Get Reel: Was success a curse for these '70s directors?

Bob Tremblay

The 1970s produced more than its share of great movies and great directors. No news flash there.

Yet interestingly, many of these directors had trouble equaling this success after the decade concluded.

The reasons? You name it. Bad artistic decisions. Bad personal decisions. Bad luck. Boredom. Laziness. Indifference. Old age. Death. Talent drought. Grape fixation. And don't forget those two old standbys: sex and drugs. The advent of the blockbuster didn't help matters either as the desire for big money grabs launched artistic integrity into a galaxy far, far away.

Of all the American directors who made a name for themselves in the 1970s, only three have continued to make movies that equal or surpass the quality of their work since that time. They are Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood.

A case can also be made for the late Robert Altman, though the majority of his post-'70s movies aren't in the same league as "M*A*S*H," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Nashville." Ditto for Woody Allen, whose 1970s films include "Bananas," "Sleeper, "Love and Death," "Manhattan" and "Annie Hall." Robert Benton, director of "Kramer vs. Kramer," has prospered also with such films as "Places in the Heart" and "Nobody's Fool."

These notable directors weren't as fortunate:

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: While Coppola made a few movies in 1960s, he hit his stride in the 1970s with such films as "The Godfather," "The Godfather, Part II," "The Conversation" and "Apocalypse Now."

However, after that period, his resume includes "One From the Heart," "Rumble Fish," "The Outsiders," "The Cotton Club," "Peggy Sue Got Married," "Tucker: The Man and His Dream," "The Godfather, Part III," "Jack," "The Rainmaker," "Youth Without Youth" and "Tetro." See any of these? Remember any of these?

While their quality varies, "Tucker" may be the best of this lot Coppola's post-1970s movies don't exactly measure up to his earlier masterpieces. One could argue it's tough to top perfection. Or maybe Coppola just decided he'd rather concentrate on winemaking than filmmaking.

PETER BOGDANOVICH: In the 1970s, Bogdanovich directed "The Last Picture Show," "What's Up Doc" and "Paper Moon." Then he left his wife, Polly Platt, who served as the production designer on "The Last Picture Show" and "Paper Moon," for Cybill Shepherd, who made her acting debut in "The Last Picture Show." That union produced such classics as "Daisy Miller" and "At Long Last Love." Maybe "classics" isn't quite the right word. "Godzilla-sized turkeys" might be a more accurate description.

Bogdanovich's subsequent 1970s films "Saint Jack," "Nickelodeon" rate as improvements. But it's been all downhill from there with such offerings as "They All Laughed," "Illegally Yours," "Texasville" and "The Thing Called Love." Lone bright spots include "Mask" and "The Cat's Meow."

These days, Bogdanovich is better known as a film historian than as a director making film history.

WILLIAM FRIEDKIN: In the 1970s, Friedkin made "The Boys in the Band," "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist." Other films from the decade, including "The Sorcerer" and "The Brink's Job," aren't in the same class.

Neither are Friedkin's post-'70s films including "Cruising," "Deal of the Century," "Rampage," "Jade," "Blue Chips," "Rules of Engagement" and "The Guardian." Exceptions include "To Live and Die in L.A.," "The Hunted" and "Bug."

Of those three, only "L.A." approaches the mastery found in "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist." Who can we blame for this sorry state of affairs? Could it be ... Satan?

MICHAEL CIMINO: "Heaven's Gate," Cimino's spectacular box-office bomb from 1980, has been cited as one of the reasons why directors lost their all-powerful mojo as auteurs. "Close the candy jar on these guys!"

Before that disaster, Cimino made his directorial debut in 1974 with "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" and then scored a bull's-eye with "The Deer Hunter."

Since then, he's compounded his "Heaven's Gate" debacle with "Year of the Dragon," "The Sicilian," "Desperate Hours" and "The Sunchaser." Makes one long for the Russian roulette scenes in "Deer Hunter."

MEL BROOKS: After the success of "The Producers" in 1968, Brooks hit the comedic daily double in the 1970s with "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein." "High Anxiety and "Silent Movie" followed.

Since then, his movies have been no laughing matter, with the resume including "Spaceballs," "Life Stinks," "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" and "Dracula: Dead and Loving It." I do have a soft spot in my wooden heart for some of the jokes in the wildly uneven "History of the World Part 1."

Thank goodness for "The Producers." Brooks has milked that film like a dairy farmer on speed penning a successful Broadway musical based on the comedy and later turning it into a movie, which he didn't direct. It's springtime for Melvin in remakesville.

GEORGE LUCAS: After his 1971 debut with "THX 1138," Lucas directed one of my all-time favorite movies, "American Graffiti." The movie has some historical chops as well as it helped launch several careers, fueled the nostalgia craze and earned the director enough money to make a little film called "Star Wars."

Since then, the Force hasn't been with Lucas, at least not the creative type as he's simply regurgitated "Star Wars" clones. Note that the excellent Episodes V and VI weren't directed by Lucas while the inferior Episodes I and II were. He fared better with Episode III, and he does deserve props for masterminding the "Star Wars" universe, but, hey George, don't you think it's about time to return to Planet Earth.

It's difficult to put Bob Fosse, the director of "Cabaret," "Lenny" and "All That Jazz," in this group since he died in 1987. So what's John G. Avildsen's excuse? The director of "Joe," "Save the Tiger" and "Rocky" in the 1970s has since made the three "Karate Kid" movies, among other mediocrities. Wax on, wax off. Way off.

As for Terrence Malick, his two films after "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven" "The Thin Red Line" and "The New World" don't combine to create a superior duo.

Did I overlook someone, either pro or con? If I did, all you have to do is ask yourself, "Do you feel lucky?" Well, do you, punk?

Pop goes the movie

It's now time for TRIVIA.

Last month's tester: A song intended to be used in a 1930s comedy classic was shelved only to be resurrected and recorded by one of the film's stars in 1951. Clue: The song was supposed to introduce the actor in the film. Name the song, the film and the actor.

Answer: The song was "Dr. Hackenbush," the movie was "A Day at the Races" and the actor was Groucho Marx.

No one answered the question correctly.

This month's tester: What 1990s movie was written by the son of a 1950s pop star? Clue: The film's director was an Oscar winner and one of its actresses was an Oscar winner. Name the movie, the screenwriter, the pop star, the director and the actress.

The first reader to answer the trivia question correctly will receive Winter Berries Foaming Hand Soap from Fruits & Passion. For more information about the company, go to

Trivia enthusiasts can call me at 508-626-4409 or e-mail me at

Make sure you leave your name, address and number on my message machine or e-mail so I can contact you if you answered the question correctly. The address is needed so winners can be mailed their prize. Callers should spell out their names slowly and clearly so their names will be spelled correctly in the column. Only one guess per household, please.

Answers will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 13. Good luck!