Monday, September 14, 2015

THE FAN 1981

At a time when most of her industry peers were retired, forgotten, or guesting on episodes of Fantasy Island and The Love Boat, 56-year-old Lauren Bacall was enjoying a career resurgence and public visibility rivaling that of her 1940s heyday when she was known as “The Look.”  The year 1981 saw Bacall headlining in the Broadway musical Woman of the Year; topping the bestseller charts with the paperback release of her 1978 memoir By Myself; shilling everything from jewelry to cat food in TV and print ads; and, most remarkably in those pre-Meryl Streep/Helen Mirren years of elder-actress marketability, starring in a nine-million-dollar major motion picture release.
The Fame Game
The Fan, a suspense thriller based on Bob Randall’s 1977 epistolary novel about an aging Broadway star stalked by an obsessive fan, gave Bacall arguably the biggest role of her career. Certainly, the first to require her to carry an entire film on her own.

Filmed on location in New York from March to July of 1980, The Fan was poised for release at the most opportune time to take marketing advantage of Bacall’s already-in-motion Broadway and bookshelf publicity. Unfortunately, as The Fan’s PR-friendly release date of March 15, 1981 neared, several real-life, obsessive fan-based tragedies occurred (targeting John Lennon and then-President Ronald Reagan), conspiring to make this fame-culture melodrama seem more an exercise in bad taste than a film of ripped-from-today's-headlines relevance.
Lauren Bacall as Sally Ross
Michael Biehn as Douglas Breen
Maureen Stapleton as Belle Goldman
James Garner as Jake Berman
Hector Elizondo as Inspector Raphael Andrews 
Kurt Johnson as David Barnum

If musical theater geeks, Glee habitués, and folks capable of making it through an entire Tony Awards broadcast ever longed for an '80s slasher film to call their own, then The Fan more than fills the Playbill. This unappetizingly bloody, yet oh-so delectable/derisible blend of backstage musical, 1940s career-woman soap opera, slasher-flick, and woman-in-peril melodrama, is high-camp movie nirvana. An upscale cousin of the hagsploitation genre of the '60s, The Fan might have substituted seasoned glamour for the usual grotesquery, but in keeping with the requirements of the sub-genre, The Fan's raison d'être remained the prolonged persecution and victimization of a mature star from Hollywood's Golden Era. 

When The Fan opened in theaters in the spring of 1981, the borrow a line from one of the hooty Louis St. Louis (Grease 2) show tunes sung in the film..."Got no love” from either audiences or critics. Patrons old enough to be enticed by the film's elder cast risked having their blue rinses turn stark white at the sight of the movie's copious bloodshed and some of the blunt, Bogie-wouldn't-stand-for-this dialog: “Dearest bitch, see how accessible you are? How would you like to be fucked by a meat cleaver?” Similarly, the teen demographic ordinarily drawn to slasher films weren't quite sure of what to make of a movie set in the middle-aged, Sardi's and cigarettes world of New York legitimate theater.  A wholly uninspired publicity campaign only added to the film’s troubles.
Had The Fan been a play, it would have closed in Boston. Whisked off screens within weeks of its release, The Fan resurfaced with some regularity on cable TV venues like HBO and Showtime throughout the '80s before ultimately disappearing into relative obscurity. Obscurity so complete that Robert De Niro's unrelated but same-titled 1996 sports-themed film has totally eclipsed Bacall's The Fan in the public's memory.
Happily, The Fan's recent release on DVD has rekindled awareness of this very '80s curio. A glimpse back at a New York still atmospherically seedy. A vision of a world populated with record stores, typewriters, payphones, legwarmers, and heavy smokers. All with nary a Starbucks in sight. And while it's no undiscovered classic, The Fan does have its merits (most of them camp-related, I'm afraid) that make it a movie worthy of rediscovery. Not the least of them being Lauren Bacall, a smoking, drinking, tough-as-nails star of Broadway and the silver screen, playing a smoking, drinking, tough-as-nails star of Broadway and the silver screen. And convincingly, too!

