Category Archives: Mystery

The Sitter (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Please check the children.

This small budget, short film, which was made for $12,000 much of it coming  from the donations of director Fred Walton’s and producer Steve Feke’s friends deals with the urban legend of a babysitter (Lucia Stralser) coming to the home of the Mandrakis (Bill Striglos, Karen Kondazian) to watch over their two children who are asleep upstairs while they go out. Soon after the couple leaves the sitter starts to receive harassing phone calls from a mysterious man asking if she’s ‘checked the children’. At first she dismisses them, but eventually when they continue she notifies the police who decide to trace where the calls are coming from.

The urban legend known as ‘The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs’ has been around since the early 60’s and the story was first filmed in 1971 in the 14-minute short entitled Foster’s Release, but this film was the one that caught the attention of mainstream audiences when it got screened at the Mann’s Theater in Westwood, California before a showing of Looking for Mr. Goodbar and the positive response it got convinced Walton that he should expand it into a feature length film, which he did two years later.

This film is alright, but gets hampered by having a weak actress in the role of the babysitter, who has an androgynous look about her and unable to convey emotions effectively.  Not only does she not check on the children, even though you’d think after repeated calls she would get the inkling to do so, but she then states to the police on the phone that she’s ‘all alone’, which isn’t true and makes you wonder if she completely forgot why she was at that home to begin with.

I did like the part where she raids the refrigerator and starts eating a piece of cake from it as I think a lot of babysitters do this. I also found the catty conversation that she has with one of her friends on the phone, before the harassing calls start, to be rather amusing and very teenage girl-like. I even liked the fact that she pours herself a glass of hard liquor and starts to drink it, but this also made me think that the alcohol should’ve had some effect on her, especially with such a thin body, causing her to slur her speech, or possibly emboldening her in her dealings with the caller, which never occurs.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending of course if you’re familiar with the legend has the police tracing the calls to a man who is upstairs in the same house that the sitter is, which forces the girl to run outside before the killer gets her, but the way it ends is not very satisfying. For one thing the girl’s welfare only gets eluded to by the cops even though she is the main character, so the viewer should see that she is alright and not just be told this. It also leaves open way too many questions like: Why did the killer choose this house? How did he know the phone number to the home? How did he get into the house without being detected? and if the children were already killed several hours earlier as the police stated then were they actually killed while the parents were still there and why didn’t anybody hear anything?

End of Spoiler Alert!

These questions get a little better answered in When a Stranger Calls, which was Walton’s follow-up film to this one that expands the story by analyzing the killer and giving him more of a backstory, which will be reviewed next.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1977

Runtime: 22 minutes

Not Rated

Director: Fred Walton

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Photographer sees killer’s perspective.

Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is a successful fashion photographer who enjoys putting a level of stylized violence into her photos, which makes her work controversial to some, but evocatively edgy to others. One day she starts seeing visions of people that she knows being murdered from the killer’s perspective. Later, when she finds out that her friends are being killed she goes to the police where the lead investigator John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to work with her in unmasking the killer’s identity.

Despite having John Carpenter’s name in the credits he never actually wrote the screenplay, but instead did an 11-page treatment that got rewritten by the studio with a completely different ending, which helps to explain why it gets so stupid from the very beginning. What annoyed me most were the segments showing the killings, which aren’t fully the killer’s perspective since they have cutaways showing a hand in the air with a knife in it, which is technically the point-of-view of the victim.

I also thought it was goofy that she sees these visions of the killings as they occur with one happening to her friend Elaine (Rose Gregorio) when Laura is just a few blocks away. When Laura arrives at the scene of the crime, which takes her less than a minute to do, the police are already there investigating, which has to be the fastest response time by any police force in the history of the universe.

Dunaway’s presence unfortunately just makes it worse. I’ve been a big fan of hers for years and in a good dramatic role with competent direction she can be fabulous, but here she overacts making her performance come-off as affected and even laughable. Many believe it was her starring role in Mommie Dearest, which came out three years after this one, that ushered in the downfall of her career, but I actually believe it started with this one.

Critic Leonard Maltin, in his review of the film, complained about Dunaway’s ‘kinky colleagues and their lifestyles’, which he deemed as being ‘ a real turn-off’, but I failed to see anything that was all that shocking or outrageous unless he was referring to the lesbian relationship between the two sexy models (Lisa Taylor, Darlanne Fluegel) that I quite frankly wouldn’t have minded seeing more of. As for the provocative artwork it is by today’s standards quite tame and certainly not something that I or most other people would pay good money to see, which made it hard to believe how Ms. Mars was able to afford such a snazzy luxury apartment, which looks like a place more suitable for a corporate businesswoman than a pad for an artist anyways.

