The Other (1913)
Original title: Der Andere. After he has accident while out riding, the respected Dr Hallers (Albert Bassermann) develops – unknown to himself – a secondary personality who begins frequenting public houses and making criminal associates. One night, this alter-ego helps a burglar called Dickert (Léon Resemann) to break into his, Hallers’, house and rob it. Hallers’ dilemma comes to light when Dickert is arrested, but found with only half the loot from his crime; the other half, he confesses, is in the possession of his accomplice—who to his astonishment he recognises in his victim… While this early German feature-film seems to us like a wishy-washy take on Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, it was actually based upon a popular stage-play by Paul Lindau, which would be filmed twice more in the early years of sound. Though only forty-eight minutes long, The Other is still too long for its material, which is unnecessarily dragged out. Both the main point of interest and the main weakness in this take on the split-personality is its suggestion that it could happen to anyone: while this is an unnerving prospect, it lacks psychological depth, in that Hallers’ situation is simply the result of bad luck. At the time of this film’s production, that an established stage actor like Albert Bassermann not only agreed to participate in the disreputable business of film-making, but persuaded several other members of his company to do so too, created something of a scandal; but while we might admire Bassermann’s recognition of the potential of this new creative form, we must wish that he had realised the necessity of toning down stage-acting in front of the cameras. The film’s better performances come in its supporting roles, particularly from Hannie Weisse as Amalie, the barmaid who recognises Hallers. The Other is available online under its original title, including one print with English subtitles, but all are of poor quality.
The Indian Tomb (1921)
Questioned about the inordinate length of his silent films, Fritz Lang once explained that he liked to be, “Both halves of a double-bill.” (So you were the AIP of your day, hey, Fritz?) However—it was Joe May who actually put that theory into practice in 1921, ironically enough with Lang as his screenwriter-for-hire: an experience Lang disliked and resented so much he swore he would never again work for any other director; plus he thought he was the right person to adapt his wife’s 1918 novel, Das indische Grabmal, to the extent of obsessing over one day making his own version of it. (You know… With blackjack. And hookers.) Be all that as it may, Lang and Thea von Harbou together were responsible for the screenplay of Joe May’s Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb), a three-and-a-half-hour film broken up into two parts, released separately: Die Sendung des Yoghi (The Mission Of The Yogi) and Der Tiger von Eschnapur (The Tiger Of Eschnapur). The film starts with a lengthy explanation of the practices of the Indian yogis, the most devout of whom have themselves buried alive in a death-like state. Should anyone succeed in discovering and awakening such a yogi, his mystical powers will then be at their service. One such yogi (Georg John), known as the Penitent, is unearthed at the command of the Rajah of Eschnapur (Conrad Veidt). The Penitent tells his new master that he knows what he desires, and will carry out his mission… In England, the architect Herbert Rowland (Olaf Fønss) has his passionate wish for an assignment that will win him lasting fame answered most unexpectedly when a mysterious visitor offers him a startling commission – to build a monument that will outdo the Taj Mahal – on condition that he leave for India immediately, telling no-one. Rowland agrees, though secretly he tries to leave a message for his fiancée, Irene Amundsen (Mia May); however, the Penitent intercepts it. Nevertheless, certain that something is wrong and that Rowland may be in danger, Irene sets out after him. In Eschnapur, Rowland is greeted by the Rajah, who takes him out to a sweeping valley surrounded by mountains, which will be the site of the tomb. There is, as Rowland learns to his horror, just one catch: the person for whom the tomb is intended as a monument isn’t dead; not yet… The Indian Tomb is an almost amusingly obvious example of this sort of “Oriental” fantasy, simultaneously exploiting to the full and wringing its hands over all the shocking things that (supposedly) go on in its “exotic” setting. The most unexpected thing about it is the pivot upon which the plot turns: that the Rajah’s beautiful wife, Savitri (Erna Morena), to whom he is passionately devoted, has been unfaithful to him with an English army officer, MacAllen (Paul Richter). The main plot follows the Rajah’s course of revenge against those who have wronged him, even as he struggles against his persisting love for his wife, and even as his own white visitors (invited and otherwise), interfere with his plans as much as possible (wittingly and unwittingly). Of course—the fact that the Rajah is played by Conrad Veidt puts the viewer thoroughly on his side, despite the film’s (frankly misplaced) sympathy for its boring and/or dishonourable white characters; particularly after his declaration to Rowland that the tomb will be a monument to neither the living nor the dead, but to, “A great love squandered.” Meanwhile, the Rajah’s vengeance against his wife’s loyal maid, Mirrjha (Lya De Putti), and MacAllen himself seems both unnecessarily delayed and, when it finally happens, disappointingly perfunctory (if, um, animal-heavy). Besides Veidt’s, the film’s other standout performance is from Georg John as the Penitent; while conversely its main weakness is the odd casting of Olaf Fønss and Mia May, both of whom are far too old for the roles they’re playing, the latter to the point of embarrassment. Of course in one respect this was understandable: Fønss had been the lead in the extraordinary Homunculus (won’t somebody PLEASE restore THAT!!??), while May was the director’s wife. In the end, The Indian Tomb is much longer than it really needed to be, but it has its compensations: its sets and costuming are extraordinary; there are elephants and tigers and cobras (oh my!); it offers us Conrad Veidt both posing as an Indian god (hilariously “exotic” outfit and all) and swanning around in evening clothes, but always with a turban bringing out his cheekbones…sigh; and for all it talks a lot about tiger hunting, no tigers are harmed in-film…in fact, on the contrary…
(More on this film in Moments)
The Sea Beast (1926)
Perhaps the best way of summing up Hollywood’s first attempt to translate Herman Melville’s Moby Dick to the screen is by pointing out that the end result has no Ishmael. Actually—scratch that: it almost has no Moby Dick! There are about two minutes of whale in this 133-minute-long film that for most of that time would have been better titled: “Ahab: The Early Years”. It was John Barrymore who insisted that the first film under his new Warners contract be a version of Melville’s novel. The studio had wanted one of Don Juan, and compromised by turning a story of insanity and vengeance into a flowery romantic melodrama with a happy ending. (No, really.) Ahab Ceeley is a dashing young harpooner when he becomes engaged to Esther Harper (Dolores Costello), though the two know they will be separated for perhaps as much as a year due to his new sea-voyage and her accompanying her father, the Reverend John Harper (James Barrows), to Mauritius. Ahab’s half-brother, Derek (George O’Hara), spends time ashore at the mission, and also falls in love with Esther. After she indignantly repulses his one tentative overture, Derek buries his secret within himself, where it festers. When he ships once again with his brother, Derek is one of the oarsmen when Ahab attempts to harpoon the white whale known as Moby Dick. As the men battle the whale, Derek “accidentally” stumbles against Ahab, who plunges into the animal’s path—and loses his right leg below the knee… As an adaptation of its source, The Sea Beast is an unmitigated travesty, with the actual novel-story not beginning for 78 minutes into its running-time. Simply as a film, however – albeit an overlong one – it has its moments. Though he didn’t get to make the film he wanted, John Barrymore was given the opportunity to run the gamut from the young, dashing Ahab, bounding about the ship, roughhousing with his shipmates and romancing his girl in a distinctly Fairbanks-ish way, to the withdrawn Ahab, even more wounded in mind than body, to the crazed Ahab taking out his rage upon anyone foolish enough to get in his way. Perhaps the biggest surprise here is that despite numerous invitations to do the opposite, for most of the film Barrymore actually underplays, even in the third act (where the issue is rather his laid-on-with-a-trowel shoe-polish eye-makeup). Meanwhile, Dolores Costello and George O’Hara – who makes a surprisingly convincing faux-Barrymore – are both adequate in their invented roles. However, far more interesting is the casually desegregated crew found (eventually) upon the Pequod, where Ahab spends most of his time preferentially interacting with Queequeg (Sam Baker) and Fedallah (Kamiyama Sōjin), who are the closest thing he has to friends.
