Richard Fleischer’s 1980 vehicle for Neil Diamond is something of a strange proposition; after all, what’s Neil Diamond got to do with jazz? The AOR Singer presumably wasn’t a title that appealed, but Diamond’s music has endured, and he certainly brought his A-game to providing an ace set of songs for the soundtrack. America, Hello Again and Love On The Rocks are belters in any era, and it’s no surprise the soundtrack made more money than the film. On reflection, could there been conceptual errors behind a film that starts in rather offensive fashion with Neil Diamond in black-face? Probably; the point of this cultural -identity crisis is that only by blacking–up can Jess (Diamond) escape the Jewish traditions his father (Laurence Olivier) wants him to take on board, and the more popular his music is, the more his father disapproves. ‘Ay hef no son!’ is Cantor Rabonovich’s much-quoted dismissal of Jess’s career choice, but things end happily enough with Olivier jigging away in a stadium gig to the synth-blast opening of America. The Jazz Singer is an amusing film, a vanity project from a star who has got little to be modest about; Diamond has maintained a sky-high level of stardom by touring and reinvention, and The Jazz Singer is exactly the kind of excessive project a real star creates. Bonus points for Paul Nicholas’s wonderfully awful cameo as a British rock star whose speed-metal cover of Love on the Rocks irks Diamond.
Serial killer films are not a new invention; the story of John Christie is one of Britain’s most notorious examples. Adapting Ludovic Kennedy’s book on the subject, Hollywood veteran Richard Fleischer adapts a deliberately drab, procedural style that finds an ideal centre in Richard Attenborough’s performance as Christie. Killing again and again for sexual kicks, it’s a turn highly untypical of Attenborough’s usual work, but he rises to the challenge, making Christie a fascinating but repellent character. John Hurt and Judy Geeson do good work as the husband and wife who unwittingly stay at Christie’s property, and a hanging scene, supervised by real-life executioner Albert Pierrepoint, adds to the gloomy sense of authenticity.
Richard Fleischer’s sci-fi adventure is a novel twist on the usual outer-space shenanigans; when defecting diplomat Jan Benes (Jean De Val) is picked of by a bullet in a Kennedy-style motorcade, scientists decide to miniaturise a team of submariners who enter Benes body and attempt to fix a blot clot on the inside. As if the stakes aren’t high enough for Stephen Boyd and his men, one of the team is a woman (Raquel Welsh); the notion of sharing professional space with a woman seems to cause everyone as much consternation as being miniaturised. Once inside Benes’ body, Fleischer uses his old-school Hollywood know-how to create some strikingly colourful imagery around this playful conceit, allows Donald Pleasance to indulge his special gift for having a good freak-out under pressure. The setting of films inside the body is a very minor sub-genre (Inner Space, Osmosis Jones), and Fantastic Voyage is the granddaddy of them all, with a remake inevitable but unlikely to retain the kitsch appeal.
One for the so-bad-its-good file, Richard Fleisher’s 1969 drama about Che Guevara (Omar Sharif) and his tortuous friendship with Fiedel Castro (Jack Palance, yes, really, Jack Palance) thoroughly deserves its reputation of a terrible film, but it does have considerable entertainment value. The presumable intent was to glorify Che and ridicule Castro, but the results are far too silly to have any political power. Sharif glowers like a fashion model and struggles to deal with long speeches about the nature of socialism, while Palance gives an astonishing performance as Castro. The Cuban leader famously survives several assassination attempts, of which Palance’s characterisation could be considered to be one. With huge spectacles, rolling eyes and a half-chewed cigar in his mouth, Palance gives one of the most memorable performances of his career, wildly out of his depth but lashing out at all around him. As a film, Che! is a bust, but as a demonstration of how political propaganda can backfire, it’s an interesting film politically in terms of its failure.
When a horror franchise ‘jumps the shark’, it’s usually because they’ve moved away from whatever made the original formula work; After two reasonably sober entries, claiming to be based on real life experiences, veteran director Richard Fleischer took the franchise into hokey new territory with Amityville 3D. No longer confined to flies and bumps in the night, Amityville 3D goes for bug-eyed monsters and literally blows the house to pieces as a gateway to hell opens up beneath the house. Tony Roberts, from Stardust Memories, plays the non-believer who is quickly convinced of the house’s powers, with a youthful Meg Ryan amongst those caught in the trap. The 3D is used for amusingly cheap effects, as Frisbees, construction poles and more are thrust towards the camera, making for a enjoyably daffy romp.
A game-changer in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, Richard Fleicher’s 1984 sequel to Conan the Barbarian has more laughs than most comedies, as Arnold Schwarzenegger dons the thong and headband to reprise his role to comic effect. Conan is joined by an improbably merry band, including Olivia D’Abo, Grace Jones, Mako and US football star Wilt Chamberlain for a journey to set free a princess, but actually involves a lot of glass paintings, studio-sets, rubber monsters and dialogue that has to be heard to be believed. Dumbed down from a not-particularly smart original, Conan The Destroyer’s kiddie friendly adventure effectively ended the franchise until 2012’s equally inane Conan reboot.