The psychological subtheme of The Fan
And the audience LOVES me! And I love them! And they love me for lovin' them and I love them for lovin' me. And we love each other. And that's 'cause none of us got enough love in our childhoods. 
And that's show biz, kid!  - Fred Ebb

No low-budget, body-count slasher flick featuring nondescript teens stalked by a masked phantom, The Fan was conceived as a stylish, A-List, Hitchcockian thriller along the lines of Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) and Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980). The latter a sleeper hit that garnered '50s sexpot, Angie Dickinson, some of the best notices of her career. 
At least that's how things started.
Produced by movie/music mogul Robert Stigwood on the downturn side of a '70s winning streak that included youth-centric films like Jesus Christ Superstar, Saturday Night Fever, and Tommy; The Fan was Stigwood’s most expensive film to date and first stab at cracking the grown-up ticket-buying market. To this end, he amassed a distinguished cast of New York actors and pedigreed Broadway composers (Marvin Hamlisch and Tim Rice collaborated on two–fairly terrible but nonetheless irresistible–original songs). On the production end, he secured the talents of up-and-coming first-time director Edward Bianchi (from TV commercials and music videos) and choreographer Arlene Philips (Can’t Stop The MusicAnnie).

If you've ever seen a Lauren Bacall musical, you know that her being lifted and carried about is a choreography requisite. I was surprised at the number of online reviews that questioned Bacall's "believability" portraying a Broadway musical star in The Fan. Reviews that later expressed surprise upon learning that she was indeed a musical theater star in real life. Bacall was the Best Actress Tony Award winner for both Applause - 1970 and Woman of the Year - 1981.

But as the saying goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and somewhere between screenplay to movie-house, The Fan transmogrified into a film beset by:
1) Bad decisions -  Friday the 13 became a hit during The Fan's post-production, prompting Paramount to order reshoots to ratchet up the violence. 
2) Bad timing and bad decisions - Three months before The Fan's release, John Lennon was killed by an obsessive fan outside NY’s Dakota apartments (as it happens, also the home of Lauren Bacall), after which it is said the film's original downbeat ending (if true to the novel) underwent some 11th-hour tinkering and reshoots.
3) Bad luck -  Bacall's idea of promoting The Fan was to express to the press her disappointment in the finished product. Making matters worse, three weeks into The Fan's less-than-illustrious release, an attempt was made on President Reagan's life by a Jodie Foster-obsessed fan. Suddenly, a film very few people were interested in in the first place began to look to everyone like an exercise in exploitation and bad taste.
Bacall the Buzzkill
Bacall: "The Fan is much more graphic and violent than when I read the script."
Anna Maria Horsford (who appeared in Stigwood's Times Square in 1980) as detective Emily Stolz

Stigwood severely scaled back his usual bombastic pre-release publicity for The Fan (STD results have been released with more fanfare), while Paramount added a disclaimer to its theatrical trailers claiming The Fan was in no way inspired by the tragic death of John Lennon. The latter decision prompting the outspoken Bacall to declare to People magazine: “I think it’s disgusting, revolting, and exploitive!”

In the end, it didn't really matter, for The Fan wound up being one of those rare films capable of offering audiences simultaneously contradictory experiences–none of them satisfactory. Stylishly shot, overflowing in chichi urban gloss, and embellished with a chilling Pino Donaggio score (Carrie, Don’t Look NowThe Fan ultimately failed to find an audience because it clearly didn't know who the hell that was. Classic movie fans familiar with Lauren Bacall thought the film was too classy to be so trashy; slasher fans thought the film wasn't trashy enough. Gays had their own problems with the film.
Strangers in the Night
The Fan did itself no favors by alienating the very audience most receptive to a film offering up ample doses of musical theater, backstage drama, show tunes, tight male bodies in various states of undress, and Lauren Bacall in full Margo Channing mode. On the heels of Windows (1980), a stalker thriller about a lesbian psychopath, and Cruising (1980) a crime thriller about a gay psychopath; many members of the gay community felt The Fan's closeted theater-queen stalker was one gay psycho too many.

None of that applied to me, however. I was a presold audience in and of myself. I’d read The Fan back in 1978, intrigued by the way the book used the thriller genre to comment on the odd love/hate relationship between stars and their adoring public. I was also a longstanding fan of Lauren Bacall from her old movies with Bogart on The Late Show, Applause (the 1973 TV broadcast, anyway), and Murder on the Orient Express; so I was thrilled when I heard she'd been cast.  
Actress Dana Delany making her film debut in The Fan
Adding to my anticipation was the fact that Edward Bianchi was hired to direct and Arlene Phillips was to do the choreography. Bianchi & Phillips had collaborated on a series of eye-popping Dr. Pepper commercials in the late '70s for the advertising agency Young & Rubicam. Commercials I had been inspired by and borrowed from for a couple of my film school projects. When I also learned that Broadway great Maureen Stapleton had joined the cast and that Bacall’s rumored real-life paramour, James Garner, was also on board, The Fan swiftly became one of the most eagerly-awaited films of the year...for me, anyway.

