Category Archives: burgess meredith

The Sentinel

The Sentinel ~ This 1977 horror, in the style of other urban 1970s horrors like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, scared the hell out of me as a kid. No, strike that, not the movie, the ending of the movie scared me. The rest of the flick is pretty typical of the genre at the time, and fairly pedestrian.

Written and directed by Michael Winner, and based on the book of the same name by Jeffrey Konvitz (who also co-produced with Winner), The Sentinel is the story of a troubled flaky model, played by Cristina Raines, who wants her own place. She gets an apartment in a sectioned brownstone filled with equally neurotic neighbors, and a blind priest on the top floor who’s always staring out the window.

The kicker is the neighbors are demons and the brownstone is a gateway to Hell. Burgess Meredith does a fine turn as the head demon, kindly and subtly sinister. On the other hand, Chris Sarandon demonstrates that none of his ex-wife’s acting skills rubbed off onto him in this flat performance as Raines’ boyfriend. Also look for early roles for Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, a very creepy Beverly D’Angelo, and a scary young Jerry Orbach.

The cat’s birthday party is one of the more messed up scenes I’ve seen. It’s comparative to the wedding reception in Freaks. Instead of “one of us,” you’ll have “black and white cat, black and white cake” ringing in your head.

The scene that scares the crap out of me is at the end, as I said. The priest guards the gate to Hell, but he’s about to die, and a new guardian is needed – guess who’s elected? I’m not really giving all that much away. Once you get to a certain point, it all becomes pretty obvious what’s going on.

When the switch is made there’s some overflow from Hell until the new guardian is installed. We see the denizens of Hell walking and crawling across the floor after Raines, and that’s the part that gets me. Speaking of Freaks, this film did set off a bit of a controversy when it was revealed that, like that movie, real disfigured persons were used for the ending. To much effect.

I must admit, after seeing it for the first time again after almost three decades, it was more the anticipation of the ending that I remember scaring me than the ending itself. Still, not a bad flick for the genre of the time.

Silver Screen Classics

I discovered something a couple months back. At our local National Amusements theater, Showplace at the Ritz in Voorhees NJ, they have a weekly feature called “Silver Screen Classics” where every Monday they show a classic film from yesteryear for only two bucks, including popcorn and a soda. What a bargain!

Some of the films shown that I’ve seen so far:

The Time of Your Life ~ A quirky little flick that was a labor of love for James Cagney and his wife Jeanne. Based on a William Saroyan play and shakily brought to the screen, it’s more of a series of character studies set in a bar rather than an actual story, and yet it’s quite entertaining. William Bendix shines as Nick the bartender, Tom Powers plays the heavy and crazy old James Barton steals the show as Kit Carson. Enjoyable.

Busy Bodies ~ Classic Laurel and Hardy, this time as sawmill workers. Offered as a pre-show to the above flick, this was a wonderful reminder of the comedic genius of the team. Great gags and stunts sure to entertain children and adults of all ages.

At War with the Army ~ This first Martin and Lewis film was a bit of a disappointment. First the print wasn’t so hot, but also because it just wasn’t that funny – to me at least. The audience was roaring. I just never found Jerry Lewis to be all that funny with Dean, he was annoying if anything, and here he does his finest annoying. Dean is good here and the bits of him, without Jerry, being funny were good I thought.

Wine, Women and Bong ~ Shown before the above movie, this was a pleasant surprise. And it should be noted that the pre-shows for the Silver Screen Classics are sometimes the best part. Directed by Three Stooges veteran Jules White this short featured the short-lived comedy team of Max Baer and Max ‘Slapsie Maxie’ Rosenbloom. What was interesting was that they were both ex-boxers, but it was only Rosenbloom who acted punch drunk most of the time. Rosenbloom actually sounded much like Michael Rispoli in Death to Smoochy. They were no Three Stooges and some of the gags were a bit predictable, but I laughed harder at this than at Martin and Lewis. Great stuff.

Beat the Devil ~ An all-star cast and great folks behind the camera, this flick never lives up to what it could have been. I can easily see this remade as a suspenseful caper, but here it never gets up to a lukewarm drama. Directed by John Huston and written by Truman Capote and starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley and Gina Lollobrigida, there is much promise, but as I said, no impact, in this flick about conmen out for oil-rich property in Africa. A big part of the problem is Jennifer Jones, acting as an amateur here, and also that Bogart was sick at the time and not up to his usual antics. The pacing is also deadly dull. This could be good, as I said, it’s just begging for a remake.

Call It Murder ~ Originally released as Midnight (actually a much more logical title), this was pushed as a Humphrey Bogart film even though he’s only peripherally in it. Obviously it was repackaged after Bogie made it big in gangster films. Still, it’s a nice little stage drama. It borders on preachy in a few places when talking about the death penalty but for the most part delivers the goods.

Second Chorus ~ Never been a Fred Astaire fan but this was a surprise. The biggest surprise was Burgess Meredith out of “Twilight Zone” and “Batman” mode. The man has quite a range – here he’s Astaire’s best friend and rival for the girl and a job with Artie Shaw’s orchestra. He might lose that contest but he certainly steals the film from Fred Astaire and his dancing feet.

For the latest schedule of upcoming films, please check out the Silver Screen Classics website.