Archive | October, 2016

Sighs and Horrors*

27 Oct

*With apologies to the late Ingmar Bergman and his 1973 Best Picture nominee, Cries and Whispers…

Truth? I’m not so much into Halloween, not so much anymore. Oh, believe me, there was a time when I loved playing witchy-poo woman, traipsing all over the place in the middle of the night, but things change. These days, my idea of a great Halloween is to grab takeout and camp out in front of the TV with a favorite creepy classic. And I know I’m not alone. Scary, suspenseful movies enthrall us again and again. We get the chills and thrills, revelling in the chance to be expertly manipulated, our deepest darkest fears toyed with, only to snap out of it safe and sound after two hours or so. We feel safe again after experiencing a jolt, a rush of emotion, a wave of dread. Then, we get to laugh at ourselves for letting our fears get the best of us.

What is your favorite Halloween movie? Of course, as I have written previously, John Carpenter’s Halloween represents a special kind of genius, given its minuscule budget and other production constraints. That noted, 1979’s When a Stranger Calls, starring Carol Kane, scared me oh so much more. I know many people who swear by lighter Halloween fare, such as Hocus Pocus (starring Bette Midler, along with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy), but I prefer to mix my laffs and chills with the inimitable Don Knotts and the lunacy of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. I also think the 1979 original Alien pales in comparison to the propulsive action and growing terror of Aliens, featuring Sigourney Weaver’s ferocious Oscar nominated performance. While I also admire the proficiency of the old Universal horror flicks, especially Bride of Frankenstein and The Mummy, I actually fall harder for Gaslight (1944), an Oscar winner for Ingrid Bergman who stars along with Joseph Cotten and Charles Boyer. Gaslight is not a true horror story, a monster movie, but it deals heavily in psychological terror, suspense, and, oh yes,  MGM’s deluxe, Oscar winning, production details–in this case, a sumptuous recreation of Victorian era London, exquisitely rendered in velvety black and white

My go-to is often Hitchcock, of course, but not necessarily stab-tastic Psycho (1960). Frenzy (1972) is a bit of a spine tingler as are The Birds (1963), Strangers on a Train (1951), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Rope  (1948). Again, not necessarily monster movies, but full of monstrous people and deeds. Plus, I’m always down for Rear Window (1954), one of my all-time faves. Oh, and I actually get a huge kick out of the Master’s loopy final film, Family Plot (1976).  All that noted, I think this year I’ll snuggle up with something other than Hitchcock, specifically Dario Argento’s magnificent Suspiria.

Scripted, or co-scripted, by Daria Nicolodi, Suspiria has long been hailed by  enthusiasts all over the place as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. I remember reading all about it when it was released in ’77 but didn’t catch up with it until years and years later when Michael and I rented a VHS from our then favorite video store…since closed. Anyway, we loved it and snatched up the three disc 25th anniversary edition when it became available. 

Obviously, the story of an American ingenue who finds herself away from home among dastardly occultists is hardly original. Indeed, some of Suspiria‘s plot points and/or characterizations echo the 70s made-for-TV flick, Satan’s School for Girls (1973), starring Pamela Franklin, and pre-Charlie’s Angels Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd, along with Oscar winner Jo Van Fleet (perhaps better known at the time for her wicked performance as Lesley Anne Warren’s stepmother in the perennial Rogers and Hammerstein musical adaptation of Cinderella than for East of Eden…but I really digress).  Roman Polanski’s landmark Rosemary’s Baby (1968) starring Mia Farrow and another Oscar winner, Ruth Gordon, also comes to mind.