I saw The Fan on opening day at Grauman’s Chinese Theater where the smallish audience of young people in attendance (clearly in search of a good scare) was underwhelmed. I, on the other hand, felt as though I’d died and gone to camp film heaven. Not since Eyes of Laura Mars had I seen such a slick-looking thriller. On capable of being enjoyed on so many levels at once. I wound up seeing it a total of three times before it disappeared from theaters.
Shot on location, The Fan provides many great glimpses of 80s-era New York.
Here the famed Shubert Theater is the site for Sally Ross' opening night in Never Say Never; the fictional musical providing The Fan with so much of its camp appeal

What brings me back to The Fan time and time again are its many sequences depicting the behind-the-scenes creation of the fictional Broadway musical, Never Say Never. Much is made of it being Sally Ross’ singing and dancing debut, a point we in the audience don't doubt for a minute. Bacall's foghorn baritone and reliance on chorus boys to lug and lift her about give the scenes a comic authenticity. 
Populated with recognized Broadway dancers, shot in actual NY rehearsal studios with a knowing attention to procedural detail; the show in question may look terrible, but these sequences are really rather marvelous. The '80s vibe is irresistible (all those short-shorts, spandex, legwarmers, and Arlene Philips' trademark Hot Gossip choreography), and the risible music ("No energy crisis, my professional advice is...") gets caught in your head like an earwig. Of course, it certainly doesn't hurt that I saw this film during my early days as a dancer and that in 1983, when I took my first trip to New York, I took classes at Jo Jo's Dance Factory, the studio used in the film.
All the Boys Love Sally

UK Choreographer Arlene Phillips wouldn't actually choreograph for
Broadway until 1987's Starlight Express
Call Her Miss Ross
Broadway dancer Justin Ross (l.) appeared in the film version of A Chorus Line,
and dancer Reed Jones (r.) originated the role of Skimbleshanks in Cats

If you’re going to make a film about the kind of old-school, glamorous, show-biz diva capable of inciting the flames of obsessive fandom, you couldn’t do much better than landing all-around class-act, Lauren Bacall. Her gravitas as a full-fledged movie star from the golden era gives The Fan a shot of instant legitimacy every time she appears. In one of the largest roles of her career, Bacall is not always filmed as flatteringly as you'd expect, but the effect is rather refreshing. Her face looks terrifically lived-in, and her still-striking looks serve as a welcome change from the botoxed mannequins we've grown used to. Playing a role that isn't perhaps much of a stretch, awfully good. So good in fact, that I kept wishing the film would just allow the story's natural character conflicts (an aging star grappling confronting loneliness, self-doubt, and vulnerability) play themselves out minus all the genre machinations.
Bacall's appearance on Garner's TV show The Rockford Files in 1979, followed by their re-appearance in Robert Altman's HealtH (1980) and yet again here in The Fan, really had gossip-columnist tongues wagging about a romance between the two

The '80s come vividly alive in the film's Broadway musical sequences, which are sort of Solid Gold meets Can't Stop The Music. As would be the case with the Broadway musical numbers in 1983s Staying Alive, it's near-impossible to imagine just what kind of Broadway this could be, as the numbers look more appropriate to a Las Vegas revue. But they left me wanting more. not less. (I feel safe in saying I'm likely the only person who felt that way.)
A Remarkable Woman
Hearts, Not Diamonds
Disco Bacall - Has to be seen (and heard) to be believed

I've never considered The Fan to be as bad a film as its reputation has led people to believe. Its screenplay is clichéd to be sure (the stage doorman is actually named “Pop”) and the violence needlessly gruesome for such a visually distinguished and stylish film (Bianchi’s music video background is in full evidence), but with a provocative theme and talented cast, The Fan has quite a bit going for it even with its flaws. 
One might have wished for a little more finesse in the areas of motivation and character, but I seriously have a soft spot in my heart for this movie...mostly centered around the Broadway setting, the images of a still gritty and grimy New York, and reminders of my early years in dance. And, of course, it really is great to see late-career Bacallwith that amazing Gena Rowlands-like mane of haircommand the screen once more. Who was it that said, "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be"?

