There’s nothing so compelling as an idea that's already made big money
There’s nothing so compelling as an idea that's already made big money
The old saw says that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. To most imitators, it’s simply the easiest route to a fast buck. This dodger’s art of cashing in on somebody else’s good idea reached its nadir years ago in television (where the last original idea is now in a rest home), but the film industry has never been far behind. Sexually explicit films, which began chugging off cinematic assembly lines in the late 1960s, begat a flurry of films dissimilar only in that they were more sexually explicit. Airport launched a string of disaster pearls—The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, A irport 75—whose end is not yet in sight: Flood? Famine? Pestilence? Airport 99? From D. W. Griffith on, we’ve been hit with movies in waves: anything from slapstick to musicals to biblical epics, science fiction, and two wars’ worth of battlefield grunts.
This year we’ll be getting sequels to The Omen and The Exorcist (both due for release in the early summer). United Artists, whose Rocky is making Sylvester Stallone a star and them a mint, has another boxing picture in the works (Raging Bull, with Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta, directed by Martin Scorsese). And—yes—Airport 77, with Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant and A irport’s own George Kennedy taking a dive in a 747, is due in March. Apart from them, no industry-wide trend is shaping up. There has not yet been a rush of major film makers attempting to ape Dino de Laurentiis’ King Kong, perhaps on the theory that, airports aside, one remake is enough. Nor has anyone revealed plans for Bus Driver or Carrie Gets Her Menopause.
Instead, according to a spokesman for Universal Films, “1977 is going to be a shakedown year: film makers are offering a very broad mix. trying to find out what the public will buy.” The result is a filmgoer’s guide that has as much variety as a menu in a chow mein house—and about as much appeal. Here’s a sampling.
From Column A (terror, suspense, intrigue): The Sentinel, starring Chris Sarandon and Burgess Meredith, and due in mid-February, is about a young woman who rents a room in a large New York brownstone; the suspense arises as she meets the other tenants. Two films based on terrorism and extortion—Twilight’s Last Gleaming, starring Burt Lancaster as a renegade army officer who captures a missile site and threatens to blow up entire cities unless the government meets his demands, and Black Sunday, in which the hostages are a stadium-full of Super Bowl fans (listen, Two-Minute Warning was
nuge)—are scheduled for February and April respectively. The Town That Dreaded Sundown, in theatres the end of this month, is based on a true story “about a perverted mass murderer who turned Texarkana, Texas, into a fear-ridden . . . and so on. Roller Coaster, with George Segal, Susan Strasberg and Henry Fonda, is a Sensurround gasper featuring a maniac who sabotages, yes, those perverted instruments of terror. Good idea. Most promising of the suspense entries sounds like The Car, also, set in a small, fear-ridden town, only this time the victims are bumped off by a mysterious vehicle. Car is directed by Steven Spielberg (Jaws), who did similar things with a truck in the remarkable made-for-TV Duel.
Comedy, we’ve got comedy. Jane Fonda and George Segal star in Dick And Jane, about an average, middle-class couple who
can’t live on their income and so take to robbery. It’s out next month, as is Love A t First Sight, a Canadian-made film starring Dan Ackroyd and Jane Mallett. Fire Sale, a summer release with Alan Arkin, Rob Reiner, Sid Caesar and Vincent Gardenia, somehow pokes fun at marriage, brotherly love and arson. A new, as-yet-unnamed Woody Allen feature should be ready for distribution by Easter, and skew-eyed Marty Feldman’s The Last Remake Of Beau Geste is due for the summer.
Westerns? They’ve been in eclipse recently, but Charlton Heston as the retired lawman and James Coburn as the convicted killer star in a High Noon-ish sounding “duel to the death in turn-of-the-century Arizona” in 20th-Century Fox’s The Last Hard Men. And from studios at Kleinburg. Ontario, comes the Anglo-Canadian production Welcome To Blood City, a “science-fiction-Western” starring Jack Palance, Keir Dullea and Samantha Eggar. Whatever else, it wins the award for the year’s most unappealing title.
Will the public buy science fiction? Three major distributors hope so. Twentieth-Century Fox has Star Wars, “a great celestial cowboy-and-Indian story of outer space,” directed by George Lucas (American Graff ti). Paramount is readying Star Trek, a feature based on the William Shatner TV series. And late in the year, Columbia will release Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, about UFOs in modern America. It’s being produced by Michael and Juliá Phillips (The Sting, Taxi Driver) and directed by Steven Spielberg.
Musicals? The Slipper And The Rose, with Richard Chamberlain in the story of Cinderella, will be here in March. It was Dame Edith Evans’ last picture. New York,
New York, with Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro, is due in May.
Jock stuff has Paul Newman as a coachplayer on a minor-league professional hockey team in Slap S/io/.Burt Reynolds in Semi-Tough, based on the book by Dan Jenkins, writer-in-residence at Sports Illustrated. and Mohammad Ali playing Mohammad Ali in I Am The Greatest.
Two Second World War movies are notable for their casts alone. Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland star in The Eagle Has Landed. a Columbia picture due for April release, and .4 Bridge Too Far. based on Cornelius Ryan’s book, features Caine, Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Elliott Gould, Gene Elackman, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford and Liv Ullman, to name a few. On top of them, old soldier MacArthur (“I will return”) fades back into the picture in a movie-bio (MacArthur) with Gregory Peck.
Canadian film makers, greatly aided by a tax deal that allows investors a 100% write-off of costs for movies certified “Canadian” by the federal government, should have a happy New Year. Allan King’s Who Has Seen The Wind?, the W. O. Mitchell tale shot in Areola, Saskatchewan, is due for release in May. Harry Gulkin, who produced Lies My Father Told Me. expects Jacob Two-Two Meets The Hooded Fang, based on Mordecai Richler’s children’s story, will be ready for Easter. Gulkin has two other films—Exit.
about a circus troupe’s visit to a Quebec town, and Dodo Bird, a tragi-comedy directed by William Fruet—scheduled for release this year. David Cronenberg (Shivers) has cast porno-star Marilyn Chambers (Behind The Green Door) in Rabid, another terror-in-the-city flick. Curiously, of the 41 features begun in Canada during the past year—most of them international coproductions—only three are in French: Parlez-nous d’amour. Panique, and a coproduction with France, Rimbaud est mort.
Meanwhile, the great Canadian film debate plods on. Canadian film makers are
demanding that the feds set up a system of quotas for Canadian movies and levies for imported ones, the better to promote the film industry in Canada. Movie distributors and exhibitors, unhappy at the prospect of being forced to grant more theatre time to Canadian features, are battling the move. The country’s two major theatre chains, Famous Players and Odeon Theatres (Canada)—Americanand British-owned respectively—signed a voluntary quota agreement over a year ago to promote more screen time for Canadian films. Neither this, nor the chain’s agreement to increase their investment in the production of Canadian features, is enough for those in the industry. The Council of Canadian Film Makers, which represents close to 10,000 people, is pushing for compulsory quota and levy legislation. Says CCFM chairman Sandra Gathercole: “My bet is that we’re going to see it this year. John Roberts [now Secretary of State] was terribly active vis-à-vis the culture industries simply as an MP. I think we’re finally going to see some action.” Others, however, believe it will take at least one more year to gauge the impact the voluntary quota agreement has on the industry. Ted Rouse, of the Canadian Film Development Corporation, thinks that the issue is simply not grabby enough to attract the attention of a government with larger problems in its in-basket. Not this year, anyway. JACK McIVER
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.