The relationship between Dunaway and Jones is equally ridiculous especially since he gets into a relationship with her while the investigation is still ongoing, which breaks all professional and ethical boundaries. A more intelligent script would’ve had the police dismiss Ms. Mars’s claims upfront and consider her to be total loon, or investigate her as the prime suspect. The film also fails to answer the most pressing question, which is what great cosmic force caused her to have these visions in the first place?

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Irvin Kershner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Frenchman’s Farm (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Witnessing a past murder.

Jackie (Tracey Tainsh) goes traveling in her car throughout the Australian countryside while bush fires rage all around her. When her car breaks down she visits the nearest farmstead for help. It is there that she finds herself suddenly swept back to the year 1944 where she witnesses a murder and then just as quickly she comes back to the present day. When she tries to tell others what happened nobody believes her, but eventually her boyfriend Barry (David Reyne) takes up her cause and with the benefit of old news articles help find the real killer and the secret behind what motivated it.

Although marketed as a horror flick, it seems more like iffy sci-fi and could’ve easily have been targeted to a pre-teen audience since it’s not all that tense, or scary, especially with the majority of it filmed in the bright sunny daytime. When it does finally take place in the darkness of night a cliched thunderstorm gets conveniently put in while the killer is made out to being a ghost who pops in and out like it’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Initially I kind of liked that that she didn’t stay stuck in the past and was able to be her own detective, which kept me intrigued for awhile yet it started to make me wonder why the time traveling event occurred to begin with, which the movie has no suitable explanation for except to say that the bush fires created some sort of ‘atmospheric disturbance’, but if that was the case why was she the only one affected? The film also does a poor job of recreating a past era, as Jackie and her boyfriend go back to the farm where the murder occurred, but do it in the present day and yet the trees in the backyard where she witnessed the killing 40 years earlier all look the same even though they should’ve either died or grown bigger.

I found it annoying too that the boyfriend, who has a generic ‘surfer dude’ presence, starts to take over the investigation even though it really wasn’t his personal battle to solve. In order for him to take such an interest he should’ve been transported back in time with Jackie, or for a more original touch, it could’ve been Jackie and a female friend who witnessed the killing and then proceeded to becoming amateur sleuths together.

A few veteran Aussie character actors, such as an aging John Meillon, help give it some stature, but the production overall is quite bland and how it ever got considered as being a part of the Ozploitation genre, which stands for Australian exploitation cinema, is beyond me since outside of a brief skinny-dipping minute there’s nothing titillating or shocking about it.

The ‘surprise ending’ is also really dumb and doesn’t even involve the main character who gets phased out of the storyline before the ending even comes about, which is not satisfying for the viewer to follow a character around  for the whole movie only to have her ultimate fate left open to a murky explanation.

 

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 9, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ron Way

Studio: CEL Film Distribution

Available: DVD

Happy Mother’s Day, Love George (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for his father.

Johnny (Ron Howard) is a young man who arrives in a small seaside town searching for the identity of his parents. After speaking with the various eccentric personalities that live there he come to the determination that a waitress at a local cafe named Ronda (Cloris Leachman) is his mother, but she refuses to divulge who the father is and he begins to suspect that the secret may lie in the strained relationship that she has with her sister Cara (Patricia Neal).

It’s hard to tell what motivates people to take on certain projects. Darren McGavin had a great career in front of the camera, but this remains outside of a few TV episodes that he did, his only foray as a director. Yet it means little as the story is quite pedestrian and moves at a slow pace making it seem more like a drama and it takes until the third act before there are any chills at all.

The on-location shooting, which was done in the seaside towns of Mahone Bay and Lunenburg that are both situated in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, is quite scenic and it almost seemed like McGavin and his crew had access to the entire town as the camera follows Howard walking up and down the residential streets while homeowners stare out their windows at him at each house that he passes. If this was a film specializing in the New England vibe it would be a success, but as a horror film the plot progresses too slowly and by the time the mystery finally gets answered you really don’t care  anymore.

The eclectic cast is interesting and really the only reason to watch it. Bobby Darin, in his last film, shows great potential as a feisty short-order cook, but his screen time is painfully limited. Neal gets in a few snarky remarks, but not much else and Leachman essentially channels the same character that she played in The Last Picture Show.