Of course, what those others do not have is director Argento’s audacious vision. Here are some highlights:

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The perfect set-up as Jessica Harper’s Suspiria character takes a taxi ride during a magnificently torrential storm from the Munich airport to her new home at a dance school in a village outside of town. Plenty of thrills and chills await… (IMAGE: Screenmusings)

I hope it is not too much of a cliche to write that with her big brown eyes, Jessica Harper is the living equivalent of a Keane painting though her voice is anything but child-or waif-like. No, her instrument might not be as commandingly resonant as, say, the pipes on Lauren Bacall, Beatrice Arthur, or Kathleen Turner, but it’s certainly sultry as all get-out, even more so considering how petite she is at only 5’4,” per the IMDb. When Harper made Suspiria, she was relatively fresh off Brian De Palma’s cultish rock musical Phantom of the Paradise, filmed at least partially in Dallas’s old Majestic theatre (well after its cinematic heyday and before its reinvention as a live venue); Phantom of the Paradise (1974), by the way, is one of Michael’s faves. Anyway, between Suspiria,1980’s  Stardust Memories (in which she was never more lovingly photographed), Pennies from Heaven (1981), My Favorite Year (1982) and, most spectacularly, Shock Treatment (1981), the so-called “non-sequel equal” to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Harper was no doubt one of the most exciting actresses of the late ’70s and early 1980s. Though she works most often on TV these days, she made a big screen comeback of sorts with a cameo in 2002’s Minority Report. Reportedly, she’s on board to play a key role in the dreaded Suspiria remake.

Saturn nominee for Best Supporting Actress and enduring Hollywood vet Joan Bennett (center) made her final screen appearance in Suspiria.

Saturn nominee for Best Supporting Actress and enduring Hollywood vet Joan Bennett (center, in black) made her final screen appearance in Suspiria. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

In the grand tradition of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, both of whom reinvented themselves as mistresses, okay, madames, of the macabre with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) and other similarly frightening flicks, old school Hollywood thesp Joan Bennett stepped up to the plate to portray Suspiria‘s headmistress.  Of course, by that time, Bennett had already established her horror cred, thanks to her role as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard on TV’s game-changing Gothic daytime serial, Dark Shadows. In her late 60s at the time of Suspiria, Bennett, blue eyes brilliantly ablaze, still maintained the regal glamour of a studio-polished movie star.  It might seem demeaning to describe someone with Bennett’s impeccable credentials–over 90 credits at the time of this effort–as durable, but she reinvented herself time and time again. Originally a blonde, she dyed her hair dark (reportedly, perhaps, to  milk comparisons to international beauty Hedy Lamarr) and appeared in films as varied as noirish Scarlet Street and 1950’s wholesome Father of the Bride (ideally cast as Elizabeth Taylor’s mom opposite Spencer Tracy) and its sequel, Father’s Little Dividend. She had a few lean years after a murderous scandal involving her husband, producer Walter Wanger, but bounced back. Despite her versatility and admirable work ethic, Bennett never caught the attention of the Academy. That’s right: 0 Oscar nominations though she earned an Emmy nod for Dark Shadows in ’68. Interestingly, author Danny Peary boldly takes away Joan Crawford’s hard-earned Oscar for film noir supreme Mildred Pierce (1945) and instead awards Bennett his so called “Alternate Oscar” for the aforementioned Scarlet Street, opposite Edward G. Robinson. Peary describes Bennett as the “sleeper of the year,” adding that the “much-taken-for-granted-actress” turned in “a terrific, overlooked performance as an atypical femme fatale in Scarlet Street,” one of four collaborations with director Fritz Lang in the 1940s (82-83). Peary further rhapsodizes that Bennett “never had another part quite like Kitty March. She really let loose playing this ‘working girl’ who is too lazy to work” (83).

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On the 25th anniversary DVD, actress Stefania Casini squeals with delight at the mere mention of Joan Bennett, praising the actress, as Jessica Harper also does, for being a true star, the whole package, from her walk to her perfect hair and makeup. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

Furthemore, Bennett managed to impress Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick during the legendary search for an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara back in the day. Per a story circulated on both a DVD documentary and Ronald Haver’s coffee table book on the biggest movie blockbuster of its era, Selznick wrote a letter to his wife, explaining that Bennett was one of four finalists for the demanding role, the others being Jean Arthur (though Selznick soon soured on her), Paulette Goddard (the only actress besides Vivien Leigh to test in color), and, legendarily, of course, Vivien Leigh–the winner. Footage of Bennett’s screen test is available on the DVD; one still photograph from the session (in which she looks exactly right for the part) has made its way to page 27 of the book.