The Fan opened in theaters in May of 1981, Bacall's Broadway musical return in Woman of the Year (granting her a second Tony Award win following her Tony Award-winning turn in Applause in 1970) was in March. For a brief time, Bacall enjoyed the rare distinction of having her name appear on side-by-side marquees. (photo: Walter McBride)

"Deep Brewed Flavah!"
During the '80s Lauren Bacall's commercials for High Point instant coffee were the stuff of lampoon legend. In honor of The Fan, here's one of her most Sally Ross "theatah"- themed ones. HERE 

Before "Be a Pepper!" became the company's slogan, Dr. Pepper was sold as "The Most Original Soft Drink Ever." Edward Bianchi directed this stylish and award-winning commercial from 1975. HERE

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2015


  1. Hello Ken, I might be the first to comment this time! Great review of this forgotten film. I saw this on video a few times, maybe a year after its release. The only things I remember about it now are the murders of the guy in the pool and of poor Maureen Stapleton. They were gruesome.

    It seems like a strange idea to make a slasher/musical. I suppose a simple backstage musical with Lauren was not enough to attract an audience and that the film producers thought people would only come to see her if she was threatened by a killer. She must have loved being the central character though, instead of in supporting role! I must see it again for the broadway numbers and the New York setting.

    1. Hi Wille
      I agree, there's something a little off about a slasher musical. When I read the book, I thought it would make a great film. Most "stalker" movies have such contrived themes, but the whole fan/superstar dynamic naturally lent itself to the genre.
      But something about a young man terrorizing an older lady plays strangely. Mix in with that the pseudo-gay atmosphere of musical theater and the effect of peppy dance number interrupting scenes of violence.
      Maybe a truly talented director could have found a way to deal with the jarring shift in tone, but Bianchi, for all his visual style, gives the movie a feeling of being two entirely different films edited together.

      I enjoy this dissonance, but I totally get why audiences were confounded. Although I only remember Bacall complaining about the film, like you, I think she must have been thrilled to be offered such a big role. So rare for actresses of her age, and rarer still for Bacall, who usually offered support in films.
      The older the film gets though, the more I like the shots of New York and feel of the film, Thanks for commenting, pal!

  2. Ah... The Fan. I arrived in NYC early in 1980 determined to sing and dance. And I did. I was working in Pennsylvania when this opened. The cast of whatever show it was, all trooped to the local cinema for a matinee of The Fan. All of us gave it a big ol' thumbs down, except for Maureen Stapleton who never got a 'thumbs down' in her life.

    The old Entermedia Theater looks nothing like a Broadway house. The Haymarket was a hustler bar on 8th Avenue at 47th Street. A scary hustler bar. As seedy as it looks in the movie, I'm sure that it usually didn't look that good. I lived a block away, but trust me, I never went in. It wasn't even fun to walk past. A friend had scored the gig as the typing double for Michael Biehn and if no one else really did well from that film, he did. It's always a film that I don't forget, but don't want to remember, either.

    Still, I may seek out a copy. This essay prompted me to look at a few scenes posted on YouTube. The late great Morosco! The REAL Helen Hayes Theater. If The Fan does nothing else, it preserves a bit of long gone NYC that I knew intimately and remember well.

    On a different historical note, IMDB states that The Fan premiered on May 15, 1981. The Center for Disease Control website states that in June 5, 1981, the first reporting on what would be known as AIDS appeared in the Mortality and Mortality Weekly Report. The Fan is the very last look at Broadway before everything changed forever.

    1. So cool that you have 80s NYC theater memories to go with this movie!
      And you mention the Entermedia Theater, Is that what they used for interiors?
      i remember seeing the haymarket when I went to NY, but I don't remember that wall of celebrity photos they show outside.

      Love the little factoid about your friend doing the typing in "The Fan"! I'd boast about a gig like that to the end of my days!
      And that historical note is very sobering. I'm no big Broadway maven, but the number of theater talents lost to AIDS sure gave the careers of semi-talents like Tommy Tune a boost.

    2. Yes, the Entermedia was a stand-in for the Broadway theater for Sally Ross's dreary production numbers. ('Swing has swung.' Feh!) To see the Shubert decked out for her show and then go into the Entermedia was disconcerting. The Entermedia was an esteemed Lower East Side venue with deep ties to the Yiddish theater of the early 20th Century. It had about 1100 seats, so it was big enough to be a small Broadway house, but not a big musical house. Did they build out the stage floor into the house? It was somehow lower than it should have been and where the hell was the orchestra? Lots of weird choices there. For those of us in NYC who knew both of the theaters used, it was jarring. It would have been better to go out of town for an affordable theater that could more capably be the Shubert.

