Who Has the Last Laugh?

By 1978 Burt Reynolds was approaching the peak of his popularity which would begin to taper off in the mid-eighties as he approached the age of 50. He had just completed two huge box office hits, Smokey and the Bandit and Semi-Tough (both 1977) and was in a position to choose and develop any project he fancied. But instead of rushing into a sequel to Smokey and the Bandit or some other big budget vehicle that exploited his good ole boy blend of machismo, charm and sex appeal, Reynolds chose to make a risky, offbeat black comedy about a man dying of a terminal condition who contemplates suicide as a solution to a slow, agonizing death. In addition, the popular leading man would direct and star in it and cast his girlfriend at the time Sally Field in a prominent role. Released as The End in 1978, the film was not what moviegoers or critics expected from Reynolds or even wanted. 

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Elmer Gantry’s Little Sister

Salome Jens (center) plays a mute girl who regains her voice and becomes a faith healer in the 1961 drama, Angel Baby, directed by Paul Wendkos.

After the critical and box office success of Elmer Gantry in 1960, another film, much smaller in scale and budget, came along that mirrored the latter film both thematically and in some of the plot details. It might have been merely a coincidence that Angel Baby (1961) appeared shortly after the release of Elmer Gantry, but it certainly beats the Burt Lancaster Oscar winner when it comes to oddball casting and camp value.   

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