by Louis Fowler
Most weeks, I review more DVDs than the Indy can fit into print. You can look for extra write-ups here, on the IndyBlog.
Small-town racial tensions hit a new boiling point in 1970s …tick…tick…tick…, starring ’70s tough-as-nails action stalwarts Jim Brown and George Kennedy and directed by Ralph Nelson, who had previously helmed such classics as Lilies of the Field and Charly. Brown is newly elected Sheriff Jimmy Price, the first-ever black sheriff in a small redneck town that don’t take too kindly to “those people” not knowing their place. Former white sheriff John Little (Kennedy), however, is currently taking the brunt of the town’s hatred, for having the gall to lose to an African-American. When Price arrests a bigwig from the next town over, both sides, white and black, must come together to hold back the angry mob willing to do anything to get their favorite son back. Filled with gripping tension and an explosively fast-paced story, …tick…tick…tick… is the type of movie that couldn’t be made today, at least without numerous changes for the sake of political correctness. This movie would actually go great on a double-feature with In the Heat of the Night, the Steiger-Poitier joint, now that I think about it.
One of the most inspirational and totally quintessential cult films of the ’80s, The Legend of Billie Jean taught me at a very young age not only the moral justifications for not only rebelling against the system, but also the need to rebel against it sometimes, in the name of absolute justice. And, if that weren’t enough, between this and Supergirl, my 6-year-old self had a total crush on Helen Slater. So Billie Jean is a movie that is forever burned into my psyche. Slater plays the titular Billie Jean, a poor Texas girl who, in the process of trying to get compensation for her brother’s vandalized motor-scooter, is almost raped by a local community leader and, in defense, non-fatally shoots said attacker. Together, Billie and bro (as well as a few of her trailer-park friends) hit the road and end up becoming modern-day true crime legends who stand up for the poor and abused, giving voices to the voiceless. There’s even a very pointed commentary on the crass commercialization of criminals to boot: It’s thrown in kind of late and clumsily, but does give us the stellar catchphrase of “Fair is fair!” The Legend of Billie Jean, to me, is a movie that is just as important today as it was them. It’s amazing how inspired I felt after watching what, for all intents and purposes, is a totally forgotten ’80s teen action-flick that bombed at the box-office. It’s even more amazing how I still feel inspired.
They don’t make TV movies like this anymore! It seems like in the ’70s, the threat of having to compete with actual theatrical releases was a much bigger problem, so the television networks would go out of their way to make made-for-TVs that could actually run neck-and-neck with bigger-budget theatrical outings. They even shot on film and used real locations and big-name stars of the day. Case in point, the little-known comedy-caper The Million Dollar Rip-Off. Made in 1976 for NBC and starring popular Latino crossover comedian Freddie Prinze Sr., the movie has more twists and disguises and complicated thieving than the last Ocean’s Eleven flick. Prinze is electrical genius/ex-con Muff, who teams with a bevy of free-spirited sexy ladies to steal the Chicago Transit Authority’s payroll from right under its nose. The Million Dollar Rip-Off is a billion dollars’ worth of fun and, best of all, people got to see this type of stuff for free in the ’70s. Sometimes I just feel like I wasn’t made, pop-culturally at least, for these times.