The one that gets the showiest part is Tessa Dahl who was Neal’s daughter in real-life and looks almost exactly like her to the point that I initially thought she was Neal at first. Her British accent helps add some flair as does her knife-wielding finish. Even more ironic is the fact that she has grown in recent years to suffer serious mental health issues much like her character.

As a novelty this film, which was reissued as Run Stranger Run, might be worth checking out just to see Opie with dark brown hair instead of his trademark red, but as a horror flick it lacks punch and has very little scares.

Alternate Title: Run Stranger Run

Released: August 17, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Darren McGavin

Studio: Cinema 5 Distributing

Available: VHS

April Fool’s Day (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: It’s all a prank.

A group of college students get together at an excluded island home of one of their friends Muffy (Deborah Foreman) to celebrate their last year in school together. Then as the weekend progresses they find that a killer is knocking them off one-by-one. Will the remaining survivors be able to escape, or is there something more to these murders that no one realizes?

The film was an attempt to revive what at the time was a lost interest in the slasher genre by creating a irreverent tone to the staid formula and in that regard it does an okay job. The main issue though is that it gets too jokey making it seem more like a misguided comedy that losses sight of its intended horror fan audience completely.

I didn’t mind a few of the pranks, but too much time gets spent on them and 40 minutes seemed to be a ridiculous wait (if you don’t count the injury that occurs on the initial boat ride in, which seemed more like an accident) before we even get to the first killing. The pranks bordered on being too elaborate and something a regular person wouldn’t be able to pull off. For instance one deals with Rob (Ken Olandt) turning off one light in a room only to have another one turn on, all to the amusement of his girlfriend (Amy Steel) who apparently (I guess?) rigged the lights to do this, but where did she  get the electrical background or time to wire the room in this manner?

If the pranks are supposed to revolve around the fact that it’s April Fool’s Day then all the action should  take place within a 24-hour period instead of over several days. The scenery doesn’t have a spring-like look either as there should be blossoms and buds on the trees, but instead, since it was filmed in August, it looks more like late summer.

The cast comes-off too much like crude and obnoxious junior high kids whose only topic of conversation is sex instead of young adults ready to enter the working world and their dialogue doesn’t seem genuine.  One dumb bit has Harvey (Jay Baker) trying to make amends with Nikki (Deborah Goodrich) by trying to prove to her he really isn’t as much of a ‘dick’ as she thinks, but then proceeds to tell that he’d like to ‘plow her field’, which would only convince her otherwise.

Spoiler Alert!

The killings are brief and feature virtually no gore at all, which will disappoint those expecting to see at least a little. The ending, which reveals the killings to being just another gag, was novel, but there still needed to be a secondary twist. In the film’s original cut Skip (Griffin O’ Neal) kills Muffy after everyone else has left the island, but the studio execs nixed this opting for an ‘upbeat’ ending instead. Upbeat endings are fine if it’s a comedy, but a horror film should have a dark undertone and the fact that this one doesn’t have one at all makes it woefully undernourished.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Fred Walton

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube.

Bloodline (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer stalks rich heiress.

When her father dies under mysterious circumstances Elizabeth (Audrey Hepburn) is given full control of the company he founded, Roffe Pharmaceuticals, a billion dollar empire. Elizabeth soon learns that there’s a power struggle going on amongst the board members and when she refuses to allow the company’s stock to go public she finds that her life is now the target of a mysterious killer who stages ‘accidents’ to occur where ever she goes.

This film marked Hepburn’s last starring vehicle in a theatrical feature and if it weren’t for her presence this thing really wouldn’t be worth seeking out and barely is anyways. The story is based on the best-selling novel by Sidney Sheldon, but comes off more like a hackneyed whodunnit featuring many derivative elements that you’ve seen hundreds of times before in other mystery films that were better done.

Some of the more annoying aspects include the loud, overplayed orchestral score that would be better suited for a sappy romance. There are also segments dealing with Gert Frobe, who plays the lead investigator on Elizabeth’s father’s case, who does most of his detective work sitting in a lab and interacting with a computer whose over-the-top robotic voice turns the whole thing into unintentional camp. I also thought it was dumb that Elizabeth listens to a audio tape recorded by her father just before he died in which he states that he thinks he knows which board member is trying to kill him, but then doesn’t reveal his name, but wouldn’t it have been wise to state that on the tape, so if he ended up getting killed there would be recorded evidence to help the investigators nab the right person? The film also features a recreation of the backstory showing how the father founded the company, which is corny as hell as well as a kinky subplot dealing with snuff movies, something that was added into the script after production had already begun, but wasn’t needed.

