Critics don’t enjoy watching bad movies – unless the movie knows its bad and has fun with it – but not every rock can be a diamond. The films here comprise just a fraction of the movies I was left cold to. Out of a whopping 64 films, all of which received a 2-star or below rating from me, these are the twenty, plus five honorable mentions, that I didn’t enjoy, ranging from “that wasn’t good” to “Dear God, how did this get greenlit?” The films on this list had to be first-time viewings, either written for the site (allowing for post-1980s titles) or pre-1980s without a proper, written review. Feel free to tell share some of the worst studio era (or films about the studio era) features you watched this year below.
Clickable titles will take you to my original review
20. Picture Mommy Dead (1966) – 2 Ronnies
As I said in my review, a film with Don Ameche, Martha Hyer, and Zsa Zsa Gabor should be better than this, or at least infinitely more entertaining. Production issues and a case of misplaced nepotism with the star of the film gives us a film where you’d rather picture yourself dead.
19. Funny Lady (1975) – 2 Ronnies
Funny Girl (1968) is one of my favorite musicals, and though I’d heard about how subpar its sequel, Funny Lady, is, I had no idea. Streisand tried desperately to get out of making it and her boredom is evident. Much of Funny Lady’s issues stem from leaving Streisand nothing to do short of sing around elaborate stages. James Caan plays Billy Rose in a weird bit of casting. He lacks zero chemistry with Streisand – she felt he was miscast, and she’s right – and is a prime example of an actor who’s too modern for period dramas. Omar Sharif, who nearly walked away with the first film, has about two minutes of screentime. I did enjoy Roddy McDowell, even if every joke points glaringly at his sexuality.
18. Paris When It Sizzles (1964) – 2 Ronnies
As beautiful as it was doomed, the romance between Audrey Hepburn and William Holden captivates me. If you watched their chemistry in Sabrina (1954) the love they bore for each other was strong. By the time they reteamed for this 1960s comedy Hepburn had moved on and married while Holden, it’s theorized due to Hepburn spurning his attempts at reconciliation, was married to the bottle. All of this created an obvious air of discord in a trite tale of a screenwriter (Holden) and the secretary (Hepburn) playing out his latest film. Holden and Hepburn still have chemistry, particularly Holden who can’t seem to control the lust in his eyes, but when Holden went to rehab the movie had to work around him and thus the film is a hodgepodge of competing ideas, hollow set pieces and boring celebrity cameos that hearken back to the road-show films of the decade that piled on star after star with little rhyme or reason. Maybe it’s unfair to put this on the list when one factors in the problems of its star, but the sadness of what could of been makes the pain more acute. Better to call this Paris When It Fizzles.
17. The Young Lions (1958) – 1.5 Ronnies
From my original review: “What Dmytryk presents us with is an overdone war story whose themes are telegraphed so pointedly as to slap you in the face with their impact, while simultaneously avoiding anything that could anger a censor.” Add in a perpetually dazed Montgomery Clift, a bleached-blonde Marlon Brando as a Nazi we’re meant to sympathize with, and Dean Martin, and you have an overly extended war drama with a neutered message.”The movie isn’t heinous, but it’s a light portrayal of the war in the midst of superior war films…”
16. Music in My Heart (1940) – 1.5 Ronnies
Rita Hayworth made her share of clinkers and Music in My Heart is one. This musical romance is at the mercy of Tony Martin’s singing, and though barely an hour there’s hardly enough plot for 30 minutes. I could probably place this one higher, but it’s far too forgettable outside of wasting an amazing leading lady.
15. Blonde Crazy (1931) – 1.5 Ronnies
Don’t let the plot fool you, no one goes too crazy over the blondes in this film. Actually, our main blonde, Joan Blondell, spends a significant portion of the film’s 79-minutes absent or in the corner. James Cagney leads the way, in a role reliant on his ability to drawl, “Hey BAABBY” every ten seconds.
14. I Found Stella Parish (1935) – 1.5 Ronnies
Watching this back-to-back with Francis’ Confession (1937) shows how underwhelming I Found Stella Parish truly is. In the vein of Stella Dallas (1937), Francis plays a star hiding the truth from her young daughter. The plot contrivance of why Stella is hiding isn’t particularly earth-shattering, and outside of the star in some old-age makeup Francis doesn’t do anything, acting wise, to make you stand on end. Her work is far more nuanced in Confession, maybe because the plot – based on a German film – is infinitely better.
13. Babes in Toyland (1961) – 1.5 Ronnies
It’s not often I get comments like “You’re right, this sucks,” but I did with my review of Disney’s Babes in Toyland as part of my 25 Days of Christmas. Disney’s attempts at outsourcing material leads to a cheap looking film with subpar actors, Ray Bolger aside, and two separate features stitched together. Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands’ autotune is worth watching the film for, and maybe to laugh at the sets that would make Dr. Coppelius blush.
12. House (1977) – 1.5 Ronnies
I’ve heard the arguments about how House can’t be judged as either good or bad, it’s an experience. Well, I’m unsure whether the experience I had was positive or negative. (This is one of two movies on this list where the word “experience” has been touted.) The film’s zaniness and cartoonish characters are one thing, but the plot never gives us anything to latch on to. For some people, the narrative unease works, but I need more beyond beautiful frame compositions and gross-out moments.
11. Annie Oakley (1935) – 1.5 Ronnies
From my original review: “Despite the soon-to-be A-list talent of director George Stevens, Annie Oakley is sentimental drivel, reducing Oakley to a starry-eyed girl mooning over Preston Foster’s gunslinger, Toby Walker. In a scant 90-minutes we learn zip about Oakley herself, and hardly anything about the Buffalo Bill (Moroni Olsen) and his traveling show.” Barbara Stanwyck has played romantic ladies before, but always holding the emotional reins tightly in her hand. As Annie Oakley, not only is the character a moony-eyed girl, but Stanwyck dumbs herself down in the process.
