What To Watch This Week: Bobby Fischer Against The World, Face To Face and Blue Thunder

This week, the world's greatest chess player goes nuts, a Spaghetti Western embraces both the counter-culture and consumption and Roy Scheider introduces the world to his awesome chopper.
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This week, the world's greatest chess player goes nuts, a Spaghetti Western embraces both the counter-culture and consumption and Roy Scheider introduces the world to his awesome chopper.

Bobby Fischer Against The World: Why is it that, when famous people lose it, they often pull to the right? From Bardot and Bowie to Mel Gibson and Mark Bosnich (Hitler salutes will never play well at White Hart Lane), it seems that, no sooner does a celeb leave the straight and narrow, than they immediately start doing things that only Joseph Goebbels could possibly approve of.

Bobby Fischer was one such tragic soul. The chess equivalent of Don Bradman, Fischer staged a series of matches against the Russian grandmaster Boris Spassky in 1972 that grabbed the American public’s attention in much the same way as the Rumble In The Jungle. With Fischer victorious, he appeared destined for a life in the spotlight. But as the latest documentary from Dogwoof Pictures demonstrates, Fischer - who wasn't too tightly wrapped in the first place - would opt for a secluded existence, only re-entering public life to blame the Jews for... well, pretty much everything, really.

Every bit as riveting as Dogwoof’s Client 9, which we covered a few weeks ago, Bobby Fischer Against The World is both a fine study of an unusual sporting event and a timely cautionary tale about the perils of fame. A magnificent mental athlete, you'd have thought Fischer stood a better chance than most of surviving success. If he could be corrupted, what odds the next X Factor winner going five years before they fall under the Fuhrer's spell?

Face To Face: We have Eureka Video to thank for bringing Face To Face (aka Faccia A Faccia) to the attention of the wider world. One of the few Spaghetti Westerns to rival the oddness of Django Kill, Sergio Sollima's picture stars genre favourite Gian Maria Volonté (the Dollars movies) as a Boston professor who heads out west for the good of his health. Riddled with TB, a la Doc Holliday, Volonté's looking for the peaceful life, so it's a shame he runs into Tomas Milian playing the marvellously-monikered Solomon 'Beauregard' Bennet, an outlaw who seems to be under the influence of the Allman Brothers.

Hippie gunslingers, lengthy (bordering on interminable) commune sequences and a 'hero' on the brink of permanent collapse - Face To Face is no ordinary oater. And nor is it to be mistaken for the Ingmar Bergman film of the same name. When the film screened on Moviedrome in the late ‘80s, Alex Cox described it as "a really entertaining and intriguing film". Given the debt it owes both to the surrealist novels of Jorge Luis Borges and classic Spaghettis such as The Great Silence, we couldn't agree more with the man behind Repo Man.

Blue Thunder (showing on Saturday 30 July at 5pm on Channel 5): John Badham's Blue Thunder was conceived along similar lines to Taxi Driver. Keen to make a film about post-traumatic stress disorder, Badham and writers Don Jakoby and Dan O'Bannon saw Roy Scheider's Frank Murphy as the aerial equivalent of Travis Bickle. Unfortunately, the studio got cold feet and so Badham - best known for Saturday Night Fever and the Stakeout films - was obliged to make a more family-oriented movie.

While it's more lightweight than it might have been, Blue Thunder remains a highly watchable film. As ace helicopter pilot, Scheider is as stoic and restrained as he is in all his best films. And while Malcolm McDowell's turn as the bad guy of the piece is pretty hammy, it's made palatable by a healthy side-order of relish.

Blue Thunder also features a supporting turn from the greatest character actor of his or anyone else's generation, Warren Oates. Sam Peckinpah's actor of choice, Oates's list of important films is incredibly long. The Wild Bunch, Ride The High Country, Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, Badlands, In The Heat Of The Night, Two-Lane Blacktop - name a great movie from the '60s and '70s and the odds are it starred Warren Oates.

In Blue Thunder, our man plays Scheider's boss. It's not the biggest of roles but the guy with the thin moustache and the broad smile makes it his own. "Working with Warren Oates was the great thrill of my professional life," Malcolm McDowell would later say - praise indeed from someone who acted for both Stanley Kubrick and Lindsay Anderson.

Oh, and one final thing for cult TV fans living in and around London. The British Film Institute is hosting an event on the evening of August 2 dedicated to Lost In Space creator Irwin Allen. Fantastic Television: Weird Worlds Of Irwin Allen kicks off at 6.20pm. Given that Mr Allen also produced Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, Land Of The Giants and The Time Tunnel, the night's sure to prove a hit with Comic Book Guy's everywhere.

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