(More on this film in Moments)
Gentleman-crook Monte Greer (Edmund Lowe) eludes the police and escapes America on an ocean liner bound for London and Paris. Once on board, he is disturbed to discover that a gang of his former criminal associates, led by a man known as “Handsome” (Earle Fox), is also on the ship, plotting against the wealthy banker, Henry Graham (John Halliday). Greer finds himself drawn into the lives of three very different women: he begins a genuine romance with Judy Kramer (Lois Moran), whose father, Rudolph (Jean Hersholt), is taking the first vacation of his hard-working life; his chivalrous instincts are roused by the situation of Kay Graham (Myrna Loy), with whom he shared a brief encounter some years before, and who must now look on as her husband conducts an almost-open affair with Swedish dancer and professional temptress, Sigrid Carline (Greta Nissen), who Greer knows very well indeed… In the middle of the voyage, news is received from shore that Graham’s bank has failed—a crash that severely impacts a number of the passengers in different ways, and which forces Greer to make some desperate choices… It is tempting to write off Transatlantic as a rip-off of several other films, until we realise that it actually pre-dates all of them. Specifically, the film utilises what we now tend to think of as the “Grand Hotel formula”, throwing together a disparate array of characters as they work out the various crises in their lives, and prefiguring any number of the later film’s details right down to ship’s steward Hodgkins (Billy Bevan) being given a comic version of Lewis Stone’s famous lament: “A ship is like a little world, sir…” In fact, Transatlantic bears so much resemblance to the far more famous MGM production that we’re forced to wonder whether Fox tried and failed to secure the rights to Vicki Baum’s novel, published in 1930, or whether this film represents a very early example of a rip-off beating its model into cinemas. (The presence in both of Jean Hersholt is suggestive.) Either way, this is no mere cheap copy: the film won an Oscar for its art direction, by Gordon Wiles, and features gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by James Wong Howe, including a few early examples of deep focus. It is a shame that it has been allowed to slip through the cracks into the world of sub-par grey-market prints. The urbane Edmund Lowe is effective in the kind of role that William Powell would soon make his own, but Greta Nissen is unconvincing as femme fatale Sigrid—a most unsatisfactory replacement for Greta Garbo, albeit that she actually seems to be trying to channel Jean Harlow. Meanwhile, Myrna Loy – wearing far too much makeup, perhaps to disguise the fact that she was years too young for her role – gets the short end of the stick as the nobly suffering Kay, whose devotion to her husband is completely inexplicable. In fact, Henry Graham is a skunk who needs shooting—and it’s really only a matter of who finally pulls the trigger… One fascinating thing about Transatlantic is that at least some of it seems to have been filmed on a real ship (rather like The Last Voyage, although not we hope under the same extreme circumstances). This situation makes itself very much felt during the film’s climax, which features a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse played out in the liner’s engine-rooms. Another curious detail – which we might call “a cameo”, except that it too pre-dates most of what we’re thinking of – is a very brief appearance at the outset of a soon-to-be-star: the wire-haired terrier called Skippy who, as “Asta”, would soon find fame in the Thin Man movies.
The Death Kiss (1933)
Based upon the book by Madelon St. Dennis. As a well-dressed man leaves a nightclub, a beautiful woman – a stranger – kisses him and passes on. The next moment, the man is shot dead… Director Tom Avery (Edward Van Sloan) is dissatisfied with the scene and calls for another take; but actor Myles Brent (Edmund Burns) does not get up… At first it is assumed that Brent’s death is a terrible accident involving a prop-gun, but inspection of the fake weapons reveals that none of the bit-players in the car could have been responsible. Leon Grossmith (Alexander Carr), the head of the studio, and his chief executive, Joseph Steiner (Bela Lugosi), reluctantly summon the police. Meanwhile, word of the murder reaches Franklyn Drew (David Manners), an author of detective stories and a scenario-writer for the studio. He hurries to actress Marcia Lane (Adrienne Ames), who delivered the “death kiss”, and who is also Brent’s ex-wife. As he feared, Drew finds that the suspicions of Lt Sheehan (John Wray) are already focused upon Marcia. He decides to investigate the murder himself, in the hope of clearing her—only for each of his discoveries to blacken the case against her… In the silent era it was common practice to allow members of the public to watch films being shot; and while the coming of sound made this no longer practical, it wasn’t long before an alternative way of feeding the public’s fascination with movie-making by making movies about movie-making. The Death Kiss is a good example of this subgenre, and also a fair murder mystery; although at this distance perhaps its greatest point of interest is how much it plays like an apology to David Manners for the wretched roles more commonly thrust upon him. While the advertising art for this film plays up the presence of Bela Lugosi in particular, and the “reuniting” of Lugosi, Manners and Edward Van Sloan, it is Manners who dominates here, with the other two in relatively minor roles; and he is finally able to show that he could turn in a decent performance if given the chance. The film overall is perhaps a little too light toned, from Alexander Carr’s take-off of idiosyncratic studio heads such as Sam Goldwyn and Carl Laemmle (he drops his “Mittel European” accent after his first couple of scenes!), right down to the comic relief bumbling studio cop, Officer Gulliver (Vince Barnett) – who escapes “odious” because he does in fact help somewhat with the investigation. At the same time, it plays fair with respect to the solution of the mystery; even if we do wince our way through Franklyn Drew’s constant tampering with evidence and his tendency to leave his fingerprints at crime-scenes. Nevertheless, the main point of interest of The Death Kiss remains the way that the investigation into Myles Brent’s murder leads both Drew and Sheehan through department after department at the “Tonart Studio”, with those important but less acknowledged aspects of movie-making – makeup, lighting, electricals, props – each getting their moment in the sun. In 1932, however, the highlight of this film was a short sequence in which the footage of Brent’s murder is examined for evidence—but which goes up in flames before the critical moment. When the film was made, this moment was hand-tinted in red to suggest the fire; and though some prints no longer feature this touch, the commonly available Alpha DVD print of The Death Kiss still does (although in fairly poor quality).