  3. I have always confused this movie (and the book it was based on) with Irving Wallace's THE FAN CLUB--a really icky story of a group of men who abduct and rape a sexy movie star. I think that's why I never got around to seeing this movie. It actually sounds like it might be kinda fun to watch with a group of like-minded friends. Although I never lived in NYC, I love the grittiness of the way the city was presented in movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    1. Ugh! I'd forgotten about that horrible Irving Wallace book! I remember old issues of "Rona Barrett's Hollywood" that kept us abreast (if you'll pardon the term) of producers' efforts to snag Raquel Welch for the starring role in "The Fan Club." Around the time they started courting bottom tier stars like Edy Williams, I think interest in the questionable project died out.
      This film, however, is a shoo-in for a campy night of DVD watching. It really should be a cult favorite by now. The slow pace and grisly violence my only guesses for why it never caught on. There certainly is a lot of laugh-worthy ammunition.
      And if you like the look of New York, The fan provides a pleasurable trip back in time.

  4. Yayy, Ken, this is one of my guiltiest pleasures! One I watch over and over over, repetition-queen that I am...and I love your new and expanded essay on it.

    Despite the fact that it is so darn campy, and in addition to the other problematic aspects that place it far below Dressed To Kill or Carrie, I do think it's a well-plotted and engrossing thriller, with terrific performances. Especially Ms. Stapleton, who steals the show in every scene she's in - even swathed with bloody bandages ("Douglas what?" "Fairbanks!" she croaks!).

    The gay angle, agreed, is distasteful, likening homosexuality to psychopathic sickness, but I still think it's one of Biehn's best performances. My favorite small moment of his is when he is complaining about his female coworker (a very young Dana Delaney) at the record store: "She mixed up the entire musical comedy bin! I suggest you fire her..."

    I am so glad Bacall had this late-career leading role glorifying her mature persona...that is the chief camp best friend once had a Fan party where everyone had to smoke a cigarette when Lauren smoked one, and drink a slug of whiskey whenever she did...I have lost count of how many cigs and drinks were consumed...

    Years ago, Bacall came to Ft. Lauderdale and took questions from the audience. Someone asked her about this film and with lightning-timing, she did a double take, nostrils flared and snapped, "Next question!" to laughter and applause. Because I was covering the event for a local paper, I got to meet her up close after the show. She was intimidating and formidable, to say the least!

    I LOVE that you love so many of the films I do, Ken. Your blog is a movie-lover's (cinema) dream. Cheers!

    1. Hey Chris
      We're in agreement over the THE FAN being a flawed but very watchable movie. In a lot of ways its puzzling just WHY it doesn't come together. As you note, the plot itself is compelling enough, and the acting is good. I suspect that it just jostles the audience around too much with too many threads ever developed to hold the thing together (the stalker is vague, Bacall's mid-life crisis issues aren't given much time, and conflict in her relationship with Garner never feels quite like it lands anywhere).

      Still, Bacall's drinkin', smokin' and croakin' performance does enthrall.
      And I've give anything to see the shooting script to see just what sort of film Bacall signed on for and how it differed by release.
      The snatches of dialog you noted remind me that there are quite a few quotable moments: "What is this 'bliss' shit?" and if you're like me, you wished that there were more scenes of Stapleton and Bacall together. They are great.
      Your THE FAN party sounds like the absolute best way to enjoy this film. For a special Tonay Awards-themed dance class I did last year, I played "Hearts, Not Diamonds" as a cooldown song. i think people thought something had gone wrong with the sound system when she hits that REALLY low, foghorn "You were never miiiiinnne!"

      It's too bad that so many stars have such bad experiences making films that they never want to talk about them (Dunaway with Mommie Dearest, Karen Black was like that about Day of the Locust)...they tend to be the ones we love to hear about the most!
      Still, it must have been great to see her in person, but as I recall, she gave a somewhat withering response to your telling her how much you enjoyed seeing her in something?
      I guess if I got treated as shabbily as she did by Frank Sinatra, I'd be cranky too!
      Thank you very much for the compliments and fun comments, Chris!

  5. Ii saw this film for the first time a couple of years ago. I hadn't heard of it & didn't quite know what to make of it at first. However, it is so compelling, you can't NOT watch it.

    Thanks for providing the context for the film's theatrical release. The timing does sound awkward, to say the least.

    Now I'm off to do an online streaming search. You've made me want to watch this crazy film again.

