Archive for the Crime and Suspense Category


Posted in Crime and Suspense, Drama, Terence Stamp, William Wyler on August 15, 2011 by Bill Courtney

1965/Director: William Wyler/ Writers: John Fowles (novel), Stanley Mann (script)

Cast:  Terence Stamp, Samantha Eggar,  Mona Washbourne, Maurice Dallimore

The Collector is a film by William Wyler starring basically two actors in a almost stage style performance. Terrance Stamp plays butterfly collector Freddie Clegg who is brilliant but has an incredible inferiority complex. He works as a clerk who is taunted by his co-workers but one day wins a substantial fortune in the British football pool. He uses his money to buy and equip a isolated, rustic old house in the country side. By equip I mean he turns the Gothic looking cellar into a furnished holding cell meant to contain one Miranda Grey (Sammantha Eggar) who he had developed an obsession with and is determined to make her fall in love with him. The first step in his bizarre courtship is to chloroform her then kidnap her and haul her back to her cell. She has no idea where she is or what Freddie’s intentions really are.

The film focuses on the tension and conflicts between educated and born into money Miranda and once working class Freddie who is now wealthy and has a lot of free time on his hands. Both actors deliver excellent performances. The movie follows Hitchcock’s Psycho and while technically Psycho is a better made film, The Collector is a more believable study of a broken mind. One cannot help but sympathize somehow with Freddie’s plight (and Stamp’s performance adds to our ability to connect with the unhinged young man). We almost wish that Miranda will little by little actually come around to Freddie or that he will honor his word and release her at the time he promises at the beginning of her captivity. None of this is to be and the film ends tragically, but not with Freddie being killed off by his captive, but with the death of Miranda from exposure to the elements basically. Some reviews I refer to Freddie as a serial killer, but this is not the case at all. He sincerely means no harm to Miranda and while he is forceful he is never brutal or sadistic. As the film progresses however and the worlds from which Freddie and Miranda were born into seem to remain distant and unknown to the other Freddie get more and more frustrated and Miranda more and more terrified. In one scene Freddie tried to understand Miranda’s interest in Picasso and J.D Salinger and destroys the books he bough her. In another Miranda insults Freddie’s prize winning butterfly collection that he shyly reveals to her, hoping to show something of his true self to her.

As I said, the film ends not with the death of the captor but with the slow decline and death of the captive which was a bit of a shocker for the time. The last shots of the film show Freddie stalking his next victim, now more experienced and not apt to make the wrong choices as before, such as choosing someone he has nothing in common with. Freddie, while at times likable and almost naive in nature, in the end has little remorse left for Miranda and concludes she brought it all on herself. The movie is nicely shot and I may say it suffered a little from a lack of a truly claustrophobic atmosphere. It also suffered from a really inadequate soundtrack by the usually capable but sometimes inappropriate Maurice Jarre. The soundtrack is nice but too nice and at times a little goofy and seems like more of a soundtrack style for the films of the 40’s and 50’s where the music tried accentuate every movement the actors made. The movie needed a score that was a little more tension creating, rather than, honestly, soothing and inappropriate.

Another great British movie that, like The Servant, uses the action and drama for a vehicle for other messages, here such as British class struggle, the basic problems of loneliness and men and women communicating in general. I am also preparing a post on what I call Miranda style movies, and have about eight films to try and pander. Some may seem a little odd and may stretch the category a little and I will see if I can manage to be convincing or not. I searched for some quotes from the film but could find none really and will see if I can get a script from online and select some of my own, as some of the lines are so unsettling and chilling. A truly creepy film that relies on acting and atmosphere and well written lines. I have never read the book by John Fowles and being in China I may have a hard time locating it unless I can back to Beijing or Shanghai. I would certainly like to read the book after seeing this film again the other night.



