By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Married to a stranger.
Cecile (Nathalie Baye) is a French woman living in New York City who’s at risk of having her Visa revoked due to being in a relationship with a recently arrested drug offender (Richard Berry). In order to help her remain in the country she gets involved with a shady, underground firm run by Novak (Peter Donat) who can marry her off to a stranger. Cecile is reluctant at first, but desperate enough to play along especially after she’s assured she’ll never actually see the man she is marrying and both parties are simply doing it for their own personal benefit. However, after she agrees to it and then returns home the man that is her fake husband, Zack Freestamp (John Shea), shows up at her doorstep and demands to be let in. He then takes over her apartment and acting like he’s her real husband and she’s obligated to play the role of the dutiful wife. She resists, but becomes increasingly hounded. Where ever she goes he follows and she can’t seem to ever shake-him. Due to being involved in an illegal activity she’s unable to go to the police and therefore must use her wits to outsmart him, which won’t be easy as Zack’s killed before and is used to getting what he wants.
This is one of those obscure movies, which was filmed on-location in New York, but by a French production company and thus making it a foreign film, where you wonder how it could’ve fallen through the cracks. It’s possible, as evidenced by the film’s promotional poster as seen above, that it was marketed to the wrong audience as you’d get the impression from looking at it that this was a horror/slasher film, which it’s not, and those coming to the theater expecting that were disappointed and thus gave it bad word-of-mouth. In either case it’s deserving of another look though not by those looking for a conventional thriller.
What impressed me had nothing really to do with the stalking element, but more the excellent performance by Baye, an award-winning performer in her native country though not too well known here. Her portrayal of a person lost in a cold, lonely environment really hits-home and you get a genuine feel for her desperation and how others in her same situation would react and think. If anything this movie should’ve been promoted as a drama that gives viewers insight to how foreigners that live in this country, but aren’t yet citizens, see our world and deal with the alienation, which I believe would’ve made this a critically acclaimed film instead of a forgotten one.
Shea’s casting is interesting as he’s cursed with having a boyishly cute face like he was snatched directly from a modeling agency and only given onscreen work due to his appearance over any actual talent. He had just been in Windy City where he played a sickingly sweet nice guy, so I’m sure he was determined to prove his acting range, and possibly even advised to do so by his agent, by taking a part completely different from that one. Does he succeed? Well, for the most part he’s competent, but the character would’ve been even more frightening had he been ugly instead of a pretty-boy.
The story fortunately doesn’t have too many loopholes and manages enough twists to keep it interesting though it does wear itself out by the end. My main complaint is the part where Cecile is taken by a blind date in his car to a darkened alley where he plans to assault her and yet she’s rescued by Zach who appears out of nowhere. I thought it was because he had again been following her, but no car that he was in is seen making it seem like he had just been in that alley by himself when they got there, but what would be the chances that out of the thousands of alleys in New York City they’d conveniently park at random at the one he was in?
There’s another scene where Zach’s being chased by the cops who are in a squad car while he’s on foot. He turns and shoots at them from behind and manages to hit the driver squarely in the head, but the prospect of him having such great aim while running is extremely low. Later a nervous and shaking Cecile shoots at someone and manages to nail-him right in the heart, but since she was clearly not confident in using a gum her great aim seemed implausible. I also didn’t care the chase through a house of mirrors at an abandoned carnival side show, which came-off as a rip-off of a similar one done in the classic Lady of Shanghai. Overall though it still has its solid moments and in need of more attention than its unfortunately gotten.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: November 20, 1985
Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes
Director: Patrick Jamain