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German born Udo Kier’s filmography includes 230 credits, in both German and English. Alas, he has only one scene in Suspiria. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

Speaking of blue eyes, whose eyes are more piercing than Udo Kier’s? Like Jessica Harper, the extremely photogenic actor had already notched an impressive credit or two by the time he appeared in Suspiria, meaning back-to-back leading roles in Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula (1974)–released, somewhat misleadingly, in the U.S. as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and, likewise, Andy Warhol’s Dracula. I actually saw the former at our neighborhood drive-in, more than once, maybe, even though it was rated X?  Coincidentally, Suspiria reunites Kier and one of his Dracula co-stars, Stefania Casini. Furthermore, before Suspiria, Kier had appeared in the scandalous The Story of O (1975).  Since the 1990s, he has acted in a variety of American made films, including My Own Private Idaho (1991), Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), Armageddon (1998), Blade (1998), and Shadow of the Vampire (2000). As well, he has established a kinship with Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier, resulting in appearances in the likes of Europa (1991, released as Zentropa in this country), Dogville (2003), and Melancholia (2011). He even registered strongly in Madonna’s “Deeper and Deeper” video from the early 1990s even though he has no lines whatsoever, just his magnetic presence.

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Yes, internationally celebrated Udo Kier appears in only one scene in Suspiria, but what a backdrop: the towering headquarters for the Bavarian Motor Works, aka, the BMW building. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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Kier (l) and Jessica Harper (r) discuss her suspicions in front of the landmark BMW headquarters.(IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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This photo offers a bird’s eye view of the plaza in front of the BMW building. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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Suspiria‘s 25th anniversary edition DVD includes a most detailed documentary, including interviews with director Dario Argento, actresses Jessica Harper and Stefania Casini, along with cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, who explains the film’s bold use of color. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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Incredibly, as Tovoli describes on the DVD, although true three-strip Technicolor had long disappeared from Hollywood filmmaking, one lab with all the right equipment still existed in Rome at the time Suspiria was made. Thus, a cinematic classic was born. (IMAGE:Screenmusings.com)

 

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Though expensive to produce, Suspiria is one of the last films shot in true Technicolor. On the DVD, cinematographer Tovoli adds that the camera used during the shoot was later disassembled and sold to China. Tovoli also explains that many of the most fantastic shots were achieved in-camera rather than added during post-production, thereby invoking yet another cinematic reference: legendary experimental filmmaker, Georges Méliès. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

 

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Both Suspiria director Dario Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli affirm that their film enjoyed success in America though in spite of that purported goodwill and the film’s undeniable visual splendor, the Academy failed to take the bait, snubbing Suspiria in all categories. At the time, the Academy was certainly a squeamish bunch, nominations for Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie (both from Brian de Palma’s nightmarish Carrie the previous year) aside. Even so, the film’s cinematography and art direction are hard to beat. Even more puzzling is how the film slipped by voters for the David di Donatello awards, Italy’s premier film accolade. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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Director Argento explains in his DVD interview the various sources of inspiration for Suspiria including Walt Disney’s version of Snow White, and German Expressionistic cinema (though he might not directly refer to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). This shot shows off an Art Deco sensibility. Oh, and M.C. Escher’s influence is clearly on display in one key sequence. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

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Suspiria‘s rainswept exteriors as first seen by Jessica Harper. (IMAGE: Screenmusings.com)

 

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The differences between this very real historical marvel and its studio lookalike, or near lookalike, (above) are subtle but noticeable with much scrutiny. Give it a try. (IMAGE: Wikipedia)

To clarify, though Suspiria takes place in and around Munich, Germany, most of the movie, aside from a few specific exteriors, such as the aforementioned BMW building, was filmed in Italy on studio sound stages. That noted, notice the similarity between the facade of the dance school (above) and its real-life inspiration, the Whale House in Freiburg (r).