Death From A Distance (1935)
Professor Ernst Einfield (Lee Kohlmar) gives an astronomical lecture at the Planetarium, focusing upon his area of expertise, the star Arcturus. While the audience sits in darkness, a shot rings out… When the lights are turned on, Dr Frederick Stone, a prominent anaesthesiologist, is found dead with a gun lying at his feet. Quick work at the scene prevents the audience members from leaving, so that when homicide detective Ted Mallory (Russell Hopton) arrives, he can be confident that the murderer is still in the room. From Professor Trowbridge (John St. Polis), the head of the observatory, Mallory learns that the occasion had been a special lecture, attended only by invited guests. He is also assured by watchman Jim Gray (George F. Marion) that no-one had a chance to leave the room. By having the audience resume their seats, Mallory is able to determine where the shot was fired from, and that a man was moving about at the time; though no-one knows who. However, the detective’s subsequent investigation is complicated by the actions of reporter, Kay Palmer (Lola Lane), who in her indignation over her treatment by the police writes a reckless story suggesting that Professor Einfield knows the identity of the killer… This independently-produced B-film is quite a nifty little mystery, with an interesting screenplay by John W. Krafft (who was prolific at this level of film-making). Perhaps the best thing about Death From A Distance is that it features that rarest of rare constructs in American mysteries of the time, an intelligent police detective; albeit that he comes accessorised by a dull-witted sidekick, Detective Regan (Lew Kelly), and spends the film butting heads with the inevitable Spunky Girl Reporter. But annoying as Kay Palmer is at the outset, the fact that the film condemns her for her reckless article, and that in her contrition she is genuinely helpful in unravelling the mystery afterwards, is unusual and refreshing. Unfortunately existing prints of Death From A Distance suffer from poor visual and, in particular, sound quality (the latter not helped by Lee Kohlmar’s accent); but the film offers enough to make it worth persisting with. Mallory’s first suspicions fall upon Ahmad Haidru (poor John Davidson, playing “an Oriental” again, this time an unlikely “Hindu”), who was not on the official guest-list, but bought his invitation to the lecture; though he will not say from whom. Mallory arrests Haidru, but has some doubt about his guilt—particularly when he uncovers various secrets in the past of both the victim, an unpleasant individual, and of several audience members; but were any of them serious enough to mean murder? It is only by building upon Kay’s story and setting a trap with Professor Einfield as bait that Mallory is able to flush out the killer…
The Crimes Of Stephen Hawke (1936)
Unlike many of Tod Slaughter’s films, this one was written directly for the screen; but it still keeps the usual Victorian melodrama framework. In between peculiar contemporary bookends consisting of Slaughter appearing on the BBC radio program, “In Town Tonight” (perhaps intended to promote his other films, or to show that he’s not such a bad guy despite always playing murderers, or both), we find him essaying not just a double but a triple role: first, as Stephen Hawke, much loved and kindly moneylender (!); second, as Stephen Hawke, more conventional moneylender, who enjoys ruining widows just so he can then turn their orphans out into the street; and third, as “The Spinebreaker”, a serial killer terrorising London with his vicious crimes, which sometimes seem to be about robbery, but sometimes are just for kicks—as with the opening-scene murder of a young child (!!). In persona #1, Hawke is the best friend of businessman Joshua Trimble (D. J. Williams); the two are equally delighted to see the growing love between Trimble’s son, Matthew (Eric Portman), and Hawke’s adopted daughter, Julia (Marjorie Taylor). However, when Trimble discovers his friend’s terrible secret, he too becomes a victim of The Spinebreaker. Determined to bring his father’s murderer to justice, Matthew sets a trap that exposes his identity—then finds himself caught between his oath of vengeance and his love for Julia… Like most (if not all) of Tod Slaughter’s films, The Crimes Of Stephen Hawke is entertaining as long as Slaughter himself is onscreen, but tends to get bogged down in its subplots when he isn’t. In particular, Julia being blackmailed into marriage with the obnoxious Miles Archer (Gerald Barry) takes up unnecessary space even if it does provide the catalyst for the film’s climax. However, Matthew zig-zagging between “There is an insuperable barrier between us!” and “Oh well, I guess it’s not your fault your father murdered mine” is consistently gigglesome. (Note how carefully, and repeatedly, we are told that Julia is Hawke’s adopted daughter: it’s fine to be raised by a psychopath, just as long as you’re not really related.) There is also some fun to be had with the character of Nathaniel (Graham Soutten), Hawke’s sidekick, who by way of qualifying for his position has one eye, one leg, and a hunch!
Bulldog Drummond’s Secret Police (1939)
The fifth and last film in this 1930s series opens with Captain Hugh Drummond (John Howard) and Phyllis Clavering (Heather Angel) about to get married—no, really! Along for the ride is Phyllis’ sceptical Aunt Blanche (Elizabeth Patterson), who on the way to Drummond’s country house, Rockingham Manor, wonders out loud what could possibly stop the wedding this time? The answer is provided by historian Professor Downie (Forrester Harvey), who arrives to tell Drummond that, during the early 17th century, a great treasure was hidden at Rockingham by a loyal Royalist, whose diary he, Downie, has in his possession, along with the cipher specifying where the secret passage leading to the treasure is located. Drummond tries manfully to resist the temptation of a treasure-hunt, but when an obsessed criminal follows Downie to Rockingham and murders him for possession of the cipher, well, what’s a man to do…? Bulldog Drummond’s Secret Police is a strange film, which changes gears with an almost audible screech about halfway through. The early stages are more or less overtly comical, making Drummond the one fretting over the possibility of his wedding being interrupted yet again, and even giving him a lengthy nightmare consisting of flashbacks to all the other adventures that stopped him getting to the altar over the previous films. The second half, however, is unusually grim, with a high body-count and the main characters, particularly Phyllis, in serious danger. The usual supporting cast was rounded up for this last hurrah: Reginald Denny as the thick-headed Algy, H. B. Warner as Colonel Nielsen of Scotland Yard, and E. E. Clive as Tenny, Drummond’s long-suffering manservant; while the villain, Seaton, is played by one “Leo Carroll” (who hadn’t acquired his ‘G.’ yet). As for whether Drummond and Phyllis actually manage to get married by film’s end—well, that would be telling…
(I addressed all the other Bulldog Drummond films in the early days of Et Al., but for some reason overlooked this one. Note that 1937’s Bulldog Drummond At Bay is not part of this series, but an actual British production.)