    1. "And didn't quite know what to make of it" ...You really said a mouthful, and pinpointed (at least as far as I can guess) why THE FAN has a big question mark after it in everyone's mind.
      As a genre film, It seems neither fish nor fowl, but as you note, it's nearly impossible NOT to watch.
      I find that when removed from the necessity of being either an effective thriller THE FAN is a wholly satisfying curio of clashing (camp) elements struggling valiantly to coalesce into some kind of whole. Hope you get around to checking it out again.
      Thanks very much for stopping by and commenting! I'm trying to get around to some of the other blogathon posts, and look forward to reading your piece on "How to Marry a Millionaire."

  6. I read other entries in the Lauren Bacall blogathon and I must say, your writing skills and content are vastly superior. Always entertaining and thought provoking.

    1. Why, thank you very much, Rick. You're always so generous in your compliments and thoughtful in your comments about my blog. I'm very happy you enjoy (some) of my posts!
      As for me, I don't often have time to read (or discover) other movie blogs, so this blogathon has actually been a real treat for me. As much I love to ramble on about movies myself, I enjoyed having the opportunity to read other takes and points of view for a change.

  7. You have such great insights into these films, their backgrounds, meaning, and viewer reactions; your posts are always such fun, stimulating reads! I am familiar with Bacall's The Fan (though I haven't seen it in whole yet), but I have not heard of DeNiro's The Fan--don't know what that says about me; maybe that I'm stuck in a timewarp. From clips I've seen on Youtube, the film looks like a tack-collector's dream. All those caressing close-ups of the killer (who in his blow-dry hair and tuxedoed clothes looks like the inspiration for American Psycho) and the glitzy jungle-gym sets for the musical numbers, like a Lloyd Webber opus set in hell. The Fan has that camp-nostalgic quality of been-there-done-that, only having to raise and then clear the bar each time (and getting crazier with each jump). It gives me this image of the ultimate crazed-fan-after-aging-diva film, combining all those wrong-side-of-40 theater dames, such as Bette Davis in All About Eve, Ginger Rogers in Black Widow, and Susan Hayward in Valley of the Dolls, joining forces against a serial slasher and then conquering Broadway en masse. In retrospect, I wonder if The Fan is a kind of reverse-angle horror film on the so-called psycho-biddy films of the 60s, in which the aging diva stars were themselves the slashers. It may be a matter of which side of the razor you'd prefer to be on.

    Your mention of Bacall knocking her own film does sound like her personality; no nonsense, no bullshit. I can just see all the film's publicists banging their heads against a wall while Bacall damned her own box office, that takes real confidence! YT commenters kept saying that Bacall couldn't sing; but I wonder if any fans remember that she sang in her earliest films (To Have & Have Not, The Big Sleep), seemingly a Hollywood attempt to introduce her as a multi-faceted talent (though there IS the story that a young Andy Williams had dubbed her voice, but I THINK that's not true).

    Looking at the film from today's perspective, however, there is something a bit unnerving and weirdly dated in scenes where she stops to sign autographs (and one fan steals her pen) - do stars do this anymore? We've become so accustomed to celebrities having to wall themselves off from a public perceived as dangerous. Just a couple of years after The Fan, Scorsese came out with The King of Comedy, a brilliantly unsettling film about fans kidnapping a talk-show host just for the chance to get on his show. The film is creepy; I would laugh at something and then wonder why I was laughing. It's not a fun movie to watch.

    1. Hi GOM
      Thank you so much!
      Few things are more amusing that getting someone else's impression of something you've long grown so used to. I laughed at how you described the way THE FAN comes off in YouTube clips.
      If you can imagine back in the old MTV days, all those close ups and burnished lighting really made the film look very "of the moment" and hip.
      I honestly think the producers were trying to take a page out of Eyes of Laura Mars (Dunaway's photo shoot montages had a way of adding to the tension, Bacall's musical rehearsal scenes only make you giggle), but no one factored in Bacall's built in Would everything seem so arch had they cast Angela Lansbury?

      perhaps in development someone just needed to broach the topic that ALL older Broadway divas carry a lot of camp baggage that might get in the way of making a successful thriller. Certainly that gathering of stage divas you describe seems like a cult Off-Broadway drag hit in the making.
      Bacall must have felt the movie gods were against her. Altman's "HealtH" due for release before this was shelves for nearly two years, I think. And then her disappointment in what THE FAN turned out to be. Although I don't think she has anything to be ashamed of. She's really quite good. It's not really her fault that there's something about her persona that makes us laugh a bit every time she lights a cigarette or takes a swig of a drink.

      Speaking of Bacall's singing voice (I'd heard that Andy Williams story , too. Did he ever confirm, deny it?), back when i was dancing I used to take voice classes, and my teacher always used Bacall as an example of what every stage singer should strive sound like themselves singing. My instructor was impatient with students who wanted to make pretty sounds (she never had to worry about that with me!).

