Friday, July 29, 2016

BERSERK! 1967

This repost of an earlier essay is part of The Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  Visit the site for more posts from participating blogs.

Fans of late-career Joan Crawford (and who isn’t?) are sure to relish the sight of 61-year-old La Mommie Dearest as the mannish owner and ringmaster of a traveling circus, juggling two younger lovers (“I just may let you tuck me in tonight!” she threatens to one) while performers in her employ fall victim to gruesome, far-fetched fatalities. Similarly, variety show fans nostalgic for the bygone days when animal acts ruled primetime TV on programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace, are sure to get a vaudeville kick out of Berserk!'s interminable parade of capering horses, indifferent lions, playful elephants, and intelligent poodles, all used to pad out the film's already meager 96-minute running time.

But horror fans finding Berserk! a little tame and slow-moving by American Horror Story: Freak Show standards might do well to turn a viewing of this circus-set whodunit into a drinking game. Since Crawford was still on the Board of Directors of Pepsi-Cola at the time, may I suggest taking a shot of 100-Proof vodka (Crawford’s preferred beverage of choice) every time there’s a Pepsi sighting or moment of Pepsi-related product placement.  Or perhaps you can take a swig each time a mysterious band of shadow materializes out of nowhere to provide our star with dramatic framing and flattering neck shade whenever in medium shot or closeup. But be aware, should you choose the latter option, you’re likely to find yourself plastered to the gills long before To Sir, With Love’s Judy Geeson makes her mid-film appearance as yet another in Joan Crawford’s long procession of troublesome onscreen / offscreen daughters.
Joan Crawford as Monica Rivers  
"We're running a circus, not a charm school!"
Ty Hardin as Frank Hawkins
"In this world you only get what you deserve. No more, no less."
Judy Geeson as Angela Rivers
"I was shunted around from place to place like a piece of luggage with the wrong address pasted on it!" 
Michael Gough as Albert Dorando
"How can you be so cold-blooded?"
Diana Dors as Matilda
"The next time she puts her arms around you, make sure those lovely hands aren't carrying a knife!"

Although Berserk! (I’m never going to be able to keep up this exclamation point thing) is often lumped together with other entries in the popular What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? hag-horror / psycho-biddy genre; Joan Crawford’s dedication to being the world’s most glamorous, well-turned-out circus proprietress qualifies it more as a gilt-edged example of Grand Dame Guignol. Dressed in a fashion parade of vividly monochromatic cocktail suits (from milady’s own closet, may I add), Crawford magisterially strides about the horse and elephant-trod circus grounds ‒ head held aristocratically aloft while balancing a towering, tightly-braided bun ‒ barking orders and giving out directions while wearing the daintiest of impractical, strappy high-heel sandals.
Britain's Billy Smart Circus plays the role of Berserk's The Great Rivers Circus
Smart's Circus (note the BS emblems) was also used in 1960s similar Circus of Horrors
 

In contrast to the usual abasement heaped upon the typical hagspoitation heroine, every effort in Berserk is made to make Crawford look good. Not only is she the center of the drama and propels the narrative, she's also the only character afforded an active love life or much in the way of a backstory ("Long ago I lost the capacity to love..." she intones at one point; her words instantly making me aware of the weight of my eyelids). Unfortunately, due to the film’s obviously sparse budget and perhaps an over-determination on the filmmakers’ part to make its sexagenarian leading lady’s age into a non-issue (one of the more conspicuous Crawford-mandated script additions is a character voicing the opinion, "Your mother will never grow old, she has the gift of eternal youth!" ), the amount of attention paid to showcasing Crawford’s three-ring matronly glamour results in a kind of inverse-derogation. 
"Find your happiest colors - the ones that make you feel good."
Joan Crawford- My Way of Life
Joan in her happy colors (given her expression, I guess that's something we'll have to take her word for)

