Critique du C-U: SHOT reloaded

Bringing our parade of student-film posts to a close (for now), C-U Blogfidential has exhumed some material for those University of Illinois students interested in the “lost” feature film SHOT, created by their long-graduated peers three decades ago. Rumor has it that members of Illini Film & Video will give SHOT a shot over the weekend, and we’ll be interested to learn what they think of this vintage police-chase flick.

The following is a review of SHOT published by The Daily Illini on March 29, 1973. It has been edited to correct punctuation and spelling mistakes.


“SHOT – Bullseye on First Try”

by Allen Estrin
Daily Illini Reviewer

Ross – His hair is too long and his temper is too short. He’s a cop, but he has the psyche of a homicidal maniac. Women waste his time. His passion to inflict pain burns like a white hot branding iron. He might have been the one who bloodied helpless students in the riots here several springs ago.

Wilson is his sidekick. Wilson reads dirty magazines in his spare time, orders rotten donuts, and has a marshmallow for a brain.

Blasi – He pushes heroin. He is very mean. If his sense of right and wrong hadn’t been warped when he was a child he might have been Ross’ good friend. He has a cesspool for a soul.

These are the three main characters in Cinemaguild’s first adventure into the movie-making business, SHOT, a raw, rough-cut, but largely successful cops-and-robbers film that only a clan of degenerate students could dream up.

The plot, like any good cops-and-robbers film, is simple – Ross and Wilson seek to foil the evil doings of a demonic drug pusher, Blasi. But the biggest mistake the viewer can make is to take the movie seriously. Director Mitch Brown has his film jumping back and forth between drama and self-parody as fast as your little sister jumps rope. The result is to leave us slightly confused, but always laughing and usually contented.

SHOT is far from flawless, however. In fact, it’s riddled with (bullet) holes. The editing for one is so staccato at spots that it makes us dizzy and the use of sound effects is at various points inexcusable. Tires screeching as a car pulls out of the mud, Wilson’s heartbeat during a tense moment, and ricochets are heard after a bullet hits rotted wood are examples of where sound effects used for comic effect come across like a bad joke.

These irritating rough edges are overshadowed by Rod Adrich’s excellent photography and the strong performances by Rick Watt, Chuck Russell, and Frank Himes as Ross, Wilson, and Blasi. Through Adrich’s photography, we can feel the chill of the winter in the exterior shots, the warmth in the interiors (superbly captured in the scene where Wilson and Ross break into an apartment), and the ugly face of Champaign-Urbana wherever we go.

Watt and Himes couldn’t be meaner as the equally ornery cop and pusher. Russell captures [well] the strangely innocent Wilson, who should be sucking his thumb in his mother’s lap rather than getting caught up in the messy business of being a cop.

The personality of the characters leads one to question Mitch Brown’s script, which portrays everyone as demented and depraved. One wonders if half a decade at this University inspired Brown to such a pessimistic vision.

The pace of the film is properly very fast, shifting from one shootout to another. Try as he might, Brown was not able to illicit consistent performances from his secondary actors, Neil Lifton as Stiller and Jay Brett as Sammy. Blasi’s sadistic associates are adept at comedy, but clumsy in the straight scenes. The rest of the cast follows this example.

It should be noted that this film is not THE FRENCH CONNECTION or DIRTY HARRY; it is not in their league. Asking a director to make a feature film with a $15,000 budget is like asking the Queen of England to live on welfare. It can be done, but it isn’t easy.

SHOT is the premier effort in a feature-length production for just about everyone involved. It is somewhat analogous to Melvin van PeeblesSWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSS SONG. As a first try, considering the material available, the film is a great success and credit is due to Brown and his producer, Nate Kohn.

No one is going to call it a masterpiece, but its primitive toughness and self-parody are attractive. The true value of this film may be left to posterity. It’s a premier of no small importance and – for all its admitted faults – it deserves to be seen.

A Cinemaguild Production. Written and directed by Mitch Brown. Produced by Nate Kohn. Cast: Ross – Richard Watt, Wilson – Chuck Russell, Blasi – Frank Himes.