Posted in Crime and Suspense, Martin Sheen, Quotes, Sissy Spacek, Terrence Malick, Warren Oats on June 19, 2011 by Bill Courtney
1975/Director: Terrence Malick/ Writer: Terrence Malick
 Cast: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates, Ramon Bieri,  Alan Vint, Gary Little John, John Carter

Terrence Malick has never been a director I cared much for. Since the 1970’2 he has only put out four or five full length films and those are often lauded as masterpieces. I simply could not finish The New World, the John Smith, Pocahontas story with Colin Farrell. It was so excruciatingly dull and long. I liked The Thin Red Line in a general way, but I felt he took a great war novel by James Jones and turned it into the type of thing he is known for, an introspective and meandering view into the conflicts of the human soul. Well, that is all fine but I really wanted an exciting war movie and maybe one that was a little more pro-American than what has been coming out in the last decade or two. Instead there was this transcendental trip into the human psyche that I did not care for and found it a little pretensious. His directing style seems to the complaint a lot of people have with Badlands, that it has lost the impact it once had as a unique film and is in fact boring and plodding (as Malick tends to become). In fact in this case it is the spacey, lazy pacing of the film that appeals to me the most, along with the great performances by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek.

Based loosely on the real life killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate across Nebraska and middle America during the late 50,s the film follows the ruthless exploits of Kit and Holly as they roam the badlands of South Dakota and kill most everyone who gets in their path. The Starkweather/Fugate story has been retold many times in film before and after Badlands. It is not a remarkable film especially and yet it seems to stand apart from the other boy/girl killing spree films in that there is not a tinge of humor or optimism in the film. Even the ending with Holly getting parole (contrary to the real Caril Fugate who was still in prison at the time of the movie’s making) does not seem to offer anything uplifting, and in fact the fact she escaped some justice at all seems depressing. The direction and cinematography are slow and colorless. The movie does seem to fall short of what it could have been. But it is the performances by Sheen and Spacek that make this film worth seeing and deserving of a recommendation from the Café.

Kit Carruthers has had it with dead end jobs and fathers who stand between him and his gal. Holly Sargis seems lack-a-daisical and without rudders as she watches Kit shoot her dad (played by Warren Oats) and then tags along for the ride after he burns their house down. Okay, she did slap him. She voices her confusion and half-hearted disapproval of Kit’s murders but stays in the car seat until the cops corner them a helicopter. Neither seem to care or have any remorse for the people they leave behind them dead, but they do not glorify their deeds either. They seem to see it has doing what had to be done until they were stopped. The killings are cold and sometimes pointless but well acted and filmed.

It is the best of Malick’s films in my opinion and the dreamy, spacey quality that makes distances form his other work is what attracts me to this one. A young and lean Martin Sheen is a killer who is never menacing and Sissy Spacek is excellent as the lost waif with nothing better to do.  My review may sound loaded with ambiguity, but to be clear, I likes this film and I will see it again. If you have only seen The New World then please check out Badlands and see what Rhodes scholar Terrence Malick should have continued to do with his film work.

Memorable quotes from Badlands. All quotes from IMDB:

>Kit Carruthers: I’ll give you a dollar if you eat this collie.

>Holly Sargis: At this moment, I didn’t feel shame or fear, but just kind of blah, like when you’re sitting there and all the water’s run out of the bathtub.
>Kit Carruthers: You Tired?
>Holly Sargis: Yeah.
>Kit Carruthers: Yeah, you look tired… Listen, honey. when all this is over, I’m going to sit down and buy you a big, thick steak.
>Holly Sargis: I don’t want a steak.
>Kit Carruthers: Well, we’ll see about that… Hey, lookie.
>Holly Sargis: [a while after shot friend Kato] How is he?
>Kit Carruthers: I got him in the stomach.
>Holly Sargis: Is he upset?
>Kit Carruthers: He didn’t say nothing to me about it.
>Holly Sargis: One day, while taking a look at some vistas in Dad’s stereopticon, it hit me that I was just this little girl, born in Texas, whose father was a sign painter, who only had just so many years to live. It sent a chill down my spine and I thought where would I be this very moment, if Kit had never met me? Or killed anybody… this very moment… if my mom had never met my dad… if she had never died. And what’s the man I’ll marry gonna look like? What’s he doing right this minute? Is he thinking about me now, by some coincidence, even though he doesn’t know me? Does it show on his face? For days afterwards I lived in dread. Sometimes I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land, and this never happened.
>Holly Sargis: [Voiceover] He needed me now more than ever, but something had come between us. I’d stopped even paying attention to him. Instead I sat in the car and read a map and spelled out entire sentences with my tongue on the roof of mouth where nobody could read them.
>Holly Sargis: [Voiceover]  Kit and I were taken back to South Dakota. They kept him in solitary, so he didn’t have a chance to get acquainted with the other inmates, though he was sure they’d like him, especially the murderers. Myself, I got off with probation and a lot of nasty looks. Later I married the son of the lawyer who defended me. Kit went to sleep in the courtroom while his confession was being read, and he was sentenced to die in the electric chair. On a warm spring night, six months later, after donating his body to science, he did.
>Kit Carruthers: Sir… Where’d you get that hat?
>Trooper: State.
>Kit Carruthers: Boy, I’d like to buy me one of those.
>Trooper: [the trooper smiles] You’re quite an individual, Kit.
>Kit Carruthers: Think they’ll take that into consideration?