Even if you've never seen a film before in your life, it’s likely you could guess the plot of Berserk from its setting alone. A traveling circus is plagued by a series of grisly murders; when the deaths have the side effect of boosting circus attendance, the shadow of suspicion falls (usually across the neck) upon hard-as-nails, cool-as-a-cucumber circus owner, Monica Rivers (Crawford). Some six years prior, Monica’s husband died in a trapeze accident, since which time Monica has been “comforted” by dour-faced business partner, Albert Dorando (Gough), while only daughter, Angela (Geeson), remained stowed away at a hoity-toity boarding school.
Of course, within the ranks of the circus’ motley troupe of performers, low-levels of British panic reigns, motives are plentiful, and red herrings abound. Figuring prominently amongst those most likely to have "dunnit" are faithful Bruno (George Claydon), the dwarf clown/toady who’s a tad overenamoured of his leggy employer. Then there’s brassy Matilda (Dors), the in-your-face, peroxided two-thirds of a sawing a woman in half illusionist act, who's skeptical of Monica from the start (maybe due to Mrs. Rivers’ habit of addressing Matilda as "You slut!”). And finally, the circus's most recent arrival, high-wire walker Frank Hawkins (Hardin); a six-foot-two hunk of flavorless beefcake with a sketchy past, hair-trigger temper, and a thing for women old enough to be his mother. Especially if they're in possession of their own circus.
Mommie Likes
The body count rises and the lack of urgency displayed by the veddy-British investigating detectives comes to mirror that of director Jim O’ Connolly (Horror on Snape Island), who somehow imagines Berserk’s tepid tension and sluggish suspense can withstand the mood-killing interjection of several adorable circus acts (in their entirety) and a comic musical interlude. Still, thanks to Joan Crawford’s sometimes baffling acting choices (“You’re crrrrazy!”) and the always-welcome presence of British bombshell, Diana Dors, Berserk!’s 40-minutes of plot padded out to 96-minutes of movie flows painlessly and entertainingly to its abrupt, highly-preposterous conclusion. One in which the surprise-reveal killer has to utter the great granddaddy of unutterable, self-expository outbursts:“Kill, kill, kill! That’s all I have inside me!” And if you think that line reads ridiculous, wait until you hear someone actually try to say it with a modicum of sincerity.
Trog co-star Michael Gough braces himself while a frisky Joan Crawford moves in for the kill. 
As a side note, is there anything more terrifying than a clown painting?
Berserk! Began life as Circus of Terror and Circus of Blood before Crawford vetoed those crude, cut-to-the-chase options in favor of the infinitely more marketable, Psycho-friendly single name tag (see: HomicidalHysteriaRepulsionParanoiac, and Fanatic [the British title for Tallulah Bankhead’s loony masterwork, Die, Die My Darling!]). As Crawford’s first film in a two-picture deal arranged by personal friend / producer Herman Cohen (the man who gave the world I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla), the British-made Berserk! was undertaken when Crawford’s reputation as a heavy drinker rendered her an unacceptable insurance risk, stateside.

Coming as it did on the heels of the double-barreled horror blitz of William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964) and I Saw What You Did (1965), Berserk! may have further distanced Crawford from her glory days at MGM in the mind of the public, but it did serve to cement her status as Hollywood’s then-reigning scream queen. A reputation reinforced by appearances on TV shows like Night Gallery and The Sixth Sense. And while rival Bette Davis may have appeared in a few slightly more upscale UK features during this time (The Nanny and The Anniversary in 1965 & 1968, respectively) Berserk!, bargain-basement as it is, at least provided Crawford with the all-important employment she craved, and  gave her a leading lady role and above-the-title billing at a time when many of her peers had been forced into an early retirement.
"This is APPALLING! I have devoted myself to making Christina...er, Angela a proper young lady!"

In a moment redolent of Mommie Dearest's infamous Chadwick expulsion scene, Monica's daughter Angela is expelled from The Fenmore School for Young Ladies. In real life, Joan's daughter Christina campaigned unsuccessfully for the Judy Geeson role, to which Crawford responded to the press, "Christina is not ready to have such responsibility. To co-star with 'Joan Crawford'? Isn't that a lot of pressure to put on the girl?"