I looked up the definition of “suspiria,” fearing that it would turn out to be a made-up word, but, lo, I discovered that it means “sighs,” and, even more compelling, the title was at least partially inspired by “Suspiria de Profundis,” that is, “sighs from the depths,” a literary work by Thomas De Quincey, circa 1845.  The reason I mention this is because the movie’s soundtrack sounds exactly as it should. Composed and produced by Italian band Goblin, and heavy with synth effects, bells, and strings, the score features layers of whispery voices, achieving that “sighs from the depths” quality the title suggests; moreover, film score enthusiasts treasure the finished product. Even Halloween director John Carpenter is on record with his enthusiasm, reportedly remarking that  his score for Halloween, which I wrote about two years ago, was inspired by Suspiria. I also sense a similarity between Suspiria‘s main theme and the X Files theme. That noted, I think Suspiria is not too far removed from Mike Oldfield’s familiar “Tubular Bells” from The Exorcist (1973).

Of course, no film is perfect, and Suspiria‘s weakest link is in the quality of its dubbing. As Jessica Harper explains on the DVD, in 70s era Italian cinema, performers understood that their dialogue would be corrected, or dubbed, during post production–meaning, for example, that while shooting a given scene, Harper would be speaking her lines in English, as that is her native language, while, say, Stefania Casini, would speak in Italian. It apparently did not matter that the two actresses could not necessarily understand one another because they were responding to what they read and learned from the script. Sounds ghastly, doesn’t it?  Anyway, once the film was shot, Casini could be dubbed for English speaking audiences, and, likewise, Harper could be dubbed for Italian audiences.  Anyway, the finished effect sounds amateurish and more than a little jarring.  The dubbed voices appear to be piped in from somewhere far away.

Make no mistake, as noted earlier when I compared Aregnto’s film to TV’s Satan School for Girls, Suspiria‘s story is well-worn. That noted, this movie revels in its willingness to push audiences to terrifying highs by cutting right to our primal fears, our worst nightmares,  serving up such effects as phantoms lurking outside upper-storey windows, strangulation, hangings, little white worms dripping from ceilings and proliferating faster than our imaginations can process, and, oh yes, rooms booby-trapped with barbed wire.  All exquisitely rendered, like deluxe Halloween eye candy, but disturbing. Horrifying. But also horrifyingly brilliant.

Since I began writing this piece, I have learned that the fabled Texas theatre on Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff will be showing Suspiria on Halloween night. If you’re in the neighborhood, or even if you want to trek across town, this good be great albeit twisted fun.

Thanks (sigh), for your consideration…and Happy Halloween…

Haver, Ronald. David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind. Bonanza Books, 1986.

Peary, Danny. Alternate Oscars. Delta, 1993.

Suspiria (Three Disc Limited Edition, per Amazon):

https://www.amazon.com/Suspiria-Three-Limited-Jessica-Harper/dp/B00005LQ04

Most images, per Screenmusings.com:

http://screenmusings.org/movie/blu-ray/Suspiria/

More about the soundtrack and a quality trailer: http://www.factmag.com/2014/10/31/suspiria-is-the-masterpiece-of-goblin-claudio-simonetti-reflects-on-the-best-horror-soundtrack-of-all-time/

Bedroom Eyes. Literally.

9 Oct

 

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This is the original 1-sheet for 1987’s The Bedroom Window, directed by the recently passed Curtis Hanson, and starring Steve Guttenberg, Isabelle Huppert (l-r, in foreground) and Elizabeth McGovern (in background). The movie was one of a relative few, that also included Blue Velvet, Crimes of the Heart, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, produced and released through Dino De Laurentis’ short-lived American mini studio, De Laurentis Entertainment Group. (IMAGE:  Wikipedia.)

A hotshot young architect woos the glamorous wife of his  well connected boss one night at a party. The attraction is mutual, and the two slip away for a tryst at the young man’s comfortable, spacious apartment overlooking a historic park in Baltimore. As their encounter concludes, the man excuses himself to an adjoining room, and his married lover peers out the bedroom window, jolted by the sight–and sounds–of a woman struggling to get away from her attacker, a scary looking brute with piercing eyes and a shock of red hair. A duck tail no less. [Is his red hair meant as some sort of signifier, OR is it a form of convenience for the writer to make the character register visually? Not clear.]   From the bedroom window, the woman panics, creating enough of a distraction for the victim to break free from her assailant. Alas, all is still not well as the lovers soon discover that shortly after thwarting one attack, a similar incident, one with a deadly outcome, was perpetrated not to far from the previous occurrence. Our lovers feel the pang of guilt, knowing that the married woman saw enough to identify the perpetrator but is not willing to divulge the circumstances, lest she jeopardize her cushy domestic situation. In what seems like a good idea for only 5 minutes or so, the young architect decides to contact the police and relay’s his lover’s version of events as his own. After all, he really only intends to provide a description of the attacker, not much more. How does it all go so wrong? Well, of course, the attacker knows that the man is lying.  During the first tussle, he got a good look at the woman in the window. Of course, he can’t tell the police that without incriminating himself, so he has to take other measures; meanwhile, the detectives on the case have their doubts as well. Also, what about the woman who actually got away? She never saw her attacker’s face–he grabbed her from behind–but she might know more about the architect and his story than even she’s likely to admit to the police.

