Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Color of Night

After the somewhat shocking appearance of my beloved Norman in the bath the other day, I've been turning to my dear, dear Hollywood friends for some moral support. I first paid a call upon Elke Sommer, who has had some experience with ghostly affairs, although I believe it was the dining room in her case. Unfortunately, she was not at home so I had to settle for a nice cup of tea with her gardener. My next stop was at Claire Bloom's. I thought her appearance in The Haunting some years back might give her some insight. Claire was most kind, even remembering that I had once played Stella to her Blanche in a radio adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire for Voice of America. She suggested that Norman's appearance might be the result of a strong chemical imbalance. I thought about it and decided I had better tell Mrs. Jerry, my housekeeper, to no longer mix ammonia and Clorox in the master bath as if she gets the chemical proportions wrong, it might encourage further visitations.

I returned home to Chateau Maine, half expecting Norman to leap out of the hall cupboard, but no one was home other than Tommy, my Jungian therapist who poured me a nice margarita before I had to begin a truly odious conference call to the producers of my new show, Mother Teresa: The Musical. They were questioning the need for the feathered can-can dresses for the opening chorus of the second act. No matter how many times I patiently explained the need for a vision of sinful carnality, against which the purity of Mother Teresa will shine out like a beacon for humankind. Without the can-can girls, my big ballad, delivered from the backseat of a flying white Lincoln Continental, just won't have the impact it should have.

I was in a coarse mood following so Tommy, ever helpful, suggested a film as therapy so I repaired to the home theater for some disgruntled channel surfing. While flicking through QVC offers and documentaries on the early uses of masking tape, I ran across the 1994 film The Color of Night with Bruce Willis and Jane March. I remembered having seen it some years back and finding it campy good fun, so settled in to wallow in therapy by therapy.

The Color of Night is one of the subgenre of psychoanalytic murder films that enjoyed a brief vogue in the early 1990s. Other entries include Final AnalysisWhispers in the Dark and The Prince of Tides. In all of these films, psychiatrists play prominent roles and seem to a)help their patients best through orgiastic sexual encounters and b)become involved in at least one gruesome murder or other violent crime. The discerning American public, while somewhat distrusting of mental health care, was quick to sense that psychoanalysis probably did not involve quite so much kinky sex and violence in real life and the fad quickly faded away before Hollywood produced a film in which Sigmund Freud was revealed to be Jack the Ripper.

This film stars Bruce Willis as psychologist Bill Capa. In the opening sequence, one of his patients (Kathleen Wilhoite) coats her teeth with lipstick so we can see how disturbed she is. She follows this with a suicidal leap from Dr. Capa's office window, for which he blames himself. He's so guilt ridden that, as he watches the blood pool around her, he loses his ability to see the color red. In order to recover from his trauma, Dr. Capa heads for LA where his old friend, Dr. Bob Moore (Scott Bakula) has become quite the success. Dr. Moore has a therapy group of disparate individuals full of excellent character actors (Lesley Ann Warren, Brad Dourif, Kevin J. O'Connor, Lance Henriksen) given various neurotic tics to play. One night, Dr. Moore is viciously stabbed to death in his office, presumably by one of his group therapy patients. The snide lieutenant Martinez (Reuben Blades), urges Capa to take over the therapy group and, hopefully, smoke out the killer. In the meantime, Capa becomes involved with a mysterious young woman named Rose (Jane March) who may or may not be what she appears and seems overly familiar with Dr. Moore's house and the lives of his therapy patients. As Capa gets closer and closer to the truth, there's additional violence, damsels in distress, a chase through a deserted factory and a climactic showdown on a rooftop.

The Color of Night is high class junk. It's hugely entertaining, but by no means good. It was panned by the critics on its initial release, not because it's that hideously bad, but more, I feel, because better things were expected from the director. Richard Rush, the director, made one of the seminal films of the late 70s, The Stunt Man but, due to studio politics, was unable to ever get another major project off the ground until this. When the result was a glossy piece of genre film making, rather than something arrestingly original, he was savaged. The film was also cut by the studio in its original release and various key scenes either omitted or rearranged making the plot next to impossible to follow. The film was later restored in a director's cut. Much of the controversy came from a number of explicit sex scenes of Willis and March with more or less being revealed depending on the country of release and the rating.

The film is full of Richard Rush touches. Shots in mirrors or through glass or water to heighten the sense of not everything is as it seems or that reality is somehow out of kilter. He also gets decent performances out of his supporting cast, even if they're given caricatures of neuroses rather than characters to play in the somewhat shallow screenplay of Matthew Chapman and Billy Ray. Rush, however, has some difficulties opening the film up. Many scenes feel very stagy, as if the film was realized as a stage piece for small cast and unit set (in the vein of the Sondheim/Furth Getting Away With Murder) and then reconsidered for film as an afterthought. There's also a little too much reliance on clich├ęs such as thunderstorms and scary music to punctuate scenes.

The film ultimately fails to be more than junk due to a crucial piece of miscasting. Jane March's mysterious Rose has multiple roles to play, both in the film and in the plot, and, for the film to work, she must be unrecognizable and believable. She's neither. Most viewers will spot the trick upon which the plot hinges fifteen minutes into the film robbing it of much of its punch. She isn't helped by Willis, who's in his somnambulistic mode here. He seems to drift through scene after scene, looking like he'd rather be on the ranch in Idaho.

The ultimate plot, when all the revelations are made, is completely preposterous but that's one of the joys of this type of junk film making. It's fun to stay one step ahead of the screenplay and argue about the mistakes. There's enough energy and visual style to keep you from falling asleep, not to mention those infamous sex scenes. Then there's Kevin J. O'Connor, Brad Dourif, and Lesley Ann Warren busy trying to steal scenes from each other each time the therapy group convenes. I think Kevin, with his whiny voice and eye rolling, wins.

Revolver fellating. Post modern Malibu house. Gratuitous snake in mailbox. Naked Bruce Willis. Naked Jane March. No naked Scott Bakula. Handcrafted bedstead. Gratuitous lesbian subplot. Gratuitous S&M paintings. Dueling nail gun. Severe gender dysphoria.

No comments:

Post a Comment