Daughter Of The Tong (1939)
An FBI undercover operation in San Francisco’s Chinatown yields valuable information about the gang headed by the mysterious “Carney”, but costs one agent his life. With law enforcement closing in, Carney (Evelyn Brent) hires recently-escaped east-coast killer Gallagher, with whom she has no known connection, to do her dirty work. However, unbeknownst to Carney, Gallagher has been recaptured, and his place taken by lookalike FBI agent, Ralph Dixon (Grant Withers). Dixon is successful in infiltrating the gang, but his mission is threatened when he becomes involved with Marion Morgan (Dorothy Short), whose brother, Jerry (Dave O’Brien), has fallen foul of Carney… This is a silly and rather dull crime programmer, of interest only for the embarrassing wrongheadedness of its central premise, or rather the way in which it is manifested: the premise itself – a ruthless crime-boss who is an Asian woman – is rather daring; while the inability of the FBI to even imagine such a thing is telling. However, putting Evelyn Brent in a black wig and asking her to narrow her eyes slightly does not a convincing Asian make…and what the heck is up with “Carney”!? This situation places the viewer in an awkward situation, since while none of the criminals seem at all bothered by their boss’s gender or ethnicity, the “good guys” are given to nasty racial epithets. The only other point of interest in Daughter Of The Tong is the lengthy and rather grovelling opening crawl which explains to the viewer what the FBI is—making it sound rather like the Secret Service. Otherwise, this is a film that has to resort to various bits of padding and unnecessarily protracted scenes to reach its abbreviated running-time. Three years after marrying on the back of their icky relationship within Reefer Madness, Dave O’Brien and Dorothy Short keep up the ick-factor by playing brother and sister here; while poor Richard Loo is the only actual Asian in this Chinatown-based “Asian” crime-gang.
David And Goliath (1960)
Original title: David e Golia. Filmed on location in Jerusalem and in Yugoslavia, with the latter’s army playing the Philistines, this Italian biblical drama was originally a prestige production shot in Technicolor and widescreen, and running close to two hours. However, it was cut down to about 90 minutes and dubbed for its American release; while the most readily available prints of it are also P&S. What we are left with is a straightforward rendering of the story of David and Goliath, which suffers from the English dialogue imposed upon it (all “thee” and “thou” and “dost” and “yea verily”) and from the fact that—well, there aren’t a lot of surprises here. David And Goliath opens with the prophet Samuel (Edward Hilton, aka Hilton Edwards) denouncing the irreligious ways of King Saul (Orson Welles), and warning him that God has already chosen a new king of Israel. Samuel then makes his way to the humble home of Benjamin (Luigi Tosi), where he reveals to the youngest son of the family, David (Ivo Payer, aka Ivica Pajer) that he has an extraordinary destiny before him… Circumstances introduce David to Saul, who takes the young man into his court first as a musician, then as a councilor. David’s growing influence sits ill with Saul’s chief minister, Abner (Massimo Serato), who intends to seize the throne of Israel himself via his marriage with the king’s elder daughter, Micol (Giulia Rubini). Abner plots to have David killed by Asrod (Furio Meniconi), king of the Philistines, who – already in possession of the Ark of the Covenant – is himself planning the conquest of Israel, his formidable forces strengthened still further by the recruitment of the reclusive giant, Goliath (Kronos, aka Aldo Pedinotti)… This version of David And Goliath is reasonably enjoyable, if somewhat superficial—the latter probably the result of the cutting of the film, which leaves it lacking in certain respects. For example, we never know how David so swiftly gains his influence over Saul. Meanwhile, most of the more interesting and/or dramatic aspects of the story were invented for the film: something tacitly conceded by the opening credits’ statement of the screenplay being “freely adapted” from its source. The showdown between David and Goliath is necessarily somewhat perfunctory – there isn’t a lot you can do with a sling-slaying – although the pre-encounter manoeuvring, in which the arrogant Asrod makes the fatal error of allowing the duel to decide the fate of Israel, is engaging. A former circus and music-hall performer who stood some 6 ft 9 inches tall, Aldo Pedinotti makes a convincing Goliath; while Ivica Pajer is an appropriately youthful and smallish David. Massimo Serato and Furio Meniconi also have their moments, but the one-note performance from a morose Orson Welles is the film’s biggest disappointment.