Writer-director-producer Curtis Hanson (l), an Oscar winner for co-scripting 1997’s L.A. Confidential, which he also directed, passed away on September 20, 2016, yet another casualty of dementia which also claimed the life of Charmian Carr, forever known as lovely Liesl from 1965’s blockbuster, The Sound of Music, the same week. Hanson was 71 at the time; Carr only 73.  Hanson had worked steadily in Hollywood for years before L.A. Confidential bolstered his profile. Adapted from James Ellroy’s noirish tome about police corruption and Hollywood’s seamy underside, circa 1950, and with a cast that includes Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Spacey, L.A. Confidential dazzled critics and earned 9 Oscar nominations (second only to Titanic during the 97/98 Oscar race), ultimately netting Best Supporting Actress honors for Kim Basinger (r), as a tempting Veronica Lake lookalike, in addition to the aforementioned honors accorded to Hanson and co-screenwriter Brian Helgeland. The director worked with Basinger again on 2002’s 8 Mile, starring rapper Eminem, which also captured the 2002 Best Song Oscar: “Lose Yourself,” by Eminem, Jeff Bass, and Luis Resto. Those acclaimed efforts aside, they are not my Hanson faves. Obviously, I have a strong affection for The Bedroom Window, but I also got a kick out of 1992’s The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, which gave Rebecca DeMornay a showy lead role, one with tremendous range, in a big hit film–not necessarily a great film, but a stunning vehicle for its star:  “Peyton,” a troubled young widow posing as a soft spoken nanny for the purpose of extracting deadly revenge. Hard to justify as more than a souped up genre piece, the film re-energized De Mornay’s stagnant career, albeit briefly;  nonetheless, she scooped up a Saturn nomination as did Julianne Moore, only beginning to make a name for herself in movies at the time, in a supporting role as one of Peyton’s snoopy targets. Hanson also provided a change of pace role for Meryl Streep in 1994’s action-packed The River Wild, gave Cameron Diaz one of her strongest roles as a self-destructive mess, per In Her Own Shoes (2005), and, for my money, directed Michael Douglas in one of his  most inspired performances with 2000’s Wonder Boys, for which he was surprisingly overlooked by the Academy though the film secured an Oscar for Bob Dylan and his song, “Things Have Changed.” (Maybe Douglas was not so surprisingly overlooked given the way the otherwise well-received film was ineffectively marketed.) Before Hanson turned to directing, he honed his skills as a screenwriter, most notably with the darkly comic Canadian-made crime thriller, The Silent Partner (1978), starring Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer. Must be seen to be believed. One of his first directorial efforts, Losin’ It (1983)starred a pre-Risky Business Tom Cruise alongside Shelly Long, back when her classic TV show Cheers was still in its infancy. He also scripted the same year’s Never Cry Wolf directed by Caroll Ballard.  Rest in Peace, Mr. Hanson. (IMAGE: The Guardian)

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the deliciously juicy plot of 1987’s The Bedroom Window,  scripted and directed by Curtis Hanson, “a romantic thriller” promoted at the time by the De Laurentis Entertainment Group as being “in the tradition of the master of suspense.” Funny, that. The announcer in the trailer stops short of actually naming just whom that master of suspense might be, but the movie’s title, based on Anne Holden’s novel The Witnesses, is an obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  And that’s not the worst thing to ever happen. Of  course, to clarify, The Bedroom Window is hardly in the same league as its obvious namesake, but it’s a lot of fun for what it is, tantalizing tomfoolery for old school suspense movie buffs; moreover, this is actually my favorite from the late director who only passed away a short time ago.

