Two of the most fondly remembered British actors, Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell are the central pairing of Joseph Losey’s Figures in a Landscape, which justifies its title by frequently presenting them as stick-men on wide Panavision frames. On the run for unexplained reasons, pursued by un-named forces, Losey creates something of an experimental film, with dialogue of the expected elliptical quality from Harold Pinter. Shaw’s affinity with the latent menace of Pinter’s scripts worked well on-stage and in film (The Birthday Party), and McDowell matches him as an ideal foil. Focusing on specific visual elements and leaving the rest to debate proved too much pretention for audiences at the time, Losey and Pinter’s refusal to explain or define the situation they vividly describe now seems masterly, making Figures in A Landscape a film for the ages, not for 1970.
Arthur Hiller directs from a play by Jaws star and stalwart British leading man Robert Shaw, with the late Maximillian Schell as an elderly Jewish businessman who is arrested in his Manhattan penthouse under suspicion of being a war criminal. His courtroom testimony, from inside a glass booth, makes up the majority of the action in this talky but highly absorbing meditation on guilt and accusation. Schell got an Oscar nomination, and although his role initially seems like a caricature, the peeling away of layers reveals a highly complex central-point to a provocative and ambitious film.
Despite testing better than Star Wars and Jaws, Black Sunday didn’t become the late 70’s sensation that producer Robert Evans anticipated on the back of his hits Chinatown and Marathon Man. But Black Sunday is a thrillingly chilling trackdown thriller with Robert Shaw as an Israeli agent knows as The Final Solution. He’s on the trail of Bruce Dern as a disillusioned Vietnam vet who plans to load a Goodyear blimp full of explosives and crashing in into the Super-bowl during play. A pre Hannibal Lecter Thomas Harris’s novel provides some tense scenes, including a pre-Scanners exploding head, and tight screenwriting with North By Northwest’s Ernest Lehman. The variable effects in the grandstanding final sequence, shot during a real Superbowl, let the film down, but it’s easy to see why Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan saw that influenced Kill Bill and The Dark Knight Rises.