Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Sentinel (Michael Winner, 1977)

Sporting the quickest turnaround in movie history, The Sentinel is a supernatural thriller that has its red pantyhose in the right place. And just where might that be? I'm so glad you asked. Actually, you cannot fathom how glad I am. In fact, I'm so glad, that I'm practically oozing gladness from every square inch of my normally clogged, glad-free pores. Excuse me, you were about to tell us where the right place is. Oh, yeah, the right place. Well, the right place is pressing tightly against Beverly D'Angelo's monsoon-like vagina. Oh, man. I should have known that's where the right place would be. If you already knew, then why did you ask? I don't know, I guess I had this strange inkling the right place might be somewhere different for a change. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but if I'm going to watch a horror film that features Beverly D'Angelo and red pantyhose they had better intertwined with one another to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. Changing the subject for a second (don't worry, I'll get back to Beverly D'Angelo and her red pantyhose in a minute), you mentioned something about a quick turnaround earlier. Yeah, so? What was that about? I'm sorry, it looks like I didn't finish my point. This isn't the first time I've gotten sidetracked by Beverly D'Angelo in red pantyhose. Oh, wait, yes it is. At any rate, the "quickest turnaround in movie history," was my way of praising the movie. You see, the film, directed by Michael Winner and based the novel "The Sentinel" by Jeffrey Konvitz, starts off with a bunch old farts hanging around in a crusty-looking building in northern Italy. I guess they [the old farts] were priests or some shit, and the building was a church. Nevertheless, they were killing my buzz big time. In other words, this isn't what I signed up for. However, the action suddenly moves to New York City.

Now this is what I signed up for. We're in New York City, it's 1977, and the lead character is a fashion model. It doesn't get any better than this. Hold on. Did you say, New York City? Yep. The Big Apple. Are you sure the year is 1977? Well, it could be 1976. But yeah, it's basically the mid-to-late 1970s. And did you say the lead character is a fashion model? A female fashion model. And get this, she slowly grows insane as the film progresses. Okay, so what you're telling me is, The Sentinel is about a mentally unbalanced female fashion model living in New York City in the mid-to-late '70s? That's exactly what I'm telling you.

I think I need to sit down. Um, you're already sitting down. Well, I need to get up and then sit down again–you know, for dramatic effect–because my knees have turned into a flavourless, gelatin-like substance.

I know what you're going to say next. But, no, I'm afraid Beverly D'Angelo, her supple lower half sheathed in the tightest pair of red pantyhose money can buy, doesn't play the aforementioned female fashion model. Don't be sad, though. After all, her character is mildly deranged, too.

Anyway, if you're somewhat discouraged by the film's opening scene (which, like I said, features elderly priests doing priestly junk in a dingy-looking building in northern Italy), don't fret, because Christina Raines is about to get her Eyes of Laura Mars on. If you don't know what getting your "Eyes of Laura Mars on" entails, that's okay. It simply means that she is about to be featured in a series of shots that are designed to enhance her innate chic-appeal.

Even though the music that plays over the opening credits isn't disco enough for my taste, it has leggy posing, artful posing, outdoor posing and stairway posing. If all that posing sounds a little redundant, we're shown brief flashes of Christina Raines and Chris Sarandon doing stuff couples used to do in New York City back in the mid-to-late 1970s: horse-drawn carriage rides, bike rides through Central Park, the act of picking up the latest issue Esquire magazine, etc.

You can tell almost immediately that The Sentinel wasn't made by some hack by the way the scene where fashion model Alison Parker (Christina Raines) and lawyer Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) look for apartments was edited together. Oh, and if you're wondering why Alison and Michael were apartment hunting separately (they are, after all, supposed to be a couple in love), it's complicated. Nonetheless, the editing does a perfect job of encapsulating the unmistakable tension that plagues their relationship throughout the film.

While attending a wake for her recently deceased father, Alison, who is wearing jet black nylons with her equally jet black dress, can't help but think about the time she tried to kill herself after she caught her father having a bizarre threesome with two women. Bizarre threesome, eh? Do tell? Personally, I didn't think it was that bizarre. But I guess some might think their use of a cake was a tad on the strange side as far as threesomes go.

Either way, the sight of her father's boney ass in the throes of pastry-fueled passion with a couple of not-so boney ladies causes her daughter, who is wearing a Catholic school girl uniform, to run to the bathroom to slit her dainty wrists. Oh, wait, before she runs to the bathroom, her father, who is naked and covered in cake crumbs, knocks over a birdcage and slaps Alison hard across the face.