>Kit Carruthers: Hey, I found a toaster.


Posted in Australian and New Zealand Films, Crime and Suspense, Peter Jackson on June 13, 2011 by Bill Courtney

1994/Director: Peter Jackson/Writers: Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson

Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse, Diana Kent, Clive Merrison, Simon O’Connor, Jed Brophy

On June 22, 1954 the peaceful little port city of Christchurch, New Zealand was shaken to the core by the murder of one Honora Rieper in idyllic Victoria Park. The horror only grew when diary entries by Honora’s daughter Pauline Parker (Pauline used her mother’s maiden name during the subsequent trial since Honora and Herbert Rieper had never actually married, though it proved to be a minor issue scandal wise) led police to arrest her and her friend Juliet Hulme for murder. The trial and its press coverage was something of a phenomenon for New Zealand who had not had much excitement since Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Mt. Everest a year before. The papers were rife with conjecture concerning the relationship between the two girls. Did the girls share some type of insanity? Were they lesbian lovers or not? That may seem trivial now, or it may not, but in 50’s New Zealand homosexuality was an indication of a severe mental disorder as well as criminal behavior. The real life Juliet Hulme, who went on to live in Scotland and write mystery novels under the name Anne Perry, has denied there was ever a lesbian relationship between herself and Pauline, who now resides in England as well under the name Hilary Nathan and, as a Roamn Catholic convert, devotes her life to helping handicapped children. One thing for certain was that the girls had formed over a period of a couple years  deep bound that they were not about to split apart by the decisions of their families without resistance.

Peter Jackson had gained a reputation up to this point for making splatter horror/comedy films such as Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Braindead (Dead Alive). The movies were pretty good low budget fare that have all gone to genuine cult status but were hardly the sort of thing that would attract mainstream attention or approval. He was approached by friend and writer Fran Walsh with the concept of turning the Parker-Hulme murder story into a motion picture. Walsh had long been fascinated with the story and hoped to give the story a fact based retelling. The story had actually loosely been told before in the 1971 French film Mais Ne Nous D¨¦livrez Pas Du Mal (Don’t Deliver Us From Evil) and while there are elements of the story in this interesting film there are lots of liberties as well, the most obvious being the story is set in France. I do recommend Don’t Deliver Us From Evil as a decent movie however. I had the fortunate opportunity of seeing Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures at the small and cozy Grande Illusions Cinema in Seattle. I knew the name Peter Jackson at the time from his horror/fantasy work and still connect it to the alien vomit drinking scene in Bad Taste. I was not sure what to expect. I was more than happy with the film and Jackson’s decisions to move away from slapstick-gore films (though if he wanted to return once in awhile that would be okay too).

Jackson and Walsh decided to focus the film on the story of the girl’s relationship rather than make it a courtroom drama. In fact there is never a court room shot at all nor even an arresting police officer. The film introduces female leads Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. Winslet competed against 175 other actresses to get the role. She is really brilliant here but Melanie Lynskey, who went on to a more modest degree of stardom in lesser known films and TV, is simply fantastic as the underprivileged, embittered and desperate Pauline Parker.