The accidents, which should’ve been the film’s highlight become boring throwaways instead. Hepburn’s car crash, which occurs when the killer fiddles with the brakes, is poorly edited and the injuries that she sustains are too superficial, a few bruises and scratches on the side of her face that immediately go away the next day. Her close call in a rigged elevator gets equally botched. We see a split second visual of an elevator speeding down a shaft and only later told that it killed her best friend (Beatrice Straight) who was inside it, but Hepburn decided at the last minute to step out of it to get something that she forgot inside the office, but this is something that the viewers should’ve seen as movies are a visual art and not just explained by Hepburn afterwards.

The variety of exotic locations, which was shot throughout Europe, adds some zest and the eclectic cast is interesting although most are wasted. With that said I still found Romy Schneider, who plays a female race car driver, to own every scene she is in, which proves what a great actress she was as she’s able to make her part flashy despite the weak material. Omar Sharif is also fun as a henpecked husband who finds himself not only dominated by his demanding wife (Irene Papas) but his lady lover as well.

Ultimately though it’s too hokey to take seriously and offers no intrigue. Even Hepburn becomes a problem by playing a character who doesn’t make any sense. She tries to get Ben Gazzara to marry her by admitting it’s for convenience only and that he’d still have his ‘freedoms’ to do ‘other things’ on the side and she’d agree to look the other way. Then when they finally do get married and he meets some of his other lovers at a restaurant she becomes enraged and runs out. This causes him to call her a ‘neurotic bitch’ which given the circumstances I would have to agree with.

Alternate Title: Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 29, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Terence Young

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Big Sleep (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hired to find blackmailer.

Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) is an American detective living in London who gets hired by a aging, retired general named Sternwood (James Stewart) to locate the person who has been blackmailing him for money. He thinks it may have something to do with his colorful daughters: the gambling addicted Charlotte (Sarah Miles) and the promiscuous Camilla (Candy Clark) who enjoys posing for nude photographs.

The film is based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler and a remake of the 1946 film that starred Humphrey Bogart. Here though the setting has been updated from the 1940’s to the 1970’s and the venue changed from New York to London. The movie was also able to tackle many of the more kinkier aspects of the story that the 40’s version was only able to allude to.

Personally I felt the changes worked and made the premise more interesting. Why an American detective would be working in England is never properly answered, but the new setting does allow for some interesting on-location shooting like having the Knebworth House used as the Sternwood Mansion, which is breathtaking to look at both inside and out. The erotic undertones get used to their full potential especially with Candy Clark’s nude scenes who looks fabulous naked and she plays the part with such spunk that every scene she is in is highly amusing and the whole film could’ve easily been built around her alone.

Mitchum’s presence isn’t as distracting as it was in Farewell, My Lovely where he played the same part, but in a 1940’s setting. Having it upgraded to the modern-day actually makes him come-off as younger and a lot of the reason could be the snazzy suits he wears as opposed to the drab hat and trench coat. He also isn’t forced to get into any physical confrontations with anyone, which would make him look foolish as he’d be too old to kick any young guy’s ass, nor is there any romantic overtures with a younger woman, only Camilla who immediately throws herself at him the second she meets him, but since she does that with every man it doesn’t matter, which all helps to make his advanced age, which was 60 at the time and far older than the intended character, a non-issue.

The main problem is the story, which I found to be just too damn confusing. I like mysteries, but more in the Agatha Christie realm where we have actual clues to follow and an interesting array of suspects as opposed to something with a dizzying pace where every line of dialogue creates a new twist and potential suspects popping up out of nowhere only to quickly get killed off or just disappear completely. It’s possible in the novel, which I never read, this all got laid out better, but here it became convoluted to the extent that after the first 30 minutes I became lost and didn’t care what happened next, or for that matter who got killed and who didn’t.

Having a side-story thrown-in like Marlowe taking up some sort of quirky hobby that had nothing to do with the mystery that the film could cut back to every once in awhile in order to allow the viewer to catch their breath would’ve helped. The film still manages to be watchable mainly from the high production values and the eclectic cast. I also enjoyed the beginning and end segments where the camera takes the driver’s point-of-view as we see the car drive through the winding roads as it enters the Sternwood Mansion property and then at the end while it leaves the property as the credits roll past.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for missing lady.