Damon And Pythias (1962)
Original title: Il Tiranno di Siracusa (The Tyrant Of Syracuse). When the leader of the Pythagorian sect of Athens dies, a decision is made to recall Arcanos (Andrea Bosic) to assume his position. Arcanos is in Syracuse, conducting dangerous secret classes in the Pythagorean ideals of brotherhood and friendship. Pythias (Don Burnett), a young Athenian, is chosen to travel to Syracuse and locate Arcanos, who has not responded to previous messages. Reluctant to reveal the dangers of his mission to his wife, Nerissa (Ilaria Occhini), Pythias departs without warning, causing Nerissa, who is pregnant, to sink into a state of depression and lethargy. In Syracuse, Damon (Guy Williams) scrapes a precarious living through various criminal activities, and by the dangerous practice of selling information to both sides of any conflict. Thus, he both reveals Arcanos’ whereabouts to Cariso (Carlo Giustini), leader of the forces of Dionysius (Arnoldo Foà ), and warns Arcanos in time for him to flee the city. When an attempt is made to arrest Pythias, Damon intervenes, rescuing and hiding him—and initiating a strange but powerful friendship… This Italian production offers a fair re-telling of the legend of Damon and Pythias, and where it wanders away from the classic version it is all to the benefit of Guy Williams’ Damon. There is no room in this story for Pythias to change (he hardly flinches when required to return, voluntarily, to Syracuse to face execution), whereas Damon, who has always had to fight to survive and seen only the worst of men, is profoundly altered by his first encounter with honour and honesty. The first half of Damon And Pythias unfolds too slowly and is insufficiently interesting—besides dwelling too much on the tantrums of Pythias’ whiny wife, Nerissa. (Although to be fair, in the English-language version Ilaria Occhini is the victim of some awful dubbing.) Moreover, the version of Pythagorus’ teachings that the film offers sounds suspiciously (at least in English) like Christianity, rather than either the early, mathematically-focused philosophy or the later, more mystical version. The film picks up when the devout Pythagorean Pythias encounters the thoroughly amoral Damon, who sets out to exploit him as usual, only to find himself drawn to both the young man himself and his strange – and to Damon, laughable – philosophy of brotherhood. Damon is deeply affected by finding himself with a real friend for the first time in his life, but his better feelings kick in just too late: he has already given Pythias and Arcanos away to Cariso. His efforts to save the two from the consequences of his own actions fail, and Pythias is arrested and condemned to death. Damon then reminds Dionysius of an old Syracuse tradition, by which one sacrifice may be exchanged for another: he offers himself in place of Pythias. Dionysius agrees, under certain conditions: with Damon held hostage, he allows Pythias to return to Athens to see his wife and baby, but demands that he return to Syracuse in two months’ time, to take Damon’s place—and to be executed. This scheme, in Dionysius’ reckoning, will expose the falsity of the Pythagorean code of brotherhood—but of course in order for his plan to succeed, he must ensure that Pythias does not return…
Blood Moon (1990)
St Elizabeth’s Catholic School, outside the coastal town of Coopers Bay, is given into the management of Myles (Leon Lissek) and Virginia Sheffield (Christine Amor); although the oldest of the nuns who previously ran it, Sister Mary-Ellen (Hazel Howson), is allowed to continue living on the premises. When, one night, a student from each of St Elizabeth’s and its male equivalent, Winchester Academy, vanishes, no-one but their parents is concerned, as their friends were aware that the two intended to elope. In fact, the young lovers got no further than the woods around the schools… A joint school dance allows for both the escalation of the feud between the boys of Winchester and the “townies”, and the beginning of a romance between local boy Kevin Lynch (Ian Williams) and Mary Huston (Helen Thomson), whose actress-mother has all-but abandoned her while she pursues her career. Meanwhile, two other students slip away to the woods to have sex, only to fall into the clutches of a killer armed with a barbed-wire garotte… I’m struggling to come up with the right way of describing this Australian slasher movie—though the phrase that keeps going through my head is “amiably terrible”. Blood Moon certainly is terrible, with a plethora of dull, padding subplots and a disappointingly low body-count; yet it quite lacks the almost aggressively obnoxious quality that tends to mark its American counterparts, instead delivering its high-school monkey-business with a reasonably light touch, if to unnecessary length. The only time this peculiarly friendly attitude slips is towards the end, with a single mean-spirited kill that frankly I could have done without. The other strange thing about this film is that, after going through the motions of setting up its suspects / red herrings – the nun muttering about temptation and sin; the meek, cuckolded headmaster – Blood Moon then decides it wants to be a different kind of horror movie—revealing its killer on one hand, and on the other having the police track that killer down via some surprisingly sensible detective work. There is only one graphic kill-scene here, and even then the emphasis is rather on bloody post-kill shots (including some eye violence, thanks so much); but there is plenty of gratuitous nudity from the young cast; mostly, though not entirely, female. Though established actors Christine Amor and Leon Lissek headline as the Sheffields, Blood Moon’s best performance comes from Craig Cronin as local cop Matt Desmond.
Voice From The Grave (1996)
Also known as Crimes Of Passion: Voice From The Grave and From The Files Of ‘Unsolved ‘Mysteries’: Voice From The Grave—the latter the far more appropriate and informative choice, as this made-for-TV movie is based upon a case highlighted in the TV show of that name, in which a 1978 murder was solved after a colleague of the victim was able to give police information which she claimed had come to her in visions. That brief synopsis encapsulates everything that is wrong with this movie: we may believe the real-life story because no-one can come up with an alternative explanation, but in fictional format the same story is merely frustratingly insubstantial. Terry Deveroux (Kim Dickens), having relocated from Louisiana to Illinois to pursue her dream of being a singer, works as a nurse to support herself. One day she finds herself exchanging confidences with a colleague she does not know all that well, Renee Perkins (Megan Ward); the latter tells Terry that she is trying to pull her life back together after suffering a miscarriage. Soon afterwards, Terry is attacked in her apartment and brutally murdered by someone she knows well enough to let in… Detective Joe Sraccula (Kevin Dobson) makes several important discoveries at the scene which he keeps from the media, including a note referring to someone with the initials ‘A. S.’, and the fact that, although her body was posed, Terry was not raped. The same night that Terry is killed, Renee Perkins suffers a dizzy spell which is accompanied by fractured visions that she does not understand. Her next episode is even more severe—a fit of catatonia from which she emerges speaking with a Louisiana accent, and insisting that “she” was killed by a work colleague, Adam Schuster (Michael Riley)… The supernatural elements in Voice From The Grave are, as they must be, confusing and unsatisfactory: Renee doesn’t know why she should have been “chosen” to deliver Terry’s message (there is only the tacit suggestion found in many stories dealing with haunting or