Crawford’s second starring vehicle for Herman Cohen, which was also her last feature film, was that unforgettable cave-man opus, Trog (1970). In the 1994 book, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers by Tom Weaver, producer Cohen refutes claims that Crawford was ever subjected to the kind of on-a-shoestring treatment his low-budget films suggest (such as the oft-repeated rumor Crawford had to dress in the back of a station wagon during Trog). According to Cohen, Crawford insisted on being treated like a major star, and to make her happy, for both Berserk! and Trog, he was glad to stretch their budgets to accommodate the expense of a Rolls Royce and driver, an apartment with maid and cook, and a large location dressing room caravan. Anything to make Miss Crawford feel like the star she was (or used to be). Cohen also relates that it was important he never use the term “horror film” when talking to Crawford about their professional collaborations. Joan it seems hated the idea of horror films and considered her films for Cohen to be dramas with “…some horrific moments.”
Scream Queen
At this stage it didn't matter to Joan what her name appeared on,
just so long as it appeared on SOMETHING....preferably in big letters

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
I’m pretty much an all-around Joan Crawford fan, but a glance at my DVD collection reveals a decided preference for late-career Crawford. Joan at her worst is actually Joan at her best. I don’t deny the appeal of her early films, but I've always sensed the indelible imprint of the MGM assembly-line in how similar she seems (in terms of look, mannerism, and speech) to every other major actress on the roaring lion’s payroll at the time. However, the over-the-top, almost frightening Joan Crawford unveiled in Torch Song (1953) and thereafter is another Joan altogether.
Shedding all that was vulnerable and soft in Possessed (1947) and Daisy Kenyon (1947), while retaining – if not emphasizing – the hardness and severity of the characters she played in Flamingo Road (1949) and Harriet Craig (1950); Joan Crawford in the '50s transmogrified into a being of her own creation. A being who was not so much an actress as the human embodiment of the combined characteristics of hard work, determination, discipline, and self-delusion. Joan was no longer just a star; she was stardom triumphant. A larger-than-life entity so committed to giving her fans The Joan They Knew And Loved, her final film appearances took on the quality of grand opera. A quality blissfully ignorant of things like camp sensibilities, drag queen aesthetics, or modulating her performance to the scale of the film at hand.
Berserk! is a thoroughly harmless (one might say affectless) suspenser that’s a great deal of silly fun in that way unique to low-budget genre flicks which harbor few illusions about themselves and have no objective beyond giving the audience a good scare. But as pleasant as it is to play “whodunit” in a setting brimming with animal acts, red herrings, and hoary fright effects; Joan Crawford is the entire show and she alone is what makes Berserk! worth watching at all. As efficiently as she carries out her ringmaster duties while showing off her handsome legs in an Edith Head-designed leotard, Crawford single-handedly turns the mediocre Berserk! into a masterpiece of high drama and unintentional circus camp.

Diana Dors about to be sawed in half as magician's assistant to Philip Madoc in Berserk! 1967 
Diana Dors about to be sawed in half as magician's assistant to David J. Stewart
in the unaired 1961 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

PERFORMANCES
In Berserk!, if Joan is less than 100% convincing as the owner of a traveling circus, it’s only because she runs it with an aggressive authority and Machiavellian cunning more appropriate to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company (that and the fact one can't really imagine Joan putting up with the untidiness of circus life). I can’t say anything about her performance here that I haven’t already covered in previous posts for Queen BeeStrait-Jacket, and Harriet Craig, only to add that I get a particular kick out of the way Crawford's studied line readings in Berserk! have a way of sliding from her usual over-enunciated, studio-taught elocution, into a curious brand of Texas-accented dialect:
“That’s JUST whadda mean!”
“Want me to spell it out fuh ya?”
“He’s just mah business partner!”
With dinner over, Hardin's ready for dessert 

