By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Psychic knows too much.
On one sunny afternoon Maggie Dawson (Dianne Hull) goes out shopping and never returns. 24-hours later her strangled body is found on the floor of her car. Police detective Lee Tucker (Cliff Robertson) heads the case, but finds few clues. After all leads dry up they turn to Franklin Wills (Joel Grey) who purports to be a psychic who can help them find the culprit. Initially the police are quite impressed with his abilities, but Franklin begins to show too much knowledge about the crime and the victim making them believe that he may be the actual killer.
The film is based on the novel ‘The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor’ by William A. Clark, which itself is based on an actual incident that occurred on June 12, 1968 in Kettering, Ohio. In the real-life event a young 23-year-old school teacher by the name of Barbara Ann Butler went shopping at a discount store one day only to end up being found murdered later. Police were, like in the movie, baffled and eventually ended up using the services of a psychic named Bill Bosheers, who goes under the pseudonym of Norman Dodd in the book. Like in the film Bosheers seemed to know an extraordinarily high amount of unauthorized info about the case including the fact that the victim used prescription glasses for just one eye. Bosheers also predicted another similar crime would occur in the near future, which it did and police have long suspected that the two were done by the same person.
What makes this film interesting is the way it meticulously follows the police investigation and keeps everything at a real level including having them pursue what turns out to be a lot of false leads, which other Hollywood movies rarely tackle. Nothing gets overblown and in fact the film’s strength comes from keeping everything on a nice creepy, low-key level with the focus on Robertson’s interaction with Grey. I also liked that there is very little music and the only time that there is some is when Grey is onscreen and even then it’s quiet and nonobtrusive accentuating the creepiness without over doing it.
Although he gets stuck with a non-flamboyant part I felt Robertson does quite well and I enjoyed how his down-to-earth sensibilities continually clash with Grey’s more flighty ones although the scene where the Robertson’s character discusses the case with his wife (Dorothy Tristan) at home didn’t really mesh. The character is also seen drinking constantly to the point of being a full-fledged alcoholic and this should’ve been touched on, but isn’t.
Grey, who ironically starred in a TV-movie called Man on a String just before doing this one, is outstanding and the whole reason to watch the film as he commands every scene that he is in. The way he goes into his psychic ‘trances’ is riveting and the part where he makes his entire face turn dark red, without the use of any makeup, is genuinely startling as is his drooling after he passes out. The film is also littered with many familiar faces of up-and-coming stars too numerous to mention here, but worth spotting at seeing what they were doing before they were famous.
I enjoyed the on-location shooting done in Milford, Connecticut which takes full advantage of the small town locale and helps make the story seem even more vivid. There are several uniquely memorable moments including an exercise that Grey is forced to take to measure his psychic ability as well as his visit to a pair of psychiatrists, which is wonderfully played by Elizabeth Wilson. However, even with all these good elements the ending is a letdown as it leaves too many questions unanswered and plays like an intriguing mystery that ultimately goes nowhere.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: February 27, 1974
Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes
Director: Frank Perry
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video