Screengrab: When Newman Bombed But Vintage Cars Ruled


RICHARD LUTZ carves his way through the week’s tv schedules to find the movies you can’t afford to miss .

Well, let’s step out this week with the WORST movie on the that will contaminate that crystal flatscreen embedded in your living room; will poison the air you breathe and will force your neighbours to tar and feather you and nail you to the tracks of the West Coast mainline for poisoning your local community.

It’s a god-almighty stinker and one that respected US  reviewer Roger Ebert said at the time of its 1968 release: :  ‘This film ..must have been made against its will.’ Nice line, that. I must steal it sometime. The movie is The Secret War of Harry Frigg (Sunday, ITV4, 23.20) and it proves that Paul Newman cannot, I repeat and warn you, cannot do broad comedy. He is not a funny man.

Considering that the blue-eyed superstar was deposited into this wartime laughless  mess is beyond anyone- considering it came right after the groundbreaking and tough Cool Hand Luke. But we all make mistakes.

But most of us  don’t when your mug is 40 feet high in a darkened cinema with 650 eating popcorn and wondering why they spent hard earned cash on a pile of dreck.

Ebert ended his  diatribe by commenting: ‘ ‘At times the actors seem to be in pain..I’ve seen lousy movies before, but never one that seemed so ashamed of itself.’

And with that, let’s move on to offerings that won’t give you root canal agony.

From lifeless junk to a gem that effortlesslly creates a constant curl of a smile as you view it, whether you are girl or guy, know the west coast or never been to the States, whether you love cars or not or whether you love old time rock and roll or not.

I’m talking about American Graffiti (Fri; Film4, 23.15). This got the goods. It is pre-Star Wars George Lucas with a handful of stars- Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Ron Howard and Cindy Williams- as fresh faced innocents dorking around on a week end night in 1963 Modesto, California unaware that America is about to devour itself in unrest, war, race riots, Richard Nixon.

The plot is really insignificant. But the feel and upbeat mood is infectious. Guys and girls cruise the strip in great late-fifties autos (300 were collected  for the production) with the radio never off. Music crashes and bashes into each scene. Seemingly, Lucas almost tore his hair out when it was made in ’73 trying to get final clearances for the wall to wall soundtrack.

Was it a success? It was made for $777,000 and grossed…wait for it…£115m.

And here’s a bit of Hollywood legend:  Universal hated the movie so much between the final edit and going to screen, it  called it ‘unreleasable.’ Supposedly, when  producer Francis Ford Coppola heard the comment, he  took out a chequebook and offered to buy the footage right then and there. Universal  had second thoughts.

There’s a lovely episodic flow to American Graffitti as if the crew and cast made up the script as they went along. As a matter of fact, there was alot of ad-libbing in order to quicken the  tight shooting schedule.

Also, look out for a real American legend in the film- DJ Wolfman Jack, the gravel voiced  radio jock who was so famous that The Grateful Dead even mentioned him in one their never ending songs. He adds to the sparkle, the fantasy and the dreamy nighttime feel of a great movie