Based on the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name the story centers on private eye Phillip Marlowe who meets Moose Malloy (Jack O’Halloran) a recently released convict that asks Phillip to find his girlfriend Velma who worked as a dancer at a nightclub, but who has now gone missing. Marlowe decides to take the case, but finds a wide array of strange clues that leads him on a bizarre trail that has many twists.

The novel was filmed before in 1944 as Murder, My Sweet that starred Dick Powell, which has become a classic. This remake was noted for being able to stay closer to the source novel by retaining aspects of the story that was considered too provocative for 1940’s standards, but the edition of these elements really doesn’t make the mystery any more interesting. The direction doesn’t convey any feel for the material and despite the intricate plot everything plods along at a rather mundane pace. I also never really felt that the setting effectively reflected the 40’s as much as it could’ve.

The biggest issue though is Mitchum. The guy is certainly a legendary actor and his performance here isn’t bad I actually thought his timing with the way he conveys his lines was on-target, but he’s just way too old for the role. In the novel Marlowe was described as being in his 30’s, but Mitchum was 57 and looking more like 67. The guy comes-off as washed-up with no charisma, or ability to win a fight even though he does get into a few altercations anyways, which doesn’t seem believable.

The eclectic supporting cast is the only thing that makes it mildly interesting. Sylvia Miles got nominated for supporting actress Oscar as a lonely alcoholic lady with a secret, but I actually enjoyed Charlotte Rampling as a beautiful, but cold and conniving gold digger much better. It’s also great to see Kate Murtagh as this overweight woman who runs a whorehouse. Fat woman are usually never given prominent roles in most Hollywood films, but here she plays an intriguing part that culminates with a surreal, nightmarish segment that helps give the film a little extra verve that’s otherwise missing.

The film also has a couple of great cameos. One features Sylvester Stallone in a non-speaking role as a thug, which was just before he broke it big with Rocky. I found the cameo though by author Jim Thompson, who’s best known for writing such novels as ‘The Getaway’ and ‘Pop. 1280’ to be far more interesting. He plays the elderly husband to Rampling and the scene where he opens up a door to find her kissing Mitchum on a couch and all he does his just shut the door back-up and leave to be the funniest moment in the movie.

The budget should’ve been bigger as it’s not stylish. If you’re going to redo a classic you’ve got to go all-out, but the effort here is half-hearted. Yet despite this the producers forged ahead with another Marlowe film that had Mitchum again playing the part. That one was called The Big Sleep and will be reviewed later this month.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Mister Buddwing (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s lost his memory.

A man (James Garner) wakes up one morning to find himself on a bench in Central Park unaware of how he got there or who he is. He finds a crumpled up piece of paper in his coat pocket and when he calls it a woman by the name of Gloria (Angela Lansbury) answers, but talking to her makes him even more confused. He then spends the day wondering around the city while coming up with the name Buddwing after he spots the word Budweiser on a passing truck and then looks up into the sky and sees the wings of a jet plane. He bumps  into women who remind him of someone that he knows as Grace, but every time he meets someone it just leads to more dead ends and things get even worse when he gets mistaken as being an escapee from a mental hospital.

The film is based on a novel by Evan Hunter and initially holds some intrigue. I was impressed by the opening shot that’s done with a cinematic flair. I was hoping especially with its evocative black-and-white cinematography and jazz score by Kenyon Hopkins that this would have a strong cinema vertite feel, but any potentially artsy style gets lost by a draggy script that bogs down in Buddwing’s past romantic memories that amounts to nothing more than extended talky scenes that cripples the mystery angle until you end up not caring what the answers are.

Garner’s usual appeal gets seriously strained, which is probably why in his memories ‘The Garner Files’ he calls this “The worst movie I ever made” and then asks “What was I thinking?”. Normally I admire actors that are willing to go out of their safety zone, but his constant deer-in-headlights look becomes tiring and one-dimensional and the crying that he does while inside Lansbury’s apartment seems insincere.

The one’s that come off best are the four women that he bumps into as he wonders around. All are portrayed by famous leading ladies: the fore mentioned Lansbury as well as Suzanne Pleshette, Katherine Ross, and Jean Simmons who give outstanding performances and helps keep the otherwise rocky picture afloat. However, during the flashback sequences the different actresses all end up playing the same Grace at different times, which I found confusing and off-putting.

The explanation for Buddwing’s amnesia, which apparently ends up being just the result of having some stressful event occurring in his life, is highly suspect as I’ve not read of this happening to anyone in real-life, or if it does it is extremely rare. Not only does the credibility get pushed, but Delbert Mann’s direction, with the exception of the opening shot, lacks creativity, which makes this already flat story even more of a strain to sit through.

