SIGNAL SEVEN (director/writer: Rob Nilsson; cinematographers: Geoffrey Schaaf/Tomas Tucker; editor: Richard Harkness; music: Andy Narell; cast: Bill Ackridge (Speed), Dan Leegant (Marty), John Tidwell (Johnny), Herb Mills (Steve), Don Bajema (Roger), Phil Polakoff (Phil), Bob Elross (Director), Paul Prince (Paul), Don Defina (Setts), Frank Triest (Tommy), Jack Tucker (Hank), David Schickele (Bert), Hagit Farber (Sophie), Michelle Marrus (Ellen); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Roy Kissin/Ben Myron; Warner Bros.; 1986)
“This small dramatic film knocks the pants off most similar Hollywood ventures.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The title is derived from cabbie-jargon, as it refers to a radio distress call for a taxi driver in trouble. It’s an intelligent indie film that tells of male fear, anger, loneliness, friendship and anguish. The grainy film shot on videotape over six nights and then transferred to 35 millimeter film is by the talented writer-director Rob Nilsson (“Northern Lights”/”On The Edge”), who made it for around $150,000 (raising some of the money from his own credit cards) and dedicated it to improv filmmaker John Cassavetes. The cast consists of a group of out-of-work actor friends of the director, and is filmed as natural as real-life. It follows a group of struggling middle-aged cab drivers in San Francisco who work for the DeSoto cab garage but it primarily follows two of them, Marty (Dan Leegant) and Speed (Bill Ackridge), as they work the nightshift on a rainy night at a time when one of their colleagues is murdered. They audition for parts, play cards, tell jokes (like “What’s the difference between Los Angeles and Yogurt?” The answer is that “yogurt has culture.”), pick up fares (there’s a revealing scene where Speed makes an awkward pass at nervous Israeli fare Sophie (Hagit Farber) and she, though limited in English, takes him to task for it) and, most of all, they try to bear up to the murder while living their tough life.
Marty and Speed both go through a terrible humiliation while they audition for a part in Clifford Odet’s 1930s play Waiting for Lefty. The director (Bob Elross) gives Speed an exercise to do at home in which he imagines himself to be an egg. As a result Speed is in a hyper-emotional state with fits of tears and laughter, as he tells his wife of his deep-seated inward pain and that he’s a phony. They then hug as they retire for the night, as he recovers. Marty, in a great deal of emotional pain, tells his black cab driver friend Johnny of how he came to realize he’ll never again see the wife and child he left in Korea.
The world these characters inhabit is a strange, distant and dangerous place, and in this ride with them on such an eventful night we watch as the two men come away with a greater sense of themselves. This small dramatic film knocks the pants off most similar Hollywood ventures, even if it doesn’t chart out new territory.
REVIEWED ON 6/15/2006 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