Like most people my age (never mind), I harbor fond memories of that boom product of early '70s television that was the "made-for-TV-movie." Specifically, The ABC Movie of the Week series. For kids too young to experience firsthand the often "R"-rated revolution in cinema that was exploding on movie theater screens across the country, The ABC Movie of the Week offered a somewhat toned-down, parent-sanctioned taste of just what the New Hollywood was all about. Anti-heroes, counterculture politics, sexual liberation, violence, and the phenomenon of the unhappy ending were gently ushered into American households thanks to the '70s TV movie.
Though many of these 90-minute or two-hour films were cheesy and interchangeable "B-movies" offering steady employment to marginal TV actors and not-ready-to-retire stars of yesteryear, an exceptional few were surprisingly accomplished motion pictures equal to and exceeding their theatrical counterparts.It's not my intention to broaden the scope of this blog to include TV movies, but in any realistic examination of films that have been "the stuff that dreams are made of" in my life; there's no way I could not acknowledge this rarely seen, probably-forgotten, little masterpiece from the director of Saturday Night Fever.
|Tuesday Weld as Vicky|
|Joan Hackett as Claire Elliott|
|Sam Waterston as Michael Elliott|
|Lance Kerwin as Chip|
The plot: The wife (Hackett) and mistress (Weld) of an abusive headmaster at a boy's school (Waterston) conspire to murder him and have his body discovered in a manner suggesting accidental drowning. Things swiftly go awry when the body fails to materialize and the presumed-dead man is not only observed around town by others, but possibly baiting the would-be-murderesses in a revenge plot of his own.WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Those familiar with the work of French director Henri-Georges Clouzot will recognize Reflections of Murder as an updated remake of his influential 1955 French thriller, Les Diaboliques. I hadn't seen that classic film at the time, so the twists and turns of plot that were undoubtedly familiar to some took me completely by surprise. Understatement. I was devastated. I didn't see ANY of that coming and the shock of it blew me away. Even with the annoyance of commercial interruptions, Reflections of Murder (a truly terrible, lazy, meaningless title that sounds like one of those straight-to-DVD sex thrillers of the '90s) was one of the most effective suspense thrillers I'd seen since Rosemary's Baby and Wait Until Dark. Even now, after having seen the Clouzot original many times and loving it as I do, Reflections of Murder still remains my favorite adaptation of the source novel, Celle
qui n'était Plus by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (the authors of the novel upon which Alfred Hitchcock based his film, Vertigo).
|Claire: "Well, I can't do it and I won't!"|
Vicky: "You will surprise yourself."
|"I fear for my life when you two sit down together."|
Subtext, intentional or otherwise, is often one of those things that can make the difference between a film being one that's merely entertaining to one that you never forget. In Reflections of Murder the unlikely friendship between a wife and a mistress—which, in the French context, had a decadent, continental air—takes on a tone both sinister and dangerously sexy when viewed from the American perspective which, as a rule, tends to be less forgiving of the husband/mistress arrangement.
PERFORMANCESAn actress arguably more famous for the high-profile roles she's turned down ( Lolita and Bonnie & Clyde, to name a few) than the films she's made, I can't recall ever paying much attention to Tuesday Weld before this film. In fact, in looking over a list of her early credits: Sex Kittens Go to College, Bachelor Flat, I'll Take Sweden, it's more likely I avoided her. But I fell in love with her in Reflections of Murder. And it's not because she looks so terrific with that fetching short haircut. She gives an assured performance that plays on so many levels of manipulation and unanticipated forcefulness that you are no more sure of her motives than the characters in the film. I've since grown into a genuine respect for her talent and number her among my favorite actresses...although I don't always "get" her choices in roles.
Tuesday Weld, Roman Polanski's original choice to star in his horror classic Rosemary's Baby, sports a short haircut in Reflections of Murder that provides a curious glimpse of what the actress might have looked like in the role that made Mia Farrow a star.
And then there is the late Joan Hackett. From the time I first saw her in The Group (1966) she has always impressed me with the gentle, fragile vulnerability she brought to her roles. Forgetting that she was also a very gifted comedienne (Support Your Local Sheriff), studios unfortunately tended to type her as a victim. Here she gives what I consider one of her best performances, her trademark hesitations and nervous, darting movements a perfect foil to Weld's steely efficiency. Maybe it's because of their diverse acting styles, but Weld and Hackett's scenes together are really electric. They are so good that they drive each scene exclusively with the intensity of emotional interaction; you almost forget they're setting the serpentine plot along its course.
|Vicky: "Why am I suddenly the enemy?"|
Claire: "You're not suddenly...you always were."
During its final act, Reflections of Murder may ultimately tip its hat to the genre conventions of deserted mansion, diaphanous bedgown, and a night full of thunder and lightning, but preceding that, the film has made moodily picturesque use of the lushly dank forests and overcast skies of the
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
|The scenes between Lance Kerwin (James at 15) and Joan Hackett provide the film with a touching humanity that make the chilling circumstances of plot more than just mystery/suspense fodder|
I've read that a DVD release of Reflections of Murder has been held up in a rights and licensing battle, so, for the time being, I have to content myself with my murky VHS copy. I've been told, however, that there exists a copy available for viewing on YouTube. If so, it would well be worth your while to give it a look. It's the kind of taut, finely executed thriller rarely seen these days. A real killer.
Copyright © Ken Anderson