Juliet’s parents move to the small community of Christchurch from England. There her father takes the  position of regent at a University there and it must be a step down for him but the move is necessary for Juliet’s health. The intellectually disciplined Dr. Henry Hulme (Clive Merrison) would develop conflicts eventually with the small town provincialism of the Christchurch school leaders that would lead to yet one more element of insecurity in the life of Juliet. She has tuberculosis in one lung and the warm climes of places like the Bahamas and now New Zealand are more suited to treating her ailment. She befriends classmate Pauline Rieper while both of them sit out gym class each day due to health concerns. Pauline suffered from the bone disease osteomyelitis in her legs and has the scars of numerous operations to show for her ordeal, scars that Juliet wants to gaze at over and over. Juliet is a bright and vivacious girl with a sharp intellect. Her family is affluent and well bred and educated. Frumpy and insecure Pauline comes from a working class family and she is soon overwhelmed by the opulent lives led by the Hulmes. At the same times she becomes all but ashamed of her own family and its crude views of the world.

The girls escape reality in many seemingly innocuous fashions. They develop a fantasy world they call Borovnia where the inhabitants seem to be parodies of the royal family. The world of Borovnia showcases Jackson’s fascination with animation and fantasy scenes that are a part of all his films. Juliet has inherited her father’s agnosticism and she develops a non-Christian quasi-spiritual realm known as the Fourth World and Pauline is invited to be a part of this world were images of their favorite opera singers and movie actors are enshrined and worshipped . Singer Mario Lanzi is held in godlike reverence by Juliet but she is revolted when Pauline tries to include a b/w photo of Orsen Welles into the shrine. A later nightmare sequence would show Welles stalking the girls through film noir type sets.

While Pauline seems to entertain fantasies that she has become a part of the Hulme household nothing could be further from reality as not only does Henry Hulme become concerned over the nature of the girl’s relationship but he and his wife Hilda (Diana Kent) are drifting apart and looking to get a divorce eventually. For now they live together, with Hilda’s psychiatric and lover Bill, out of convenience and propriety. At her home Pauline has become more and more distant from her parents and particularly combative with her mother Honora (Sarah Peirse) who really seems to do the best she can but has her hands full. After Pauline is caught in the sack with one of the boarders her parents put even more restrictions on her comings and goings. The final nail in the girl’s coffin comes after Juliet is released from a TB hospital and Henry is asked to resign from the University and he decides to return to England and leave cheating Hilda in New Zealand. Juliet will not stay with her two timing mother and refuses to go to England without Pauline, and England is simply bad for her health at this time. She needs a warm, dry climate to get better and so the family decides to send her to live with an aunt in South Africa. The girls image that Pauline can leave and go live in South Africa with Juliet  but Pauline’s mother makes it clear that her 15 year old daughter is not going anywhere. They then have big plans of getting together some money and running away to America to become writers but that dream is squashed as well when Honora refuses to sign for her passport.

Driven to such a situation what else can you do but hatch a murder plot where you put half a brick into a stocking and repeatedly beat poor your own mother’s skull in after having a cup of tea with her. According to information not presented in the film the girl’s made up the story that Honora slipped and fell and hit a rock while walking with them through a park. The body showed she had been beat in the head and face multiple times and there were defensive wounds on her hands as well. Well, maybe she fell and got up and fell again, and then got back up and¡­

The girl’s story unraveled the very same day when police discovered Pauline’s diary in her bedroom. They both only served five years in jail ad were released on the condition they never contact one another again, and as far as anyone knows they never have. The film treats the characters sympathetically. And not just the girls. Juliet’s parents are distant from her but they are trying to sort out the mess of their privates lives at the same time. Pauline’s parents are simple folk but love her and cannot quite deal with her sudden bitterness and hostility. Juliet’s beaming personality hides an anguished soul and Pauline’s brooding nature only intensifies as the film progresses. The onscreen chemistry between Winslet and Lynskey is of a rare variety. They became so immersed in their roles that they continued to portray the characters off screen as well. Watch for one scene were a jubilant Juliet kisses a bum on the street. It is a cameo by Peter Jackson. Producer and Jackson’s friend and associate Jim Booth died when the film was completed and it is dedicated to him. A dark and marvelous journey from a man could have just continued making zombie movies.