante played a Native American? No? Well, it's this one just the same!
It's hard to believe John Frankenheimer directed this. I know he's directed a few duds, but this one is beyond the pale. It's ridiculous from the minute the local tribe shows up, and steadily picks up steam from there. That scene with the raccoon? One of the funniest things I've seen in a while. The weird bear thing at the end is also classic.
2. Hot Stuff
How is this entire movie not entrapment? Anyway, Jerry Reed, Dom DeLuise and Suzanne Pleschette (!) star as a team of burglary detectives running a sting operation inside an old pawn shop. Besides starring in it Dom DeLuise also directed. And while we're on the subject, how does the policeman who takes the bribes not know who Jerry Reed and Dom DeLuise really are? Wouldn't they be working in the same precinct?
That scene with the British couple has to be one of the cringiest scenes ever. On what planet does one purchase weed that good? People have had more restrained acid trips.
Fun Fact: There's a Close Encounters of the Third Kind pinball machine in the corner of the pawn shop.
Some Other Movies From 1978 (2)
Superhero Movies From October 2018 Onward (11)
Some Other Movies From 1977 (2)
Some Other Movies From 1976 (2)