      The fan landscape seems very different now. Meryl Streep said on a talk show that she hardly is ever asked for an autograph; people want selfies with her. Also, stars now make a fortune selling their autographs at conventions (or maybe that's just low-tier strs?)
      Remember how you'd hear stories of people like Ann-Margret making some avid fan her personal secretary?
      Can't imagine anything like that happening today.

      And yes, "King of Comedy" is a good creepy film. It really wouldn't be bad to have on a double bill with with THE FAN. As if we have double-bills anymore,

    2. Wow, if they ever did that off-Bway drag show that you mention, I'd be first in line for a ticket!

      No doubt what Streep says, of now taking selfies with fans, is probably much more the case today, given the technology and trends (though it does sound a bit creepy). Stars and fans have weird relationships; I believe that Joan Crawford also made one of her fans a personal secretary; and Joan supposedly answered all her fan mail herself, she was that devoted to her admirers.

      I checked out the Andy Williams story. The LA Times quoted his own autobiography, in which he said that, as a teenager, he actually was asked to dub for Bacall in To Have & Have Not because producers felt her own voice wasn't good enough; but that they decided to go with Bacall's voice anyway, because Williams's own wasn't a perfect match:
      And the NY Times quotes director Howard Hawks, who again says that Williams recorded the song, but that Hawks thought Bacall's own singing was ok enough to use:

      So it seems Williams did record the song, though it wasn't used - wonder if that recording is still available?
      Here's Bacall herself singing in To Have & Have Not:

    3. Thanks for the link and the Andy Williams update. I've never even seen "To Have and Have Not" so I never knew what her younger voice sounded like.
      Too bad she and Lucille Ball didn't appear in a musical together in later years. Their combined voices would have the effect of Sensurround!

  8. Shame on you Ken, for not using a screen grab from the underwater-pulling-of-the-razor-out-of-the-boxers shot. Everything that's wrong with this movie summarized in one shot!

    I must admit I fast-forwarded most of it but the musical sequences have to be seen to be believed. Just for those I'm happy The Fan exists. Do you think they knew how gaudy and terrible they were when they were filming it or they just ended up looking that way?

    Were all those talented people mocking themselves mercilessly or just high through the whole thing?

    1. Hi mangrove
      I'm a little surprised at myself for not including at least one shot of the YMCA sequence, but YIKES! the razor attacks in this movie are hard for me to watch. I always fast forward.
      As for the dance numbers...well, based upon the jazz classes i took at the time, the music videos from that era, the whole melding of aerobics with professional dance (like Debbie Allen's notorious choreography for the "Carrie" musical or Michael Peters' for "Leader of the Pack") and my guess is that these numbers were done in complete earnest.
      I actually thought they were fantastically hip and cutting edge back in 1982. Tellingly, Arlene Phillips and Jeffrey Hornaday (A chorus Line, Flashdance) hugely influenced my own dance/choreographic style.
      Those 80s were hard to shake!

  9. Hi Ken. How did I miss this one. "STD results have been released with more fanfare" -- wonderful observation. I remember those Dr Pepper commercials. The music rises up and stalks through my brain now and then. Good essay.

    1. Hi Joe
      As per missing this one, I'd say you were in the majority. And many would say for good reason. I'm glad you enjoyed the essay and I thank you for stopping by and commenting.
      Nice too to run across someone who remembers these older "Most original soft drink ever" Dr. Pepper commercials!

  10. Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon. I'm glad you chose this movie, because no matter how campy it is, I completely adore it. It's fun and enthralling and I never tire to get to sick of it. I really loved reading your article on it. Very well done and well written.

    I would also like to invite you to participate in my next blogathon. The link is below with more details

    1. My pleasure! And thanks for inviting me to participate.
      This is indeed a perfect guilty pleasure movie, and good or not, It ranks as one of my favorite Bacall films. Glad to hear you enjoy it, too!

  11. not enough character development of the slasher. He is not a slasher. I don't know the book, but why a knife? And did each attack escalate? I was drawn in by the overhead shot of Biehn on the bench. Reminded me of "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and parking lot scene in "Fargo". Is this director or cinematographer inspired? ran this Jan 2016.

