By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Surgeon alters patient’s face.
Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) is an esteemed plastic surgeon who secretly harbors a dark side. When he sees his daughter Heather (Judith Chapman) making-love to her boyfriend he flies into a rage and kills the boy and then stages it to look like an accident. Heather runs away in terror and is not heard of for quite awhile. In the meantime Phillip’s father-in-law dies and bequeaths his entire fortune of $5 million to Heather, but since she’s nowhere to be found the money remains in escrow until she can come forward to claim it. Later, as Phillip is driving along a city street with his brother-in-law (Arlen Dean Snyder), they come upon a nightclub stripper (also played by Chapman) who has had her face crushed when a bouncer rammed it into a brick wall. Phillip decides to reconstruct the woman’s face to resemble his daughter’s, so she can claim the fortune and the two can split it. Things work smoothly as Philip trains her on all of her daughter’s traits and able to identify member’s of the extended family. Everyone comes to believe she’s the real daughter and the two are able to get their hands on the money only to have the real Heather suddenly reappear.
This movie, amongst IMDb reviewers, gets high marks with most rating it between 7 to even a 10 out of 10. I rate it lower, which I’ll go into, but they’re are things about that I did like. The performance by Lansing is excellent and perfectly conveys a character that seems nice and respectable on the outside, but could turn sinister, sometimes in unexpected ways, all of a sudden. The surgery scenes are realistic and even a bit graphic and the film has a few slick touches including the cinematography by Edward Lachman that nicely captures Georgia’s topography.
The plot has an intriguing premise and there’s no shortage of twists, but the way the stripper character gets handled I had a big problem with. There’s absolutely no backstory as to who this woman is, or why she got into the situation that she did. It doesn’t even seem like a real person, but a transparent entity that conveniently pops-in out-of-nowhere with essentially no past to her. I think the filmmakers were working-off of an old-fashioned belief that a sex workers had ‘no life’ and therefore would be more than happy to walk away from their former existence and take-on a new one without any regret, but this just isn’t true. Sex workers have friends and family and a past just like anyone else and wouldn’t necessarily want to just completely turn their backs on their old connections. The script also doesn’t bother to explain why a bouncer would shove a women’s face into a brick wall as he throws her out of the bar, or what might’ve happened to lead up to that, which to me was a plot hole.
Some may argue that maybe she lost her memory when her head hit the wall. Even if this was possibly the case (it never gets confirmed and in one instance Heather asks the woman about her past and she looks down like she does recall it, but is ashamed of it) it would most likely be temporary amnesia which can happen at times during a traumatic event or accident, but the old memories will usually come trickling back eventually. Either way it would’ve added an intriguing wrinkle to the story, if someone from her past tracked her down and became a part of the plot.
In addition I didn’t feel that Chapman’s acting was so great as she seems to be playing the same person instead of two different individuals. More contrasts needed to be made into the dual character’s personalities other than one can play the piano while the other couldn’t. I didn’t like that both spoke in an extremely distinctive twangy southern accent either. The impostor could’ve put on the affected accent when needed, but in private should’ve spoken in a way that was much different.
The ending in which the fake Heather takes the inheritance money after signing-off on it and then flying away on a private jet, is a letdown. Her signature would be different than the real Heather’s and during her ‘training’ on how to be like Heather that would’ve most likely been a point they’d overlook. A really cool twist would’ve had her thinking she had gotten away with it only for the jet to land and the police waiting for her as they recognized that the signatures didn’t match, or in her haste she had forgotten and wrote in her real name instead.
There’s another segment, just before the ending, where a hitman, disguised as a policeman, chases the fake Heather through a forest in an attempt to kill her, and he manages to catch-up with her and points a gun in her face, but then the film cuts away. The fake Heather then reappears in the mansion wearing the hitman’s police uniform, but no explanation for how she got away, which should’ve been played-out.
Alternate Title: False Face
Released: January 15, 1977
Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes
Rated R (Reissued as PG with erotic nude scenes removed).
Director: John Grissmer
Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures
Available: Blu-ray, Fandor, Tubi