10. Tommy (1975) – 1.5 Ronnies
I watched this during TCM’s Summer Under the Stars tribute to Ann-Margret and I’m unsure what I was meant to derive from it. Maybe because I didn’t live through the 1970s and am only aware of the Who’s music my enjoyment, or experience (that word again), was dampened. The story of Tommy (Roger Daltrey) and his rise as a pinball wizard is interesting, and the set pieces and songs are catchy. I’m all for rock operas, but the songs all vaguely sound similar and the overall kook of the plot comes off as a drug induced game of Mad Libs. Margret is certainly game, getting messy (literally) in one scene, while Reed looks uncomfortable. What did I expect from a Ken Russell film though, really?
9. Kitty (1945) – 1.5 Ronnies
I know a lot of people who adore Kitty. Hell, even TCM’s fearless leader Robert Osborne enjoys this. Much of my immediate distaste stems from Universal’s atrocious copy recently released to DVD which makes certain sequences unwatchable. The other element is one I notice in a lot of costume dramas where the costumes and general “romance” of the era cover up questionable behavior. As I mentioned in my review, the relationship between Paulette Goddard’s Kitty and Ray Milland’s Hugh is akin to a prostitute paying her pimp. How is that romantic? This one could be reversed in the future, barring I watch a better print.
8. The Razor’s Edge (1946) – 1.5 Ronnies
The Razor’s Edge is such a bloated, pedantic movie that squanders an incredible cast. Sure, Anne Baxter as a dipsomaniac tragically in love with Tyrone Power is good, but that’s it. This is another one that probably could go higher because I remember very little, but that cast…
7. How to Murder Your Wife (1965) – 1.5 Ronnies
Jack Lemmon’s presence prevents this from being a truly outrageous example of misogyny, but only by a bit. The story of a man trying to get rid of a foreign bride he accidentally married could yield laughs, but the film wants us to hate and love Lemmon in equal measure. Virna Lisi is gorgeous, and though the film gives us no reason to hate her, Lemmon’s actions are never openly condemned by anyone else. This is one of those 1960s movies glorifying bachelorhood and the fear of the “old ball and chain.” From my original review: “The script does her a disservice by making her the object of derision throughout, not even giving her a name as means of furthering her as nothing more than an object.”
6. Undercurrent (1946) – 1.5 Ronnies
My heart hurts thinking of how bad this movie is. Directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring the trifecta of Katharine Hepburn, Robert Taylor, and Robert Mitchum….how could this go so wrong? Part of it is the interminable pacing that hopes to build suspense but does little more than drive you to snooze. Neither Mitchum nor Taylor have chemistry with Hepburn, and Hepburn throws aside her strong, leading lady persona in favor of becoming a clingy, terrified woman desperate for a man to lead her. Trying different personas is fine, but these actors realize they’re veering away from what they know, and their apathy is evident.
5. Audrey Rose (1977) – 1 Ronnie
This Exorcist (1973) knock-off tries blending spiritual terror with a courtroom drama out of Inherit the Wind (1960), and neither element truly works. Hammy acting, a total absence of convincing research, and a general 1970s feeling that what’s being said is utterly groundbreaking left me screaming to get out.
4. Stronghold (1951) – 1 Ronnie
If my life depended on it I couldn’t tell you Stronghold’s plot. A film that’s 85% narration, as I say in my original review, “Part of this could be how amorphous the time period is – if you don’t know what was going on in Mexico at the time you won’t get the gravity of the situation – but too much could be because this is an incredibly cheap film and the screenwriter was a monkey clanking on the keys in the hopes of crafting something (I’m guessing).” Zachary Scott wanders around in brownface, while Veronica Lake looks sad, probably wondering how her career so quickly deteriorated. I called this a dog then and I’m saying it now.
3. Cult of the Damned (1969) – 1 Ronnie
Rereading my review of this, I made some very poor jokes that I, unfortunately, stick by. Yes, I believe starring in this film had to make Jennifer Jones more depressed than she currently was, and our leading lady does look like a brunette Amy Schumer. Really, my thoughts are best summed up in this line – “the entire movie is spoken in stoner speak, complete with characters literally climbing on the ceiling, leaving me to believe I had to be high to understand it.” Instead of calling the film Cult of the Damned, it should be called Cult of Veruca Salt since everyone just seems to “want it now” but what they want remains elusive.
2. The Funhouse (1981) – 1 Ronnie
From my original review: “The Funhouse definitely feels like a 1980s horror film helmed by the man who directed Texas Chainsaw; it has a deformed villain (maybe?), amateur young ‘uns threatened, a bizarre location (although not an axe-wielding clown despite what the promotional posters depict).” And let’s not forget, despite Tobe Hooper’s loving homage to Frankenstein (1931), he creates a deformed, disabled monster whose desire for sex makes him a deviant. Gotta love 1980s horror!
1. Chained for Life (1952) – .5 Ronnies
It’s interesting that my top two worst films of the year depict disability in such a negative way. I was kind enough to give Chained for Life a lone Ronnie upon review, but in rereading my piece and thinking on the exploitation of it all, I demoted it down to a half. When the movie doesn’t pad the runtime with carnival acts it’s giving us a scummy look at the lives of two women, neither of whom actually talks to the other about their way of life. Just look at the poster above and how the Hilton sisters are considered freakish. We’ve, hopefully, evolved since then, but this is an unforgettable piece of tripe.
Be sure to stop by tomorrow for my Best of 2015! Happy New Year everyone!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.