Let me be clear. I have no illusions about the movie being an unsung masterpiece, but I enjoy the story’s twists and turns (admitting that it sputters toward the end), as well as Hanson’s swanky visuals (with expert assistance from cinematographer Gilbert Taylor), and the performances of the three leads along with two key supporting players.

First up is the male lead, the architect with questionable judgment played by Steve Guttenberg. It seems odd now, given that he hasn’t appeared in a splashy hit movie in some time and that he was never a critics’ darling (more likely, the brunt of jokes), but Guttenberg was once upon a time a pretty reliable–that is, bankable–Hollywood leading man thanks to such offerings as Cocoon (1985), Short Circuit (1986), Three Men and a Baby (1987), and the lucrative Police Academy franchise.  More boyishly good looking than ruggedly handsome, Guttenberg, despite a decent eye for selecting properties, was most often considered a lightweight actor in the press, and that actually works in his favor in this particular role.  Why? Because his character is supposed to be a pretty lousy liar, so it makes sense that his performance is marked by obvious phoniness. If he were any more convincing, he wouldn’t find himself in such jeopardy in the film’s second half. I like watching him buckle under the weight of his own duplicity. Done! In the Hitchcock pantheon, Guttenberg would be more akin to generally likeable Bob Cummings (in Saboteur or Dial M for Murder) who rates merely adequate–or, worse, wooden–compared to the more complex, dynamic characters played by Jimmy Stewart (specifically Rope, Rear Window, or Vertigo) or charismatic Cary Grant (Suspicion, Notorious, To Catch a Thief, or North by Northwest).

Next on board is silkily beautiful French actress Isabelle Huppert. Already famous in her own country for the likes of Violet (César nominee), Every Man for Himself, Loulou (César nominee), Godard’s Passion, Coup de Torchon (César nominee), and Entre Nous (among many others), The Bedroom Window was not Huppert’s first American film though she doesn’t seem to speak English comfortably–even with a dialogue coach [1]. The issue isn’t pronunciation, per se, as she’s easily enough understood, but she lacks ease speaking lines and lines of dialogue convincingly, persuasively. Luckily, she is gorgeous, which is really the point. The audience is not asked to identify with her so much, but to see her through Guttenberg’s eyes, so beautiful that all judgment flies out the window; after all, Guttenberg’c character flirts with disaster from the get-go when he invites his boss’s wife for a rendezvous in his apartment, for cryin’ out loud. In the late 1980s, when most of us were wearing too much makeup, battling over-processed hair, and trying to look swell in glitzily preposterous fashions, Huppert strolls into this movie looking like a sleek femme fatale from Hollywood’s Golden era, say someone on the order of Veronica Lake, so prominently referenced in Hanson’s L.A. Confidential–that or the effortlessly chic star of a French art film [2]. Of course, her performance would be nothing without retro-glam flourishes courtesy of costume designer Clifford Capone, hair stylist Milton Buras, and makeup artist Stefano Fava–and, again, exquisitely lit by Gilbert Taylor. Huppert’s Sylvia Wentworth doesn’t necessarily have the inner-vibrancy that characterizes some of the master’s beat known “cool blondes, ” such as Grace Kelly (mostly Rear Window and To Catch a Thief), Eva Marie Saint (North by Northwest) or even Kim Novak in Vertigo. Instead, she’s just cool, that is, icy. Cold.  But of course, her cool reserve contrasts quite nicely with Elizabeth McGovern’s liveliness as the final major player.