**** (four stars)

© Illini Media Company – Reprinted with permission


Review author Allen Estrin went on to write or co-write numerous screenplays for television shows such as BOSTON PUBLIC and TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL and occasional features like POCAHONTAS II from Disney. He is currently the producer for radio talk-show host Dennis Prager and a Senior Lecturer in screenwriting at the American Film Institute’s AFI Conservatory.

The next section, adapted from material that will appear in MICRO-FILM’s upcoming B-movie magazine Backyard Cinema, explains how SHOT fell into your trusty editor’s hands.


Upon researching movies made in the region where Backyard Cinema is published, I discovered articles about SHOT in old issues of The Daily Illini and talked producer Nate Kohn into lending me a dub of this Cinemaguild opus. Currently an instructor at Grady College, University of Georgia-Athens, Kohn also acts as director of Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival every April in Champaign, during which he sheepishly handed over SHOT in 2001. I’m certain that to his eyes, the movie hasn’t aged well in the slightest, but this amateur film historian desired to see that amateur film anyway.

I had little preconception about the movie other than the Daily Illini coverage and Kohn’s anecdotes during an interview conducted in 2000. Self-conscious acting and dated threads aside, the movie blew me away because it stomps the concept of “student film” well into the ground. SHOT resembles an elongated Seventies cop show targeted for the big screen, mainstream in its appropriations but weirdly sarcastic in its execution. I unearthed a copy of the mid-Eighties VHS release from Sony earlier this year; it’s a much better transfer than the version on Kohn’s dub that provides a clear look at this curiosity item and Champaign County time capsule. Thankfully, the amusingly “exploitative” new title dreamt up by Sony’s marketing team – DEATH SHOT – is relegated to the MISSING IN ACTION-style box art.

Most people don’t realize that the University of Illinois has ushered more alumni than Roger Ebert and Hugh Hefner into the entertainment world. SHOT features several in its credits crawl, including Charles Russell (a.k.a. Chuck Russell, director of THE SCORPION KING and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3), Fred Rubin (producer of numerous sitcoms such as NIGHT COURT and ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE), Jason Brett (president of Second City Entertainment in Chicago and an original producer of David Mamet’s play Sexual Perversity in Chicago), Tomlinson Holman (Professor of Film Sound at USC and developer of George Lucas’ THX Sound System), and Peter Crombie, “‘Crazy’ Joe Davola” on SEINFELD. Kohn has produced the occasional feature (SOMEBODIES, ZULU DAWN) and written several screenplays, although SHOT director/writer Mitch Brown apparently drifted away from the entertainment business some time ago.

So, what kind of cinema culture existed at UIUC at the time? To wit … The Foellinger Auditorium premiere of SHOT took place on March 28, 1973, one night after THE GODFATHER won “Best Picture” at the Academy Awards and a week before legendary director Jean-Luc Godard (BREATHLESS) spoke at Foellinger. Also on March 28, the student film magazine MacGuffin made its debut at a booth in the Illini Union. Movies playing in commercial theaters included CABARET with Liza Minnelli, DELIVERANCE with Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds, SAVE THE TIGER with Jack Lemmon, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN with Paul Newman, SOUNDER with Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield, JEREMIAH JOHNSON with Robert Redford, SLEUTH with Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, THE TRAIN ROBBERS with John Wayne, and the infamous LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. One week later, the former Co-Ed Theater in Campustown presented two Swedish dramas starring Liv Ullmann, Ingmar Bergman’s CRIES AND WHISPERS and Jan Troell’s THE EMIGRANTS, along with a midnight show of the X-rated FRITZ THE CAT, while Lincoln Hall hosted the “3rd Annual University of Illinois Student Film Festival.” Finally, manager Richard Lynch of the Art Theatre announced one week earlier that he would not book a return engagement of DEEP THROAT for fear that he’d be arrested by the FBI, which had been busy confiscating prints of the landmark porno nationwide.

– Jason Pankoke


SHOT advertisement :: The Daily Illini, March 22, 1973


Back to the fore, MacDuff…

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