possession, that a bereavement makes someone vulnerable to such contact); nor is there any attempt to answer the obvious, overriding question—that is, if murder victims can do this, why (in most cases) don’t they? There are frustrations too on the “realistic” level, in that Joe Sraccula handles the case in a particularly stupid way, even allowing for the unconventional manner in which he is obtaining his evidence; and when that case comes to trial, it founders not on Renee’s contribution but on the fact that Sraccula violated protocol. However, there are some worthwhile touches here too, chiefly that neither Renee nor her husband, Dr Bill Perkins (John Terlesky), tries to deny the evidence of their own senses. Nor does the film downplay the impact of their situation upon the couple, who cost themselves dearly by going to the police with Renee’s information (it doesn’t occur to them that an anonymous tip might have been the way to go!). In dealing with their incredible situation, Renee and Bill also credibly juggle the right and wrong reasons for what they do: they are both painfully aware that pursuing their accusations against Schuster may cost them their jobs in the short term, and have difficult and embarrassing long-term consequences. Finally, however, it boils down to the fact that they have no choice but to do as Terry wants, since it is obvious that otherwise, she is not going away…
Tomie: Forbidden Fruit (2002)
The shy, lonely, much-bullied Hashimoto Tomie (Miyazaki Aoi) is unexpectedly befriended by another girl, who reveals that she is also called Tomie (Andō Nozomi). The newcomer is beautiful and self-confident, if sometimes rather cruel in her humour, and a dazzled Tomie quickly becomes devoted to her—trying slavishly to make her happy and sharing her deepest secrets with her, including the fantasy fiction she writes in her free time. However, it is soon clear that the newcomer has an agenda in befriending Tomie, one which involves infiltrating the life of her widowed father, Kazuhiko (Kunimura Jun), who discovers in his daughter’s new best friend the girl he and his best friend both loved some twenty-five years before: a girl who drove that friend to suicide, and who has since been missing, presumed dead… Given the nature of its subject matter, I can’t really start out here by saying that this is *the* strangest thing about this franchise, but— One of the strangest things about the films based upon Itō Junji’s manga is how each entry, for better or worse, manages to be distinct in tone and approach from the others. In Tomie: Forbidden Fruit, there is far more emphasis upon the other two main characters, their motives and their relationship—perhaps because they are, in their less obvious ways, almost as batty as Tomie herself. A significant amount of time is given to illustrating the lives of “quiet desperation” lived by the Hashimotos, a situation underscored by the film’s muted palette of grey and blue and brown, which is broken only by the dramatic red outfits worn by the intruder. Tomie responds to her new friend with a passion that may be just gratitude, or a schoolgirl crush, or which might have genuine lesbian underpinnings – the film’s subtitle and advertising certainly play up the latter – but this is far too ordinary a situation to build a Tomie film around; and soon the other Tomie is rekindling her relationship with a stunned Kazuhiko, and assuring him that now they can be together, as they could not be those twenty-five years before…or at least, they can once his daughter is out of the way… For the most part, Tomie: Forbidden Fruit forgoes graphic violence and concentrates instead upon grotesque body-imagery, most of it presented within a framework of black humour far more overt here than previously in the franchise. Tomie manages once again to get herself decapitated, and her severed head once again plays a starring role—and someone finally takes its constant nagging in ill-part! There are also, in the quasi-incestuous central triangle, any number of uncomfortable touches – both Tomies call out Kazuhiko for naming his daughter after his mysteriously lost love – while the focus of the film becomes, progressively, less the usual Tomie shenanigans and more what they reveal about the mental states of the father and daughter. In this context, Andō Nozomi gives us a slightly older and more restrained Tomie; Kunimura Jun underplays as the man whose past literally comes back to haunt him; and Miyazaki Aoi offers an unexpectedly disturbing performance as the film’s seeming-victim. And in that respect, I can only say that someone must have been asleep at the switch when this film was subtitled: how on earth did it not go out as Tomie: Making Friends??
(Fun fact: Tomie: Forbidden Fruit does have an alternative subtitle: The Last Chapter…and we know how that usually works out, right?)
Beyond Loch Ness (2008)
Also known as Loch Ness Terror. A group of scientists working in Scotland discover a huge egg, which brings to shore after it “the Loch Ness monster”, a 40-forty-long plesiosaur. Hidden under an overturned boat, twelve-year-old James Murphy (Sam Laird) can only watch helplessly as the others, including his father, are slaughtered… Thirty years later, Murphy (Brian Krause) arrives in Ashburn, a small community on the shores of Lake Superior. He has been drawn there by the social media postings of the eccentric Sean Riley (Donnelly Rhodes), who claims he has seen a monster in the lake. Murphy hires young bait-store manager, Josh Riley (Niall Matter), to take him and his equipment out in a boat; Josh is sceptical but intrigued. Meanwhile, Sheriff Karen Riley (Carrie Genzel) is called to the lakeshore by her deputy, Neil Chapman (Don S. Davis), who must tell her that Sean’s mutilated remains have been found. As other strange and disturbing events unfold in and around the town, Murphy becomes convinced that he has found what he is looking for—that there is a monster in the waters off Ashburn… My rental queue informed me that this was a re-watch for me, but it was a long time in before it began to ring any specific bells—a measure of just how generic a movie Beyond Loch Ness really is. Still, its very genericism does finally allow us to see that it does a few things better than most of its ilk. The acting is generally fair to good, and some of the characters have at least a touch of individuality about them. (If not all: Deputy Neil mentions “retirement” during his first thirty seconds onscreen; how do you think his subplot ends?) In particular, Josh’s lack of a chip on his shoulder despite his personal circumstances and his open-mindedness about Murphy’s apparently outrageous claims are both refreshing. Likewise, the proceedings of the sheriff and her deputy in the face of the bizarre mystery unfolding in their town and their wary relationship with Murphy are sensible and credible. On the other hand, there are also a few tiresome clichés—like Josh’s ex, Zoe (Amber Borycki), being inexplicably involved with obnoxious rich kid Brody (Sebastian Gacki). As for “Nessie”, the film hardly deigns to explain what she’s doing in Lake Superior. In herself she’s an attractive beastie, though the compositors never succeed in placing her convincingly within her settings; she also has feet rather than flippers, so she can get out of the water and wander around killing people (of course without ever being seen). The highlight of the film, however, is her swarm of hatchlings, which are simply adorable even when tearing people limb from limb and eating then alive (in fact, perhaps most of all then). But this highlights the greatest drawback to real enjoyment of Beyond Loch Ness: there’s just too much animal killing for the film to be fun. The whole last section is just the beasties being hunted down and slaughtered, which isn’t at all my idea of a good time.
