Friday, September 23, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*


Usually the only time I review naturalistic films here is if they help me illustrate some aspect of the NUM theory. A particularly salient example appears in this 2012 post. In this compare-and-contrast of three thriller films, I asserted that only one of them, the 1981 EYES OF A STRANGER, displayed an uncanny phenomenality because of the killer's "larger-than-life" quality, which exceeded all of the "mundane trappings" of the film.

I have not read the William Goldman novel on which NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY is based, though I understand that the book diverges from the common view of the "Boston Strangler" case by imagining a fictional situation where two killers are on the loose in the same city. The Jack Smith-directed film, however, hews closer to the common view, although the fictional killer Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) doesn't target as wide a variety of victims as the original Strangler. In the real world, the victims ranged in age from their 20s to their 80s. In contrast to the historical criminal-- and to the vast majority of all fictional serial killers-- the Smight version only kills women over 50, because they remind him of his deceased actress-mother.

LADY's script maintains an amusing parallel between the Oedipal issues of its monster and the comical mom-domination suffered by Moe Brummer (George Segal), the police detective who eventually tracks Gill down. As a further irony, it's as a result of his investigation that Brummer lucks onto a beautiful girlfriend his own age, Kate (Lee Remick). In the film's most amusing scene, Kate, after having dated Brummer for a while, is invited to meet the detective's domineering mother. But because Kate has heard Brummer's complaints about his parent, Kate manages to impress Mrs. Brummer by pretending to share the mother's verbal ball-busting tendencies toward her son.

Gill proves a far more more consummate actor than Kate, for his gimmmick is to assume various disguises in order to get the older women to let him into their apartments, whereupon he kills them. Yet, despite this disguise-skill, Gill never inspires the "dread" that I look for in uncanny psychos, even of the mundane sort that appears in EYES OF A STRANGER. Everything about Gill, as well as his functional double Brummer, is easily explained by Freud's emphasis upon "physiological concepts," as Jung termed them.

The TV-movie ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT appears to be a completely mundane thriller up to its last moments. Rich girl Adrienne (Jane Seymour) is being neglected by her husband Richard. The husband disappears, and Adrienne's only clue is an answering-machine at her house, on which Richard accidentally recorded a sultry phone-sex conversation with an unknown woman. Adrienne attempts to file a missing-persons report with the police, but somehow can't bring herself to tell them about the mysterious recording. After getting little response from the cops, Adrienne resorts to the help of a private detective, Henderson (Parker Stevenson).

Eventually Adrienne finds out the identity of her husband's paramour, a phone sex operator named Laura (Beth Broderick). Laura claims to know nothing of Richard's fate, but somehow she talks her way into joining the investigation. Given that the film has no red herrings to speak of, I'm not revealing much by disclosing that Laura isn't telling the truth.

Eventually Adrienne does find her husband, dead and hung up in a freezer (which is the closest this mundane film comes to a "bizarre crime"). The last few minutes alone take on some resemblance to a psycho-thriller, for even though Laura isn't a literal psycho, she starts doing a "SHINING Jack Nicholson" take as she stalks Adrienne. Henderson comes to the rescue, though the final victory technically goes to Adirenne. A follow-up romance between the rich girl and the detective is strongly suggested.

Since both of the main actresses, Seymour and Broderick, are elegant lookers, I found myself wondering if the script might have been improved with a different approach. There's a minimal suggestion that Adrienne is a "don't muss my hair" type of wife, and it might have been more fun if the "other woman" had been cast as a grittier personality, rather than being almost as refined-looking as the heroine. But I doubt that anyone involved in this production was concerned with "fun."

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