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Tough guys of the '70s: all action

October 31, 2004|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

The 1970s were the years when filmmakers broke loose from the Hollywood establishment.

The Hays Code, which had applied morals and mores to movies for nearly four decades, was a thing of the past, and films were free to become tougher, more mature, reflecting the world's rapid changes. Dialogue and sexual situations were frank. An X-rated film, "Midnight Cowboy," even picked up the best picture Oscar in early 1970.

The decade marked the rise of maverick directors such as Peter Bogdanovich, Bob Rafelson, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Hal Ashby, William Friedkin, Steven Spielberg and Terrence Malick and such landmark films as the first two "The Godfather" installments, "Chinatown," "Shampoo," "American Graffiti," "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," "The Exorcist" and "Badlands."

But it was also the era of tough, lean, hard-nosed action movies that hearkened back to the gritty film noirs that Hollywood produced after World War II.

The new American Cinematheque retrospective, "Talking Tough, Walking Tall: Hardboiled Action in the 1970s!!" celebrates these innovative action flicks.

The festival kicks off with one of the earliest action films of the decade, the 1971 cult favorite "Vanishing Point," directed by Richard Sarafian and starring Barry Newman as the iconic loner -- an ex-stock car driver who steers a turbocharged Dodge Challenger through a surreal landscape pursued by cops and motorcycles. Guiding him on his dangerous journey is "Super Soul" (Cleavon Little), a blind disc jockey who's visionary but mad. Sarafian and Newman are scheduled to appear at the screening.

" 'Vanishing Point,' " says Cinematheque programmer Chris D, "aside from any kind of political alienation, is a real groundbreaking movie." Though it is considered one of the best action flicks from the decade, Sarafian says 20th Century Fox tried to kill it.

"Richard Zanuck was head of the studio, and he was fired before it was finished," he says. "And the new executive, because it wasn't of his design, didn't push it. It was run second-billed to everything like 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' and 'Hello, Dolly!' -- films of enormous budgets. The profits from ['Vanishing Point'] went to those pictures and put them in the black. But what kept it going was the public. They liked it."

Sarafian says that he felt "Vanishing Point" was a farewell to the '60s "because you are dealing with an anachronism in the leading, principal character. He was a product of the '60s and a very pragmatic character. He didn't know what was propelling him. He was the antihero being pursued by the law, and he was heading toward another level. Allegorically, it has a lot more to say than just being a chase picture. So somehow the audience puts themselves in the picture and sees it from many different levels."

Among the other films in the festival are "Dirty Harry," "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three," "Shaft" and "The Warriors."

"I think in retrospect these movies are really promoting a kind of fierce individualism," says Chris D, "and, in a way, a balance. In some of these movies you get very nihilistic heroes who perhaps didn't have any values. But some of these protagonists and heroes were antiheroes who were alienated by the system and other things and were very much at heart idealistic people who had been hardened from what they had seen and gone through. I think there is a real hangover from the whole flower power, Vietnam era, where things had gone south in the late '60s. That really shows up in these movies."


`Talking Tough, Walking Tall'

Where: American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: Friday through next Sunday

Price: $9 for general admission; $8 for seniors over 65 and students with valid I.D.; $6 for Cinematheque members.

Contact: (323) 466-3456 or


Friday: "Vanishing Point," 7 p.m.; "Dirty Harry" and "Charley Varrick" 9:30 p.m.

Saturday: "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" and "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry," 5 p.m.; "Shaft" and "Across 110th Street," 9:15 p.m.

Next Sunday: "The Longest Yard," 5 p.m.; "The Warriors" and "Assault on Precinct 13," 7:30 p.m.

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