Unusual form, a mystery. You take the audience by the hand, and you lead them… in the wrong direction. They trust you, and you betray them! All in the name of surprise.
One of the biggest joys I can get from a film is when I am expecting it to be crap and it turns out to be just the opposite. It’s something that doesn’t happen often in films. When I think something is going to be awful, it usually turns out to be the case.
The reason I didn’t expect a lot for this is that it was part of a boxset of 10 “thrillers” that I found located on my dad’s DVD self. Typical when a film is located in a boxset like that, especially when it’s two DVDs to a single disc, it’s not going to be good. Infact the only reason I got even slightly interested was because it said that Jeff Goldblum was the main star, and as he is one of my favourite actors I thought that it would be good to see his earlier work. It turns out that Jeff Goldblum isn’t the main star at all in this film and whilst he is in it throughout, he’s barely involved in the story until the last 20 or so minutes.
However, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a mystery style film where you didn’t know throughout the entire film who it was, or weren’t given strong hints as to who it was, so I was genuinely pleased when it is eventually revealed who the murderer was, but I’ll get onto that later.
It is also wonderfully obscure, and the fact I’ve had to create my own images to be used below says it all. I apologise for the quality of these images, but trying to get a clean and clear image of the characters was nigh on impossible.
Following the debut of a new Broadway play, leading lady Monica (Redgrave) is found dead after an apparent suicide, but Alex (Preston) refuses to believe that his fiancee would willing kill herself after they had had a conversation that night about their future together.
One year later Alex has gathered the cast from the original play to take part in what they believe is a rehearsal for a new play, but it turns out that Alex is using this as a way to try and establish who the guilty party is throughout. The cast are less than thrilled by this, each maintaining their innocence whilst under the watchful gaze of Alex and William (Heller), a policeman who himself is convinced it was a suicide.
As the night progresses, the cast become far more agitated as they become increasingly uncomfortable with Alex’s questioning and refusal to accept what they believe is the truth.
So what makes it different from other murder mystery films?
Well as I mentioned above, it’s refreshing for them to not even strongly hint at who the murderer was until the last few minutes of the film. When the killer finally admitted it was them, I was very surprised as there has been no genuine clues up until that point. In a lot of other films like this, or at least in the same genre, the clues are there throughout and once you know what to look for, it’s obvious, or infact you’re told very early on in the film who the killer is and it takes away the tension. When it was finally revealed who the killer is, I felt a sense of relief of how refreshing it was.
That’s what I felt throughout the majority of the film. I’m not going to lie, I was ready to turn the film off after the first 20 or so minutes because it was so incredibly tiresome and poorly made up until that point that I felt I couldn’t watch anymore, but I did and I was very pleased I did. I was watching this at about 3am and despite feeling tired, I wanted to stick with the film as even though it’s about as basic as it can get in terms of look and feel, I was kept engrossed by what I was watching. As the film went on I found myself getting more and more engulfed by the story and that’s what I want when I see a movie, something that gets me more involved as it goes out.
Despite not being a main character in the film, or even a well known actor at that point in his life (he was only 30 when this film came out), Jeff Goldblum stood out for me. This was four years before what was, for me, his best performance of his career as Seth Brundle in the remake of “The Fly”, but even in this he stands out despite his relatively small role. I’ve been a big fan of Goldblum since first seeing him in Jurassic Park and it this film proved to me how versatile her can be as his role as Leo is this film is far different than anything else he has done before.
Other that Goldblum, the cast is largely unknown, with only sporadic appearances in major films (for example, Heller was in “American History X” as Danny and Derek’s father), but most of them put in very believable performances. Heller himself stands out, especially towards the end of the film when his characters becomes more involved. They are all actors that you could see working in the theatre and I think that is one of the reasons why I think this film is actually a decent one, it’s believeable.
A problem with a lot of films is that the characters are cast with actors that aren’t believable in the role. Sometimes it works, but other times it really doesn’t. For example, below are some actors who played roles that they really weren’t suited for and the film suffers as a consequence (I’m not saying that it’s the only reason it suffers, but you get the idea);
- Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates in the remake of “Psycho”
- Kevin Costner as Robin Hood in “A Prince of Thieves”
- Sean Connery in any film where his character isn’t Scottish due to his refusal to try and hide his accent.
- Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds, a film that she near enough single handedly ruins…much like any other film that she is in.
- Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in Star Wars Episodes 2 and 3
- Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the film itself suggests that they should have hired someone attractive.
- Jennifer Aniston in pretty much anything she is in, she is truly awful.
I could go on. Anyway, as I was saying, the cast makes the movie and in this instance they relatively succeeded as all of the actors feel like they could easily performance on stage, however, just because they’re believable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they actually played the character well. Just looking the part isn’t everything and that leads me neatly onto my negatives.
I know this was the 1980s, the early 1980s at the that, and actors of that day weren’t like what they are today, but I found Robert Preston’s acting to be terrible. I like a lot of films from the late 70s and early 80s and can’t recall seeing an actor from that period give such a wooden and uncharismatic performance whilst in a leading role. Infact, to give you a comparison to other actors of the time, “The Thing” (one of my favourite horror movies), also came out in 1982 and in that there are actors of a similar age to what Robert Preston was in this, and all of them produce far better performances. The character isn’t even that boring, but the acting just does absolutely nothing for me whatsoever, it’s terrible.
Another major problem throughout the film is the lighting, or rather the lack there of. Below is a direct screenshot from the film where Robert Preston is facing away from the camera, and most of Jeff Goldblum’s face is obscured the lack of light, and it remains like this throughout. Now, I appreciate that this is realistic of what it’s like in theatres, but even then it’s hard to really tell what’s going on half of the time due to the poor lighting of the film.
A few days before this I had watched Birdman at the cinema, which again is set in a theatre, and there was no issue with the lighting whatsoever, and even though it was 33 years ago, I wouldn’t expect lighting this poor in a film that isn’t a horror film.
A film that took me by surprise and one that I would recommend. The whole film is on Youtube so you can easily watch it there, and I would recommend that if you have a spare 90 minutes then you give it a try. Don’t expect anything spectacular, just expect to be entertained for the majority of the film.
Although you may want to turn the film off after the first 15/20 minutes, especially where you are forced to watch Robert Preston’s inability to act, so much to the point where he shows less emotion than Keanu Reeves, I would implore you not to turn it off, sit back and relax.
Now, I normally like to put a trailer at the bottom of my reviews, but as I can’t find on I am just going to put the Youtube video with the entire film up.