I enjoy the supporting cast of Berserk! a great deal, each actor wisely giving the film’s star as wide a berth possible for the histrionic grandstanding to follow. My favorites are Diana Dors, saddled with a truly awful wig, but giving each of her scenes a vitriolic punch the film sorely needs. The appealing Judy Geeson is given scant to do, but does so with a level or genuineness that almost feels out of place for the movie (“Geeson’s pretty but doesn't have the stuff to make it for the long haul,” sniffed Crawford). And the regrettably-named Ty Hardin (that is, until you learn his real name is Orison Whipple Hungerford …JR!!!) makes an appropriately incongruous choice for Crawford’s love-interest, his towering frame and obvious youth  serving to cast just the right amount of suspicion on his character’s motives.
Ted Lune, Golda Casimir, George Claydon & Milton Reid
Berserk! grinds to a screeching halt in order to accommodate the cutesy
but not-at-all-confessional musical number, "It Might Be Me"

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Contractual show-biz pairings are nothing new. If you hired TV personality Steve Allen, you had to take Jayne Meadows; director Bryan Forbes never worked without wife Nanette Newman; and, pre-split-up, getting Tim Burton always meant Helena Bonham Carter was not far behind. In the 60s, Joan Crawford and Pepsi were an onscreen pair made in product-placement heaven.

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
I was ten-years-old when Berserk! was released in theaters, and I recall how disturbing I found the TV commercials and newspaper ads which prominently featured the image of a man about to have a stake driven through his head by a hammer. I was actually too afraid to see the movie at the time, but I wonder what I would have made of it. Then I had no preconceived notions about Joan Crawford to distract me from the story at hand.
Watching the film today, the plot, such as it is, really fades into the distance, and the entirety of my enjoyment is centered exclusively around Crawford and the Crawford mystique. Like a solar eclipse, Joan Crawford and all she has come to represent as a gay icon and camp godsend blots out everything else. Every aspect of Crawford and her life has been parodied and talked about for so long it's hard for me to even see her as a human being, much less a fictional character she plays pretty much as herself. As is the case with all of Crawford's late-career films, watching Berserk! is like being given a tour of a Joan Crawford tribute museum. And I honestly wouldn't have it any other way.
There are scenes infused with near-confessional references to her real-life failed romances and dedication to work over all else. Plus Crawford's outmoded acting style lent interest to scenes with younger performers.
Joan and Ty adopt a pose ripped from countless vintage movie posters
 (not to mention paperback romance novels)
And every one of Geeson's scenes with Crawford can't help but subliminally call to mind the epic Mommie Dearest:
"And what about your Christmas card list?"
"Because I'm not one of your FAAAANS!"
"You know Christina, flirting can be taken the wrong way...."

Perhaps a stronger film than Berserk! could surmount these distractions, but Berserk! has so little going for it that's genuinely compelling, one can't help but welcome every self-referential, over-acted, self-serious moment the great Miss Joan Crawford provides. So, for fans of the best that camp has to offer...step right up!


BONUS MATERIAL
The original (spoiler-filled) Berserk! trailer that scared me as a kid.


Alfred Hitchcock Presents; "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (1961) - Diana Dors stars in this circus-themed episode that was never aired because sponsors deemed it too gruesome.

Circus of Horrors (1960) - Although it lacks Joan Crawford (and that's quite a lack, indeed) this feature film release is similar (and in many ways superior) to Berserk!, but is not nearly as much fun.


George Claydon, who played Bruno the clown in Berserk! appeared as the
first Oompa Loompa on the left in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Diana Dors was not only quite the bombshell in her youth but in later years became one of television's most articulate, witty, and charming talk show guests. Here's a clip of a 1971 television interview.

Wikipedia biography of actor Ty Hardin referencing his 8 marriages and eventual descent into right-wing, nutjob, ultra-conservatism.

Given how much Joan Crawford favored the dramatic shadow across her neck in films, I suppose it's only fitting that on the day I took this photo of her star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame (in front of the Capitol Records building near Hollywood & Vine) I was unable to avoid this band of shadow falling across it. I can imagine Crawford in heaven telling God how to light her correctly. 

