The Disappearance (1977)

disappearance

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is his wife?

Jay Mallory (Donald Sutherland) is a professional assassin who works for a secret organization that contracts him out to do hits all over the world. After returning home from his latest assignment he finds that his wife Celandine (Francine Racette) is not there. Since they had a tumultuous relationship he initially presumes she left on her own accord, but then his friend and fellow hit man Burbank (David Warner) informs him that her disappearance may have something to do with his last hit. The organization that employs him now calls with another assignment, but this time they’re reluctant to give any details, which is unusual. Jay is afraid he’s being set-up as Burbank told him that the company is known to ‘retire’ those that are deemed no longer useful or trustworthy. He decides though to go through with the assignment as he’s curious how it will play-out and confident enough in his ability to get out of any jam, but soon finds himself faced with an entangling twist he never expected.

The film is a fascinating portrait of what can be done with creative direction. Stuart Cooper, who’s not exactly a household name and in fact this was his last theatrical film until 2010 when he did Magic Man, lends some interesting directorial touches that makes the story and characters more interesting than they might otherwise. What I especially liked was the non-linear narrative in which the movie cuts back and forth between the past to the present day. These types of storylines are typically frowned upon by Hollywood studios as they’re considered to be ‘too confusing’ for mainstream audiences to follow, but I had no such difficulty and felt it allowed in added nuance that would not have been present had the plot been approached in the conventional way. Nonetheless when the film tanked at the box office upon its initial release the studio insisted that the film be re-cut where the story would be presented in the standard linear format, but this version did even worse, so fortunately for the DVD/Blu-ray release it was brought back to its original way and labeled as being the ‘director’s cut’ though Cooper actually had no input on it, but eventually approved once he viewed it.

It’s also highly atmospheric particularly with the way it captures the cold, wintry climate of Montreal in the dead-of-winter. Having been born and raised in Minnesota I can tell a fake winter scene done on an indoor sound stage using artificial snow within seconds, but here the cold, including the mounds of snow drifts and nasty hollowing wind, is quite vivid and helps to symbolize the cold nature of the characters and the business they’re in.

I was a little more lukewarm with the acting. Sutherland can certainly be an outstanding leading man, but he seems too kind and sensitive for a person making a living killing others for money though I did like the scene where he plays memory games with his wife while at home, which brings out how crucial paying attention to detail is for his line of work. The supporting players are all familiar faces though I felt Warner was a bit wasted and underused. Virginia McKenna, best known for her starring role in the classic Born Free, is seen for only a brief bit though her interaction with Sutherland is quite pivotal while Christopher Plummer doesn’t appear at all until the final 15-minutes, but still manages to come-off with a memorable presence.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest downfall though is with the ending, which becomes one twist too many. Up until that point the twists had been a logical fit that made sense when you went back and thought about it. Then at the very end Sutherland gets shot and killed while walking home from the grocery store, but it’s never shown who did it, or why. Maybe it was the secret organization that wanted to ‘retire’ him, but this needed to be shown and explained. Just leaving the viewer hanging with a violent, but vague scenario isn’t satisfying and cheapens the rest of it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stuart Cooper

Studio: Trofar

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray

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