From the Chicago Reader (August 1, 1987). — J.R.
Kevin Costner, suffering as nobly here as in The Untouchables, plays a naval officer hired by the secretary of defense (Gene Hackman), whose mistress he has been unwittingly sharing. While credited as an adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock (which was made into a movie in 1948, directed by John Farrow), this taut thriller adds so many twists of its own it might be more appropriately cross-referenced with The Manchurian Candidate, even though it isn’t nearly as daffy or as mercurial. Cornball Dolby effects aside, it’s the kind of intricately plotted suspense film with juicy secondary parts (Sean Young, Will Patton, George Dzundza, Iman, Howard Duff) that used to be churned out in the 1940s; Roger Donaldson, the New Zealand director of Smash Palace, The Bounty, and Marie, delivers coproducer Robert Garland’s efficient script with more bombast than brilliance, but at least it keeps you in your seat (1987). (JR)
A mild, romantic comedy-thriller, set in Austin, Texas, in 1954. If only the actors — Kim Basinger, Jeff Bridges, Rip Torn, and Gwen Verdon — had more to sink their teeth into, they could have had a field day; but writer-director Robert Benton gives them so little nourishment or stimulus that even a pro like Bridges seems somewhat bemused by the lack of material, while Rip Torn looks so bored with his own cardboard villain that he might as well be phoning in the part. Neither the setting nor the period is made distinctive, and apart from a few minor Hitchcockian jolts, the overall strategy seems to be banking everything on the behavioral cuteness of the two leads, who do the best they can with their condescendingly sketched-in southern working-class characters. Not even cinematography by Nestor Almendros can juice up the proceedings; the movie chugs along, but barely. Although Benton went to school in nearby Austin in the 50s, he seems to remember the movies he saw there better than the region, which is scaled down to sitcom proportions. (JR)
Masochistic, sub-Le Carre stuff about the dirtiness of spying, adapted by Julian Bond from a novel by John Hale. The performances are solid and subtle, with Michael Caine especially effective, but more valuable are the film’s insights into 80s English conservatism. With foreign news coverage in this country dwindling, even this stodgy 1986 thriller can tell us something about how the English middle class thinks. Simon Langton directed; with James Fox, Nigel Havers, Felicity Dean, and John Gielgud. (JR)
Mamie Van Doren stars with (get this) Mel Torme, Paul Anka, Ray Anthony, Gigi Perreau, Gloria Talbott, Jim Mitchum, Sheilah Graham, the Platters, and Harold Lloyd Jr., playing a bad girl who gets sent to reform school, where Maggie Hayes sets her straight. Charles Haas directed this 1959 film (also known as The Innocent and the Damned), and it’s every bit as junky and tawdry as one might hope. 92 min. (JR)
Passionately lusting after her missing brother, the eponymous heroine (Tiziana Jelmini), a lonely provincial pharmacist, turns herself into a seductress at night, and, to deal with her frustration and amuse herself, perfects a poisioning technique which allows her to polish off an inordinate number of hapless men. Made in 16-millimeter as a graduation thesis at the Berlin Film Academy by Tania Sticklin and Cyrille Rey-Coquais, this somewhat stylish and dutifully perverse black comedy, a Swiss/West German coproduction, is fairly watchable, but really nothing specialthe sort of nihilistic exercice de style that invariably turns up as festival fodder because of its relative familiarity. You might have a little fun with it, but you can just as easily live without it. (JR)