Copyright © Ken Anderson

Monday, July 25, 2016

BLOODLINE 1979

I think one of the main reasons Wait Until Dark was so upsetting to me as a kid was because the person at the receiving end of Alan Arkin’s homicidal abuse was Audrey Hepburn. MY Audrey Hepburn! The sweet, elegant, refined, ceaselessly classy, Audrey Hepburn! I didn’t even think of her as the character in the film. In fact, even today, were you ask me the name of her character, I couldn’t say. All I could tell you is that Eliza Doolittle is blind; Sabrina doesn’t know she has a doll full of heroine; and a mean man in a leather jacket chases Holly Golightly around with a switchblade.
Wait Until Dark - 1967
Like many, I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn the first time I saw her on the screen. And it never bothered me one whit that I rarely, if ever, expected her to be anything but her own glorious self from film to film. Hepburn’s screen persona and personal identity were both so intrinsically interlinked in my mind; actress and image remained one in the same. I simply counted on her bringing the same charming, immensely likeable personality to whatever role she played—like an insurance policy of goodwill. It got so that no matter what a film’s shortcomings, Hepburn’s reliably enchanting presence assured me of at least a couple of blissful hours spent in the glow of her one-of-a-kind, movie star incandescence.
Two for the Road - 1967
I grew up during the early days of movie-star overexposure (talk shows, game shows, TV specials), so part of Hepburn’s appeal was scarcity. Not only did she not make many films (contributing to my youthful perception that when she did deign to appear in a movie, it HAD to be special), but Hepburn took a lengthy hiatus from acting precisely at the time I discovered her. I was in the fourth grade when she starred in two of what would become my absolute top favorite Audrey Hepburn films: Two for the Road and Wait Until Dark (both 1967) —only to abruptly drop from sight to raise a family. I was in college when she returned to the screen for Robin and Marian (1976).

I was overjoyed at the prospect of Audrey Hepburn’s comeback (“I hate that word!” – Norma Desmond) but Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag. Hepburn was wonderful as ever, indeed, she’s really rather remarkable, and her scenes with Sean Connery are heartachingly good and never fail to move me to tears. But I always saw Hepburn as a true original and a “star”…someone worthy of a the kind of even-handed role Katherine Hepburn shared with Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter. In the Richard Lester film, Hepburn’s Maid Marian (to me, anyway) was just a shade above being a secondary part; responsible for shouldering all the emotional weight, hers was a mature, glorified but nonetheless typical “girlfriend” role in a male action/adventure film.
Robin & Marian  - 1976
Although it would be three more years before Hepburn would grace the screen again (during which time there was talk of her starring in Out of Africa in the role that eventually went to Meryl Streep), when her name was announced for the lead role in the screen adaptation of Sidney Sheldon’s 1977 bestseller Bloodline, this time out I was genuinely (if injudiciously) stoked. At last Hepburn was to star in a film more worthy of her stature and reputation: a glamorous, big-budget, international romantic suspense thriller!

And while saner minds might have considered Sidney Sheldon’s name attached to the project to be a red flag of no small significance, I allowed myself to be distracted by the possibilities posed by the film’s sizable, international cast of (mostly) genuine movie stars; Hepburn being reunited with director Terence Young (who guided Hepburn to her 5th Academy Award nomination with Wait Until Dark); and the opportunity to her sporting chic frocks by her favorite designer, Hubert de Givenchy (Robin & Marian’s 16thcentury nun’s habit didn’t cut it for me).
Bolstered by the popularity of the bestseller, the draw of Hepburn’s 2nd screen comeback (ahem,…return), and an inordinate amount of publicity centered around the age discrepancy between the novel’s heroine (23) and Hepburn herself (50 playing 35);  Bloodline was set to be a major release from Paramount for the summer  of ’79.

Alas, despite its tony pedigree, Bloodline proved to be rather anemic at the boxoffice. Audiences, as they say, stayed away in droves, a result perhaps of finding the film’s rather distasteful (and nonsensical) porno snuff film subplot to be as cruel a mistreatment of Audrey Hepburn as anything Alan Arkin dished out.