The Broken (2008)
John McVey (Richard Jenkins) is surprised with a birthday dinner by his family: his daughter, radiologist Gina (Lena Headey), and her partner, French architect Stephan Moreau (Melvil Poupard); and his son, artist Daniel (Asier Newman), and his partner, Kate Coleman (Michelle Duncan). A pleasant evening comes to a dramatic end when large mirror at the end of the dining-room suddenly falls and shatters. The next day, after a couple of strange incidents at her work, Gina sees a woman who looks just like her, driving an identical car. Impulsively, she follows the woman the short distance to her apartment house and then up to her flat. The door is open, and as she enters Gina is stunned to discover there a photograph of herself with her father… Fleeing the scene, a distracted Gina is involved in a serious car accident. She is not badly injured, but suffers head trauma which leaves her with no memory of the collision. A day or two later, still without her memory, Gina is released into Stephan’s care—and finds herself growing convinced that nothing is as it seems, including Stephan himself… The Broken is a film that for much of its running-time teeters on the fence between psychological thriller and horror film; it finally falls on the side of the latter, which may have been the wrong choice. To its credit, this is frequently an unnerving little film, but its most unnerving moments are woven into Gina’s increasing feeling of being in an alien world, surrounded by people who are not who they seem to be. It is when it takes off the gloves for some overt horror – though these scenes are only few – that The Broken loses its edge. Also, though we understand why the film mostly holds us to Gina’s perspective, as a consequence of this various opportunities must necessarily go unexploited. (Even so, it was Daniel I came away thinking about, not Gina). Ultimately, there’s a bit too much style here and not enough substance, with more consideration given to the film’s reflective-surface-based art design and its plethora of shattered glass than to its screenplay, and far too many plot-touches that are raised and then left dangling—for instance, given what the film infers, why should there have been a sudden increase in “the incidence of Capgras delusion” over recent years? Similarly, the film’s kicker-ending is clever in its immediate implications, but opens up a huge can of worms if you think about the broader ones. The opening quote from Edgar Allan Poe also suggests a lack of confidence on the part of writer-director Sean Ellis, either in his own production or the people watching it: if used at all, it should have been placed at the end. However—despite its various letdowns, The Broken is still an enjoyable film, particularly if you (like me) are constantly bewailing the ubiquity of rapid-cut editing, jump-scares and loud music-stings in much modern horror: all of these are conspicuous by their absence here, with the film using held shots, long silences and an overall lack of dialogue to underpin Gina’s sense of alienation. The film also wins some bonus points for eschewing two of moviedom’s most irritating conventions: first, when Gina has a nightmare, she simply wakes, without the sit-up-and-gasp; and second, when she takes her eyes off the road for an extended time while driving, she has a serious accident as a consequence.
The Hive (2008)
When a massive and voracious swarm of killer ants causes death and destruction on an island in South-East Asia, the government calls in the high-tech Thorax Company to deal with the situation. Led by Dr Horace “Len” Lennart (Kal Weber), the team initially has success against the insects; however, Len is astonished and disturbed by what appears to be the ants’ ability to co-operate and think—including setting a trap that almost claims the life of Len’s second-in-command, Bill (Tom Wopat), but leaves him instead under the influence of a single ant that infiltrates his ear canal. Len’s observations prompt him to make contact with his ex-girlfriend, Dr Claire Dubois (Elizabeth Healey): the two fell out over Claire’s growing objections to Len’s work, which she believed was damaging the ecosystem, and her radical theories of ant intelligence. Once Claire has joined them, the team succeeds in evacuating the population of a small island; but once they penetrate the island’s interior, they begin to make astonishing discoveries about the ants’ capabilities that go far beyond mere “intelligence”… Should we get this out of the way first? – yes, ants live in colonies, not hives. I think the makers of The Hive were actually suggesting something about a hive-mind, but when you give your film a title that baulks or confuses its audience at the outset, it’s not a good sign. I found The Hive a frustrating experience, simultaneously bat-shit insane and yet dull: the plot is the former, the execution the latter. The ants are a wholly unconvincing CGI mess that can catch up with a running human being – at one point they almost catch a car! – and strip the flesh off anything in literally seconds. In fact, the film opens with the brutal deaths of a mother and baby (the latter not explicitly), which suggests a very different story from the one that unfolds. What we actually get is a weird sort of cross between Phase IV and The Bees – in the second case, right down to an indignant politician’s refusal to “conduct negotiations” with the ants – but without either the thoughtfulness or fun of its models. Rather, this thing is framed as a heavy-handed Vietnam allegory (funny how that one won’t go away, isn’t it?). The ants’ ability to mass together and shape themselves into whatever they like is silly from the outset, when Len and Bill discover them exploring their environment by turning themselves into huge sensory “tentacles”; but this isn’t a patch on the nifty things they make of themselves in the depths of their island home… There isn’t much the actors can do to make an impression against either the philosophical or visual silliness of The Hive, and Kal Weber and Elizabeth Healey are further hampered by a tiresomely obvious “reunited ex-es” subplot; but Tom Wopat has a few moments as he twitches and cackles and rants in response to the insect overlord lodged in his inner ear. Meanwhile, Jessica Reavis spends most of the film sitting in a tent and frowning at computer screens and pretending that she’s contributing something…although towards the end she does get to frown down a microscope instead.
2012: Doomsday (2008)
I was aware that there was such a thing as low-budget Christian propaganda film-making – I was even aware that The Asylum had dabbled in distributing such movies – but I was NOT aware that the 2012 end-of-the-world disaster-movie subgenre had been hijacked to serve that purpose…or that 2012: Doomsday is not so much a film about the end of the world as one about how the end of the world is just what most of us deserve. Of course there’s one small problem with this particular piece of hijacking, namely that the supposed prophecy of the world ending on 21st December 2012 was Mayan. But not to worry: the first section of this film is devoted to explaining how Christian missionaries arrived in Mexico some 700 years before Columbus and so the Mayans were really Christians, they just didn’t bother telling anyone, or that their Doomsday prophecy was really an End Of Days prophecy… If you can’t already tell from that scenario, 2012: Doomsday is a Christian propaganda film so flat-out bad, it plays like a parody of a Christian propaganda film. Can we not find some way of convincing Nick Everhart and others of his ilk that they are not, repeat NOT, doing their religion any favours with this sort of nonsense? Anyhoo— The world is ending, as I’m sure you won’t be astonished to hear; and four very different people find themselves on a mission to reach Chichen Itza before the Wrath of God kicks in for real. At the US Meteorological Service, Lloyd (Cliff De Young) is torn between overseeing the escalating storms and seismic activity which are literally threatening the planet and worrying about his daughter, Sarah (Danae Nason), who is doing missionary work deep in Mexico. Meanwhile, archaeologist Dr Frank Richards (Dale Midkiff) discovers evidence of Christianity in Mexico hundreds of years earlier than previously believed (chiefly by carbon-dating a gold statue…but then that’s the great thing about Christian propaganda films: if all science is wrong, it doesn’t matter if one particular bit of science is wrong); while in California, disillusioned paramedic Sarah Reed (Ami Dolenz) – who is the film’s Voice Of Atheism and therefore gets its most hilarious dialogue – begins having visions of a golden cross and a Mexican temple. As tacky CGI storms attack left and right, and people die left and right but it’s okay because they’ve either gone straight to heaven or deserved not to, these four travellers converge upon Chichen Itza, along the way discovering or rediscovering their faith and saying so loudly and repeatedly – almost as frequently as they explain to us how Everything Happens For A Reason – while good Christians who never doubted disappear because its the Rapture. Just as Doomsday arrives a Mexican woman gives birth in the temple and apparently this is the new Jesus because God stops the world ending and we all get a second chance which is of course destined to be thrown away because God’s Favoured People are all on the other side of a honking big wall and trust me, they’re not going to accept a brown-skinned Jesus, even if the first one was, but I can’t prove that, can I? Okay I made some of that last bit up but the fact that you’re having a hard time telling which bit completely sums up 2012: Doomsday.
