The Idolmaker

Dir: Taylor Hackford, 1980. Starring: Ray Sharkey, Tovah Feldshuh, Paul Land, Peter Gallagher

In the 1970s, nostalgic pangs were for a time before rising gas prices, recession, Watergate and Vietnam. Such a time was the fabulous '50s. (For the nostalgic type, the '50s end in ’63 with the Kennedy assassination, the day the music died). Cinema captured it all throughout the decade, and the music of the '50s was at the core of films like American Graffiti, Grease, The Buddy Holly Story, The Wanderers, and even National Lampoon’s Animal House. By 1980 the craze was over, which explains why the otherwise terrific film The Idolmaker wasn’t as big a hit as the others.

It was kinda-sorta based on the life of music manager Bob Marcucci, who helped fill the pop idol scene with Elvis wannabes Frankie Avalon and Fabian. They may not have been as important as The King, but they sold some records and their handsome pictures were on plenty of teenyboppers' bedroom walls. The film isn’t a straight bio, but Marcucci served as a technical advisor to first-time feature director Taylor Hackford, who would go on to have a big career himself, with flicks like An Officer and a Gentleman and Ray.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Jun 12, 2018 2:16pm

The Split

Dir: Gordon Flemyng, 1968. Starring: Jim Brown, Diahann Carroll, Ernest Borgnine, Julie Harris, Gene Hackman, Jack Klugman, Warren Oates, James Whitmore, Donald Sutherland. Drama.

Produced by Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler (Rocky, Raging Bull, etc.), The Split is a lost relic. Besides being the first film to ever receive an “R” rating by the ratings board, it’s a nifty heist film with a great cast full of fascinating credentials. Because it stars football star turned actor Jim Brown (and has Diahann Carroll as his ex-wife and a funky-lite Quincy Jones score), it’s often lumped in as an early blaxploitation flick. It’s not. Directed by a Scotsman, Gordon Flemyng, (who did a lot of '60s Dr. Who) and written by the great crime writer Donald Westlake (credited in the script under his equally known alias Richard Stark), this is the guy who wrote the books that became Point Blank (and later Payback), as well as The Hot Rock and The Outfit, and later wrote the script for The Grifters. So The Split could have easily been a vehicle for Lee Marvin, Rock Hudson, James Coburn or any other leading man of the era. It just so happens that Brown took the role. It’s a gritty little crime flick. It barely even qualifies as crooksploitation. Yes, it’s an imperfect film (chunkily directed), but it's still entertaining with some nice ’68 Los Angeles locations and some wild twists.

Fresh out of the slammer McClain (Brown) is recruited by Gladys (Julie Harris) to pull a big heist at the Los Angeles Coliseum (shades of the race track robbery in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing). McClain gathers an all-star cool cast to take part in the caper: tough guy Ernest Borgnine, escape artist/racist Warren Oates (a little less oily than he was a year earlier in In The Heat of the Night), limo driver Jack Klugman and creepy hit-man Donald Sutherland (still two tears before MASH made him a star). In a very complicated robbery and clever escape, the gang gets away with over a half-million bucks. But it’s after the heist when the real drama starts. It’s what happens to the loot before “the split” that cause the usual problems of greed and suspicion. First, the ex-wife has a sadistic, rapey landlord (James Whitmore) who kills her and steals the money, and then a crooked cop, Walter Brill (the great Gene Hackman pre-testing for Popeye Doyle) gets involved. The film becomes a stand-off for the money between McClain, Gladys, the gang and Brill.

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Sep 4, 2014 12:08pm
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