For those not around in the late-70s (or who were, but not as immersed in smut as yours truly), Bloodline's distinctive, ribboned throated female with the overemphasized red lips, poster graphic (figuring significantly in the film's bafflingly superfluous porno subplot) referenced - inadvertently perhaps - a then-popular line of porn mags and videos known as Swedish Erotica. That company's trademark was to feature "models" with deeply scarlet lips, wearing only a smile and a colorful scarf tied around the neck. The lovely platinum blonde with the hard countenance above is Seka, one of the company's most popular performers.
I know this because one of my earliest jobs when I moved to LA was working at Adam & Eve's Adult Books (Nudist Magazines! Art Films!), located right next to where I lived at the time: The Villa Elaine Apartments on Vine Street. I sold a lot those Swedish Erotica porno loops. Film is film, yes?...Vive le cinéma! (screencap is from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)



SIDNEY SHELDON'S BLOODLINE
Audrey Hepburn as Elizabeth Roffe
Ben Gazzara as Rhys Williams
James Mason as Sir Alec Nichols
Romy Schneider as Helene Roffe-Martin
Omar Sharif as Ivo Palazzi
Irene Papas as Simonetta  Palazzi
Maurice Ronet as Charles Martin
Michelle Phillips as Vivian Nichols
Gert Frobe as Inspector Max Hornung

Beautiful Elizabeth Roffe (the cardinal rule for trash novels is that all heroines must be beautiful) is the doting only child born to disappointed-she-wasn’t-a-boy pharmaceutical magnate Sam Roffe. When Mr. Roffe dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances, inexperienced but quick-to-learn Elizabeth instantly inherits a global, multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical dynasty. A financially beleaguered company suffering a recent streak (read: suspicious) of bad luck.
Although pressured by her stock-holding relatives to sell the company and go public, headstrong Elizabeth (thanks to the help of her father’s faithful secretary and a monumentally boring flashback to her great grandfather’s humble beginnings in Krakow, Poland) decides, in spite of her inexperience, to run the business herself. A decision which doesn’t set well with her relatives, a virtual “It’s a Small World” sampling of sinister multinationality, each grappling with various degrees of financial hardship.
Putting the Bored in Boardroom
Even The Muppet Movie didn't have this many scenes set behind desks 
As though to make it easier for ‘merican audiences to follow along, the extended Roffe family conveniently plays to familiar national stereotypes: Italian Ivo (Sharif) is a philandering bumbler being blackmailed by his heavy-accented, hot-tempered, black-bra-wearing mistress (Claudia Mori). Paris-based Helene (Schneider) is patronizing and rude, while her browbeaten husband (Ronet) sinks money into a failing (what else?) vineyard. British MP Alec (Mason), in a state of near-ruin due to his much-younger wife’s gambling addiction, nevertheless maintains a stiff-upper-lip formality and cool head. And good ol' American Rhys Williams (Gazzara) is a direct, straight-shootin’ sorta guy who’s only flaw seems to be having a weakness for the ladies.

With so many family members standing to financially benefit from the company’s dissolution, it’s only a matter of time before Elizabeth discovers that not only wasn’t her father’s death accidental, but her resistance to selling the company has placed her own life in danger. As factory mishaps multiply, close calls escalate, and some bald dude keeps strangling anonymous women, the questions mount: Who can be trusted? Are bloodlines thicker than mountain climbing rope, brake lines, or elevator cables? And just who is that Boris Badenov lookalike orchestrating those repugnant snuff films?
More importantly, how the hell did MY Audrey Hepburn get mixed up in this mess?