Hunt For The Labyrinth Killer (2013)
Actress Karen Donovan (Gina Gershon), the wife of a former State governor, dies in an elaborate death-trap—thus becoming yet another victim of a serial killer known as “Daedalus”, who has been killing at irregular intervals over several decades. Assistant District Attorney Shelby Anderson (Amanda Schull) is assigned to work with homicide detective, Mike Holland (Coby Ryan McLaughlin), on the case. She takes him to the country house of her father, retired judge Galen Anderson (Michael Nouri), who lives with the guilt of sentencing each of the three men who, over the years, was framed and falsely convicted of being Daedalus. Mike’s visit to the house has shattering consequences, however: he returns the following day with a warrant for Galen Anderson’s arrest; he tells Shelby that her father’s DNA was found at the scene of Karen Donovan’s murder. The outraged Shelby resigns from the District Attorney’s office, going head-to-head with her former mentor, Lisa Couphon (Anne Ramsay), as she fights to prove that her father, too, has been framed by Daedalus… There is a certain amount of dumb fun to be had with Hunt For The Labyrinth Killer, but ultimately the film is just too full of unbelievable touches with respect to its serial killer, and too inclined to ignore legal procedure (not to mention reality) as it turns crusading young Shelby Anderson from a hot-shot ADA into an even more hot-shot defence attorney into the one person who might actually crack the Daedalus case, when the best efforts of law enforcement over a period of decades has failed to do so. The film’s tone is set with its opening scene Scream-riff, with name-guest-star Gina Gershon getting gruesomely whacked via a death-trap that requires her to behave in an entirely unpredictable – and completely stupid – manner in order for the killer to spring it. From there credibility is completely out the door—so we are unsurprised by absurd touches such as Galen Anderson being apparently brought to trial about a week after his arrest, and no protest being made about his having his dementia medication taken away from him in prison, even though he is consequently unable to assist in his own defence. (The screenplay is too intent upon muddying the waters of his guilt or innocence to bother explaining why this was done.) Of course Shelby finally realises that she can’t just argue that her father has been framed, as were three other men before him: she’s going to have to prove it, and so teams up with improbable (and improbably youthful) private investigator, Freddy Cook (Eric Schneider aka Eric Michael Roy) to chase a few desperate leads; even as Mike Holland comes to the realisation that, like others before him, he may have been used by Daedalus to frame an innocent man… Obviously there was potential in all of this for some examination of how and where the legal system goes wrong, but Hunt For The Labyrinth Killer wasn’t interested in anything like that. Rather, this is one of those tiresome films that thinks too many plot twists are barely enough: it spends its entire last fifteen minutes pulling rug after rug after rug out from under the viewer, until it is impossible to make any sense at all out of the storyline, or to care about its final implications.
(At one point in this film, while Shelby and Mike watch a news report about Karen Donovan’s murder, the banner at the bottom of the screen briefly switches the killer’s nickname from Daedalus to Deadalus. I have no idea if that was a typo, a dig at TV news, or someone’s idea of a joke.)
The Perfect Boss (2013)
Jessica Slate (Jamie Luner) is hired as Executive Vice-President by Mickelson Pharmaceutical with the specific task of ensuring that FDA approval for the company’s new drug, Ezaprine, is obtained in minimum time. Should she fail, potential financial backing will be withdrawn, possibly destroying the company altogether. Unbeknownst to her boss, Ralph Mickelson (Art Hindle), and her colleague and sometime-lover, Cameron Finney (Linden Ashby), Jessica’s secret in dealing with the FDA is her relationship with married executive, Paul Winslow (Brett Watson), who between Jessica’s seduction and threats is helpless against her. But just as Jessica’s plans are coming together, she is confronted with danger on two fronts: her estranged mother, Hannah (Lois Dellar), turns up, hoping to profit from Jessica’s success, and willing to resort to blackmail if necessary; and Dr Don Renfro (Gary Hudson), who oversaw the Ezaprine clinical trials, learns that one of his participants has died suddenly of what might be drug-related side-effects. Though Jessica and Cameron placate Renfro with assurances that they will alert the FDA, it is evident that he will not keep silent for long—unless he is silenced altogether… The Perfect Boss is a rather silly but perfectly enjoyable Lifetime movie, more so during its first half when Jessica is treading all over people on her way to the top and ten million dollars in stock options, and committing the various crimes – real and perceived – that ensure the villain’s downfall in films like this. (In the world of the Lifetime movie, her biggest sin isn’t murder either directly or by cover-up, it’s her cool dismissal of Cameron’s proposal of marriage: “I don’t do committed relationships.”) The film becomes less fun once its focus shifts to Don Renfro’s daughter, Renee (Ashley Leggat), who is working at Mickelson as a file clerk while she waits to graduate high-school, and who is the recipient of her father’s almost-confidence about Ezaprine. Don’s murder is at first believed to be robbery gone wrong, but when Renee is contacted by Gena Ferris (Sophie Gendron), whose husband died suddenly of kidney disease after taking Ezaprine, a very different motive for his death emerges… Renee’s subsequent investigation of her father’s murder stretches credibility without being egregiously silly (she gets a prostitute-witness to talk when the police can’t, she has hacker-friend who guides her through both the tech and the legalities), and of course all the plot-threads come together just in time to pull Jessica down at the very moment of her triumph. Typically for this sort of film, the male cast members are entirely forgettable, while what honours there are to be had are divided amongst the ladies: by now Jamie Luner can almost sleepwalk through this sort of role (I won’t suggest she does); Lois Dellar is funny as her blowsy, alcoholic mother; and though Ashley Leggat as Renee is rather too air-headed over the early stages (Legally Blonde has a lot to answer for), she has her moments when she turns amateur detective. Two final points: first, this film’s title really should be The Perfect Executive; and second, its funniest moment comes after its climactic scene, in a rather hangdog apology to the (implied) FDA. I should think so!