Did I mention that Alison is wearing jet black nylons as she recalls this disturbing memory? I did? Okay, did I mention that Alison is still traumatized by this event? No? Well, judging by her frazzled body language, I'd say Alison remains haunted by what occurred on that fateful afternoon. So much so that a ghostly version of her father shows up again in a scene that caused this jaded viewer to jump in their seat; I often forget sometimes that these movies are meant to be scary.

Determined not to end up like her mother (i.e. living a miserable existence where she is forced to share a home with a gaunt chubby chaser with a sweet tooth), Alison asks Miss Logan (Ava Gardner) to show her the apartment she is selling in the city's beautiful Brooklyn Heights neighbourhood. A fully-furnished unit only twenty minutes from downtown (the vines covering the building's facade were the real selling point for me), Alison agrees, despite the presence of a creepy blind priest who lives on the fifth floor, to take the place.

We get our second hint that something ain't right with Alison, the first being the cake/chubby chick threesome suicide attempt flashback, when she collapses during a pool side photo shoot; the photographer, by the way, is played by Jeff Goldblum, whose voice has been inexplicably dubbed by another actor. "Inexplicably," because he's Jeff fucking Goldblum.

While recovering from the pool side photo shoot incident in her new apartment, Alison meets one of her new neighbours, a garrulous busybody named Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith). Don't forget his pet budgie Mortimer and cat Jezebel. Oh, yeah, he's got a yellow bird on his shoulder and is carrying a black and white cat with indigestion.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the off-kilter energy Burgess Meredith was putting out there as the chatty neighbour, but I would much rather be focus my attention on the sight of a deaf mute Beverly D'Angelo masturbating in red tights. Why is that, you ask? Oh, I don't know, it's only one of the greatest movie scenes ever.

Introduced to her downstairs neighbours, Gerde (Sylvia Miles) and Sandra (Beverly D'Angelo), two thigh-stroking enthusiasts in leotards, Alison gets an up close refresher course on how enthusiastic Gerde and Sandra actually are when it comes to thigh-stroking.

When Gerde leaves the room to make coffee, Sandra stares directly at Alison and starts pawing at her leotard ensnared crotch with a pronounced vigor.

Even though she's probably already made the assumption that they're dancers of some kind, Alison asks them what they do for a living anyway. To her surprise, however, Gerde, without missing a beat, tells her: "We fondle each other." Which lead me to wonder if they had any positions open, 'cause I could really use the money. And I would love to have a career where fondling Beverly D'Angelo on a daily basis was part of my job description.

Speaking of job descriptions, you could view The Sentinel as the tale of one woman's struggle to land her dream job. Now, you're probably thinking to yourself: What could better than being a fashion model? It's true, the life of your average fashion model does seem pretty glamorous. Yet, you have to admit, there isn't much as far as job security goes. Guarding the gateway to hell, on the other hand, is something that always needs doing. So, what you're saying is, The Sentinel is basically a film about the world's creepiest job interview? Yeah, that sounds about right.

I've read that the casting of real life circus performers to play the deformed denizens of hell caused some controversy at the time. However, I found the fact that John Carradine (the blind priest), Jerry Orbach (the commercial director), Nana Visitor (the "girl at end"), Christopher Walken (the detective - he plays Eli Wallach's mostly mute partner), Jeff Goldblum (the photographer), and Tom Berenger (the "man at end") were all basically bit players to be the film's most contentious issue. Of course, the casting director had no idea some of these folks would go on to become household names. But still, it was weird seeing all these talented actors in nothing roles.

That being said, just because you have a nothing role, doesn't mean you can't turn it into something memorable. Don't believe me? Just ask the lovely Diane Stillwell, who plays "Brenner's secretary." Who's Brenner, you ask? It doesn't matter, Diane steals all three scenes she's in simply by employing her Betty Boop meets Lisa De Leeuw-esque charm.

My favourite Diane Stillwell moment comes when Eli Wallach grabs her arm. The, "Hey, bub, you best let go of my arm," look she throws at him mid-arm grab was awesome.


  1. The way they frame Burgess Merideth at the end, I kept thinking he'd turn full to the camera and have a half-demon face. He just kind of disappears at the end, however.

    1. Given the sheer amount of energy I expelled blathering incessantly about red tights in this review, you wouldn't I think I would have time to mention Burgess Merideth... But lo and behold, I mentioned him twice.

      I loved your interview with Rinse Dream, by the way... very informative.