Apt Metaphor
Audrey Hepburn trapped in a runaway vehicle that's careening out of control

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Whether it be Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins, or Jackie Collins; I love a good, glossy trash movie. But Bloodline really puts my blind adoration to the test. It’s a film comprised of all the standard ingredients, but everything just feels a little off.
There’s the large cast of recognizable names. Excellent actors all, but just a wee bit past their prime. The curious side effect being (as the average age falls within the 49 – 60 range) is that it often appears as though everybody had a “must sit down” clause in their contracts. There’s a hell of a lot of sitting going on in this movie. It’s hard to get worked up over the identity of the murderer when no one in the cast looks like they have the energy for it. 
Beatrice Straight as loyal secretary Kate Erling
Then there’s the promise of exotic, far off locations. Bloodline spent a sizable chunk of its $12-million-budget flying cast and crew to New York, London, Paris, Rome, Munich, Sardinia, and Copenhagen; so why does most of it look like it was shot on a studio backlot? There’s a scene shot in a European red-light district that has all the authenticity and grit of the San Francisco backstreets Patty Duke stumbled around in Valley of the Dolls
Lastly, there’s the opportunity for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the cutthroat world of big business. Harold Robbins’ The Betsy had the automotive industry; Jacqueline Susann’s The Love Machine had the television industry; Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline takes place in the cutthroat world of pharmaceuticals (the sleeping pill jokes practically write themselves). This obviously posed a challenge to screenwriter Laird Koenig, for his idea of creating dramatic tension is to have characters declare “Let’s call a meeting!”  with the frequency (and similar purpose) of a teenager yelling “Surf’s up!” in a Beach Party movie. 
What little momentum Bloodline has comes to a screeching halt as Gazzara takes Hepburn
on a 3-hour-tour of a Roffe pharmaceutical plant (or does it only feel that way?). The scene is
accompanied by composer Ennio Morricone's nod to disco and Giorgio Moroder which had me
wishing I had a few Roffe aspirins at my disposal

I’ve not read enough Sidney Sheldon to know if this is substandard for his usual brand of schlock (I’ve only read Bloodline and The Other Side of Midnight, and of the two, Bloodline feels surely lacking), but I’ve always felt the novel would have been better off adapted as a TV movie or miniseries starring Jacklyn Smith. A plot like Bloodline's would stand to benefit from the built-in lowered expectations. As it is, with Audrey Hepburn and so many esteemed actors attached to the project, the film not only acquires a prestige it can’t possibly live up to (not with THAT source material); but it also takes on a the kind of self-serious air that’s poison to escapist trash like this. 
I found Hepburn's Givenchy wardrobe to be more exciting than the film

PERFORMANCES
Sad to say, but Bloodline is something of an embarrassment for everyone involved (except Omar Sharif, who gleefully sinks to the level of the material and in doing so, somehow salvages himself).
But my dear Audrey Hepburn is particularly ill-served. I’ve read that she was very unhappy during the filming (her marriage was falling apart), was feeling rusty and insecure about her talent, and even sought to bail on the movie once she learned of the nudity/porn/snuff-film angle (perhaps she was too busy counting the zeroes on her $1 million paycheck to be bothered with reading the novel or script beforehand). All this goes a long way toward explaining why she really doesn’t seem to be present in this film.
I’m usually delighted watching Hepburn in her anything, but it’s no fun watching someone who seems to be having so little.
One good thing to come out of Bloodline was an affair between Gazzara (recently divorced from Janice Rule) & Hepburn (still married to Andrea Dotti) which lasted through to their next film together, Peter Bogdanovich's They All Laughed (1981).
True to form, the couple's real-life sparks fail to show up on the screen in Bloodline ,sealing the film's fate as a romantic suspense thriller with no romantic chemistry, minimal suspense, and negligible thrills. (As leading men go, Gazzara is as bland and colorless a co-star as Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was in Wait Until Dark. Terence Young can sure pick 'em.)

