To Kill a Clown (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple harassed by veteran.

Timothy (Heath Lamberts) and Lily (Blythe Danner) are a couple suffering through a rocky marriage. In an attempt to try and save it they decide to rent a beach house for a summer where they hope the quiet seaside scenery can help mend the friction. Their landlord is Evelyn (Alan Alda) a crippled war veteran with two dobermans who resides in a large house next to theirs. Evelyn considers Timothy to be effeminate and ‘unfocused’ and decides to challenge him to a psychological game where he will put Timothy through the rigors of army training. Initially Timothy finds this challenge amusing, but the game becomes much harsher than he expected and when he tries to get out of it Evelyn won’t let him, which eventually leads to Timothy and Lily becoming hostages inside their own home where Evelyn’s two ferocious dogs guard them.

The film is based on the short story ‘The Master of the Hounds’ by Algis Budrys that appeared in the August 1966 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. The plot certainly has some intriguing qualities, but the pace is too laid-back and I spent much of the time rather bored with it. The tension comes in spurts and when it does get going it cuts away just as it gets interesting. The Timothy character is overly smug and to some extent I actually enjoyed some of the harassment that Evelyn gives him, which ultimately minimizes the ‘horror’ that the viewer is supposed to be feeling.

In the story the setting was supposed to be the Jersey shore and in the film it’s somewhere off the New England coast, but in actuality it was filmed in the Bahamas and in an attempt to mask the tropical surroundings they found one of the blandest looking beaches to film it on. The lack of scenery gives the film no visual flair and it ultimately comes off like something done on the cheap end by a director lacking talent of vision.

The only interesting aspect is seeing Alda, who was known throughout the 70’s and 80’s as being a very liberal, ‘sensitive’ male, playing someone who is the exact opposite and to a degree he does it well, but it could’ve and should’ve been played-up much more. Lamberts is good too, but it would’ve been better had the character been an actual army deserter, which would’ve then made the men’s contrasting personalities even more vivid.

Danner though, in her film debut,  comes off best by acting as a buffer between the two men. The dobermans though are the real stars and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of them. In fact the film’s best moment involves one of them standing guard as it holds the frightened couple hostage in their living room and growling threateningly if one of them even moves their head in he slightest.

Unfortunately the action takes too long to get going and the whole thing gets misguidedly underplayed. I found the freeze-frame shots, which the film uses to transition from one scene to the next, distracting and overly artsy especially for a movie that is supposedly trying to be reality based.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes (Reissued at 1 Hour 26 Minutes)

Rated R

Director: George Bloomfield

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

One response to “To Kill a Clown (1972)

  1. Pingback: They Only Kill Their Masters (1972) | Scopophilia

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