The third of the major leads is played by Elizabeth McGovern. With the blush of such early successes as Ordinary People (1980’s Best Picture winner in which she played Timothy Hutton’s freshly-scrubbed, apple-cheeked crush) and 1981’s Ragtime, portraying scandalous beauty Evelyn Nesbit to Oscar nominated glory, fading fast but long before capturing the viewing public’s imagination with the phenomenally popular Downton Abbey, McGovern was in need of a career jolt when she signed on for Bedroom Window. She found exactly that, going for broke in a role that requires absolutely no subtlety.  She plays a straight-talkin’ cocktail waitress who survives an attack and then aligns herself with Guttenberg when she realizes what a schlemiel he is, way over his head and sinking fast. Her character needs to clear him from suspicion in order to bring the real villain to justice. and she’s pretty brazen in her efforts. In some of the early scenes, McGovern’s Denise serves a hearty helping of butch-ilicious swagger, but, over time, her defenses soften, and her playful side emerges.  She even dons a long honey-colored wig and sexy girlie costume to help snare the killer, a 180 degree turn from her first encounter with Guttenberg at the police station. It’s almost as though McGovern is playing two characters, like, oh, the aforementioned Kim Novak in Vertigo.

Two actors make vivid contributions in key roles. Most notable of the pair is Brad Greenquist as the slippery killer, slippery in that even with his red hair, he is so otherwise non-descript that he disappears in a crowd of people, thereby making it difficult for detectives to backtrack his movements or to corroborate Guttenberg’s accounts of following him. At the same time, he looks awfully spooky when he gets riled up or is  about to attack. This actor performs confidently, cannily, in a role that actually requires a lot of skill.  Yes, as indicated, he does not necessarily register strongly among patrons at a rowdy bar, but, of course, the audience knows who he is, and he keeps our interest in a largely wordless role. How wordless is up to some debate, and that is part of the fun. The killer’s lawyer, meanwhile, is played by the ever-reliable Wallace Shawn, showing much more force in this rare dramatic role than we have come to expect in some of his more comedic high profile role, such as the same year’s The Princess Bride. When cross-examining Guttenberg, Shawn is unrelenting, but his seemingly non-threatening demeanor practically blind-sides the chump–and, so, the tables are turned.

Besides the obvious Hitchcockian allusion in the title, The Bedroom Window has filmic fingerprints all over it–and not just Hitchcock’s For example, anyone who has ever seen, say, 12 Angry Men (which came out 20 years previous) or My Cousin Vinny (released five years afterward) will recognize the trap that Shawn’s attorney sets for Guttenberg’s schemer. Still, it adds up to a few tense moments for everyone in the courtroom and all of us in the audience who, somehow, want to root for the architect even when we know, almost from the start, he’s in deep doo-do0.  As produced by Oscar winner Robert Towne, the genius who scripted Chinatown (1974), one of the most intriguing movies of the 1970s or any other decade, I have to wonder if he made any creative contributions to Hanson’s offering. By the by, Chinatown was the movie that critics most often favorably compared Hanson’s L.A. Confidential to upon its 1997 release, but I digress. I also have to wonder, back to Bedroom Window, if the architect’s last name, Lambert, is an allusion to Lampert, the last name of Audrey Hepburn’s character in Charade. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Also, what about that sequence set in a theatre during a ballet performance? The echoes of  both Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (the ’56 version with the climactic Albert Hall scene) and North by Northwest (the shocking turn at the United Nations building) are hard to ignore, but, again, that’s almost part of the fun, given that the whole movie in many ways functions as put-on, a lark.

Speaking of filmic fingerprints, one of Guttenberg’s early breaks came with Diner, writer-director Barry Levinson’s first homage to his birth place, good old Baltimore, Maryland. The Bedroom Window brings Guttenberg back to Baltimore, home to the late Edgar Allan Poe, another master of suspense. Indeed, McGovern’s Denise works at a bar called Edgar’s. At one point, she walks under a neon sign that spells out “Nevermore.” This reference isn’t a lark. It’s a raven.

Thanks for your consideration…

[1] – Per the IMDb, that would be Neil Robinsoon.

[2] – Since The Bedroom Window, Huppert has only selectively worked in U.S. films though she fared well in Hal Hartley’s The Amateur (1994). Back in France, she has since accrued 10 additional César nominations, including the stylish 8 Femmes, winning at long last for La cérémonie (1995); meanwhile, the Cannes judges unanimously voted her Best Actress for 2001’s La pianiste, released in the U.S. as The Piano Teacher.

Please click here to read Curtis Hanson’s obituary on The Guardian’s website: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/21/curtis-hanson-director-of-la-confidential-and-8-mile-dies-aged-71