Released: October 11, 1966

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Delbert Mann

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Obsession (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She resembles his wife.

Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) is a wealthy land developer living in New Orleans whose wife Elizabeth (Genevieve Bujold) and daughter (Wanda Blackman) become victims of a kidnapping and die during the police shoot-out. Michael becomes tortured with guilt feeling he should’ve done more to save them. 16 years after the crime was committed he meets a woman (also played by Bujold) who looks strikingly like his former wife. He becomes infatuated with her and the two eventually marry only for him to find that she holds a deep, dark secret.

This film marks yet another attempt by director Brian De Palma to emulate his idol Alfred Hitchcock with a film loaded with fancy camera work, but not much else. For the most part, at least visually, it’s tolerable and not quite as overdone as De Palma’s other Hitchcock imitations. To some degree the camera work and soft focus lens is the most entertaining thing about it although having the camera go back and forth from one talking head to another during a scene where Robertson and co-start John Lithgow have a conversation at a restaurant becomes unnecessarily dizzying.

The casting of Robertson is a problem as he’s unable to convey the demands of the part effectively as his constant staring at Bujold becomes creepy and unnatural and he’s obviously way older than any of his costars. They should’ve at least hired an actor his same age as his business partner as Lithgow was 26 years younger than him and it shows. For the most part Lithgow isn’t too good here either as he wears a wig and speaks in an over-the-top bayou accent, which borders on being annoying and it makes him come off as slimy and creepy right from the start.

Bujold on the other hand gives an excellent performance that rises far above the trite material, but she looks too young as a wife to Robertson during the flashback scenes. Turning around and having her also play a 10-year-old girl during some brief sequences comes off as awkward.

The story, which was based on a script by Paul Schrader, but highly truncated by De Palma is full of loopholes. I thought it was unbelievable that the crooks didn’t spot this green police van with a very odd looking antenna on top of it, which was needed to track the honing device that was put into the briefcase with the supposed ransom money that the crooks retrieved, that was following them around at a much too close distance. I thought it was equally unbelievable that the crooks would not have immediately opened the briefcase the minute they retrieved it and made sure there really was money inside it instead of driving all the way back to their hideout before opening it while naively trusting that there was no chance that they might’ve been duped.

There’s also not enough of a visual transition during the 16 year time period that the story takes place in. Except for a few extra white hairs Robertson’s appearance remains virtually the same while the commercial boat that he rides on to deliver the ransom remains exactly the same as does the deserted dock that he throws the briefcase onto even though after such an extended period of time both things most likely would’ve changed or evolved in some way.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending where we learn that Michael’s new wife is really just his grown daughter who he had thought had died during the kidnapping does nothing but produce even more loopholes. Supposedly she died with her mother when the car they were in burst into flames and went into the river and supposedly the police tried to recover the vehicle, but found it to be too difficult, so they gave up, but in reality I don’t think this would’ve occurred. After some setbacks they would’ve kept trying until they were able to retrieve it as they knew the approximate spot where the vehicle went in and a river is not an ocean, so it shouldn’t have been that hard anyways.

In order to avoid the controversy of promoting a film with an incest story line the producers decided to reedit the marriage sequence to make it look like it had been a dream, but this ends up just bringing up even more questions. Like how is Bujold able to get into Robertson’s dreams and continue her scheme by telling him he must prove himself all over again by putting a briefcase of $500,000 of his money back onto the same dock he had done 16 years earlier?

The final shot, which is done in slow motion and features Robertson and Bujold reuniting at an airport, is by far one of the corniest things ever put on celluloid and will surely cause most viewers to either roll their eyes or breakout into laughter.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The funniest thing though about this so-so film is probably just Rex Reed’s overly fawning review of it, which gets printed on the promotional poster seen above. In it he calls this movie ‘an immensely important cinematic piece of work’, but how is that as it’s just a tacky Hitchcock rip-off with no message to it at all? He also calls it ‘better than anything Hitchcock has ever done’, which just isn’t true. I know Reed has gotten criticized in recent years for many valid reasons including his fat shaming of Melissa McCarthy, but his career should’ve ended after writing this over-the-top glowing take of a film, which ultimately is nothing more than a third-rate mystery with fancy camera work, as it makes him look like he was a hack paid by the studio to write a puff piece about the movie simply to help promote it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, YouTube