(1979; Stephen Verona)
Lee Strasberg and Ruth Gordon star as David and Becky Rosen, an elderly Jewish couple living in Coney Island. They’ve spent their entire married life there and now are starting to feel pushed out. Gangs are beginning to roam the boardwalk, all their old friends are moving, Becky’s piano students stop coming, and David’s restaurant business is suffering. Even their family don’t seem as happy as they hoped. Daughter Florence (Janet Leigh) is getting married, but she appears to be settling for the best she can find in order to get security, rather than marry for love, and twentysomething grandson Peter (Michael Ayr) seems terrified of any form of commitment. The gang that rules the beach-front begin to focus their attention on the Jewish residents, taunting David, before moving on to robbing and assaulting their neighbours. An attempted robbery on David’s home leads the hostilities to increase, with attacks on the restaurant and Synagogue coming soon after. To make matters worse, Becky is slowly succumbing to illness.
Boardwalk is often talked of as being part of that sub-genre where a man fights back against the gangs that have taken over the streets. That’s not entirely accurate, while that is part of it, the focus of the drama is on the changing times for this family and the changes in New York society in the era. It’s not always successful. Gordon and Strasberg are marvellous together, and you actually believe they’ve been married for fifty years. Little moments, like the two dancing together or reading Playboy in bed, feel intimate and affectionate. That relationship is the film’s greatest strength. Leigh is good as the daughter, but the character feels underdeveloped and her motivation seems to change depending on the scene. Ayr is terrible. It’s a bad performance and the character always feels too straight-laced to be the commitment-phobe guy who just wants to break into music. By the time we get to hear one of his songs, an absolutely nauseating piece of 70s soft-rock about his grandmother, the sane viewer can only hope the gang will get their hands on him.
What’s interesting is the way it plays with racial tensions. The film has been accused of racism because the gang leader is black. But the gang is mixed race (including a small role for Linda Manz) and the gang-leader’s problem with the Jewish families seems based more on religion than ethnicity. There’s also moments of racism from the Rosens. A family who have lived in the neighbourhood for years are planning to sell their house, despite being their neighbours, they’re constantly referred to as “The Italians.” When a young black couple buy their house and pay a visit to The Rosens, Leigh is visibly shocked that a black family is moving into the neighbourhood.
So there’s some brilliant moments, but in a film that sometimes doesn’t seem to quite know where it’s going. There’s one too many flabby sub-plots and the ending is absolutely laughable. But it’s worth seeing for Strasberg and Gordon, and also for the wonderful Coney Island location shooting.
Away from It All
(1979; John Cleese, Clare Taylor)
Originally screened as a short feature during the original theatrical run of Life of Brian, Away from it All is a spoof of travelogues (and of the very concept of showing some of the more dreary theatrical shorts). John Cleese provides narration over stock footage of various European countries, with the narration becoming increasingly xenophobic and demented as the short goes on. It’s a one-joke idea, but it’s incredibly well done, Cleese’s narration is a delight, and it knows not to overstay its welcome.
The Disco Godfather
(1979; J. Robert Wagoner)
Not quite the work of genius that Dolemite is, not is as demented as Petey Wheatstraw, but Rudy Ray Moore, the oldiest, chubbiest, blaxploitation legend of all time is always worth a watch and Disco Godfather is a lot of fun. Here Rudy plays former cop Tucker Williams who has become a DJ known as (you guessed it) The Disco Godfather. When his nephew freaks out on angel dust, Rudy Ray goes all out to take down the dealers. Whether it’s seeing a random jogger stop to help Rudy take down some dealers, scenes of people freaking out on PCP hallucinations for what seems like years (including one woman who cooked her baby and fed it to her watching), Rudy mobilising his followers to take to the streets and attack the wack, or his incredible DJ routine where he calls on people to put their weight on it, this is one of the most enjoyable bad films of… well, 1979.