Hepburn was a legendarily lovely woman, but even her iconic beauty was no match for this unflattering, matronly "Church Lady" curly perm that appeared to be all the rage during the late '70s-early '80s. Here it is doing absolutely no favors for (clockwise ) Hepburn, Mary Tyler Moore (Ordinary People -1980), Maureen Stapleton (Interiors - 1978), Dustin Hoffman...who actually looks pretty good (Tootsie - 1982), Ali MacGraw (Just Tell Me What You Want  - 1980), and Marsha Mason (Chapter Two - 1979).
*Special thanks to the readers who jogged my memory


THE STUFF OF DREAMS NIGHTMARES
Spoiler Alert: Read no further. Crucial plot points are revealed for the purpose of discussion. 
The most consistent complaint leveled at Bloodline is that the very focus of its print and poster ads, what earned it its R-rating, the one story element which stands as the most distasteful part of the film ----makes absolutely no sense and has no bearing on the central mystery. 
From the time of Bloodline’s release, the subplot involving a serial killer strangling prostitutes, filming their deaths, and then discarding their bodies in the river (each with a red ribbon around their neck), has been a bad taste deal-breaker. Whatever narrow chances Bloodline might have had as a sophisticated thriller or even a camp classic were forever jeopardized by the ugliness of these scenes. Scenes made all the more odious due to the fact that they appear to have nothing whatsoever to do with anything.
Family Feud
"According to my father, one of them is deliberately trying to ruin the company."

Well, that’s not entirely true. Bloodline is a movie that has all the earmarks of having been hacked to pieces. A fact evident in characters and relationships never being fleshed out or explained, storylines and plot points left dangling, and a general air of abrupt abbreviation. The theatrical release runs nearly two hours, but when it was broadcast on television, there was 40 minutes of unseen footage available to use. Forty minutes!
A serious casualty of all this cutting (I can only assume) is that it’s never made clear what the hell the serial killer angle has to do with someone out to sabotage Roffe Pharmaceuticals.

What’s missing from the film is expounded upon in the novel (albeit cursorily), so for those who have no wish to subject themselves to Sidney Sheldon for the sake of making sense of the nonsensical, here goes: (Remember folks, spoilers ahead). 
Now, Voyeur
The man behind these filmed murders is seen reflected in the dresser mirror

Sir Alec is sexually impotent, and as a result, his vain, much-younger wife is blatantly (and serially) unfaithful, Her incessant gambling and wanton spending brings the mob down on their heads (threatening to nail her knees to the floor), prompting Alec to resort to sabotage and murder to secure his share of Roffe industries.
On a wholly unrelated note, Alec. unwilling to divorce his wife yet hating her for her infidelities, can only achieve sexual gratification when vicariously “punishing” women whom he makes up to look like her (the red ribbon bit. The first time they made love, she was wearing a red ribbon around her neck). So Sir Alec pays a maniac to act out his revenge fantasy on anonymous women while he watches from the sidelines and a cameraman films their strangulation deaths. Are you sick yet?


STUFF OF FANTASY
For all its flaws, Bloodline has a place in this cinema diary of mine because I was so absolutely caught up with the hype at the time. It was one of those films you get so worked up over seeing that when it proves to be a bit of a disappointment, you don't really admit it to yourself (in a way you don't really know it). I recall sitting through it twice on opening night, and then returning the following week. Was it because I liked it that much? Not really. Was I THAT excited to see Audrey Hepburn on the screen again? Well, of course!
One clunker in a career of gems doesn't stop her from being MY Audrey Hepburn.



BONUS MATERIAL
On April 13, 1979 Grauman's Chinese Theater added two ugly, boxy cineplexes to the original theater built in 1926. Bloodline was one of a package of Paramount releases premiering at one of the new theaters that summer. I saw Bloodline on opening night Friday, June 29th, which also happened to be the opening day of the latest Bond film Moonraker, and the Bill Murray summer camp comedy Meatballs. I watched Bloodline with an audience comprised of older couples and a few folks turned away from sold-out Bond screenings.
Premiere features were: Hurricane, Old Boyfriends, and in the main theater, Superman 

Here's the trailer for Bloodline's 1986 television broadcast. Even in this 30-second clip are scenes not in the theatrical release. Michelle Phillips was appearing on the ABC TV series Hotel at the time, accounting for her prominent billing.


 I wasn't aware that Bloodline marked the 5th screen pairing of Romy Schneider and Maurice Ronet. Prior to Bloodline they appeared in the mystery/thriller Qui? (1970)


Copyright © Ken Anderson