    1. Getting to this one kind of late. Knives/razors are often go-to weapons in works of fiction indicating someone not prone to violence or premeditation, indicating an emotional, unhinged kind of response and thus resorting to a weapon at hand...a houesehold item.
      A gun wouldn't fit character, the fellow is not physically prepossession so strangulation is out. Therefore a knife/razor
      Making him a slasher in my book. Some think slashers are only serial killers...personal interpretation, no standard definition.
      Very interesting observation about the overhead shot and possible source of inspiration.

  12. I stumbled on to this film on television a few months ago. I was channel surfing when I came to it. I recall hearing about the film before but never actually seen any of it until this chance meeting. It held my interest most of the time. When it didn't, I drifted over to a hockey game but always came back to the movie until I watched the entire end part. Bacall is terrific and I really like the strength of her character. The movie is a bit odd and campy but entertaining.

    1. Hi Randy
      I think the film is a curious mix as well. Not unengrossing (if that's a word), but an odd grouping of elements (some camp, some genre based, some having to do with the over-qualified cast) making for a film that is likely not to everyone's taste, but of it is, it's a lulu. Bacall is good, though.
      Thanks for commenting!

  13. Garner is unnecessary and useless, Bacall croaks, Stapleton gets a few laughs, Biehn is effective as is the direction. Contrived ending with Bacall drugging the tea of the police woman assigned to protect her and flees to an isolated summer house off season!!! and at the end everyone leaves Bacall alone in the theater!!! Why??? Entertainingly ridiculous.

    1. Yes, that leaving her all alone in the theater is a bit much. Just as it always bugged me that the theater allows Mr. Nutjob in just as the show is mere minutes from ending.I enjoy reading your comments! Than you for contributing.

  14. They were gunning for Stigwood....times were changing..the winds of neo-conservatism were blowing. Paramount 1980-81 was not Stigwood's Paramount of 1976-77 with "Fever"....the film was doomed,and the greatest irony is how real life caught up with what it could of really been, but never would at that precise moment of newborn reactionary chill. I think there's a connection between those two realities too frightening to contemplate.

  15. Hi Ken-
    I had to quickly add this one to my viewing list after reading your post. Though I've been a fan of horror films for years this one had passed me by...even with it's inclusion in the film version of "The Celluloid Closet".

    It would be interesting to see the film as originally conceived before it was altered by Robert Stigwood. There are a number of mentions online of the success of "Friday the 13th" causing the reshoots, but there's a clip on YT from last year's blu ray reissue with the director stating that the producer saw how well "Dressed To Kill" did (big box office AND good notices for Angie Dickinson) and insisted they ramp up the violence (which makes more sense than aiming for the audience of "Friday"). It's a shame, as that aspect is really shoddily done for the most part. And Maureen Stapleton deserved better than that tacky attack scene considering how much she adds to the film.

    As for the camp aspects, it's easy to see why you enjoy this visual trip down memory lane. That final montage of 'Never Say Never' songs is hilarious! And talk about synchronicity of that playing right next door to "Woman Of The Year": from a quick viewing of 'One Of The Boys' from the 1981 Tony Awards it looks like with some added sequins it could be one of the songs from the fictional musical!
    "No energy professional advice is...get off your..MMMMMMM...and go!" Camp gold!

    By chance are you able to say how the ending of the book differs from the film?

    1. Hi Pete
      Wonderful that you discovered this "gem" after it finally got the Blu-ray treatment. It really does have a bit of a schizophrenic feel to it as relating to the drama it was perhaps conceived to be and the slasher exploitation film it aspired to.
      And I agree with you in feeling that it makes more sense that a stylish movie like Brian DePalma's would influence the director and studio more than the teen slasher flicks.

      Musical sequences in dramas are often a hilarious addition, but in THE FAN you have all the camp Broadway baggage that comes with Bacall to help send it all over the top. There's really no imagining what the hell "Never Say Never" could possibly be like as a real show...she's the ONLY star, and the rest of the cast is like a third of her age!
      And truly, I can't think of THE FAN without "No energy crisis...." popping into my head.
      As for the book, I can't remember exactly how it comes about but it follows the film' trajectory in that Douglas fakes his own death to get her to come out of hiding. But as the novel is told completely through letters, newspaper clippings and such, the book ends with a newspaper clipping saying that following her return to the Broadway show famous actress Sally Ross was murdered (I can't recall under what circumstances). The novel ends with Douglas writing a fan letter (identical to the one that started the book, which was his first letter to Sally) to an entirely different star. Like the ending of John Fowles' THE COLLECTOR, it suggests that Douglas will repeat the cycle of obsession with someone new.

      That would have been SOME ending for the movie, but in questionable taste I suppose in the atmosphere of John Lennon's death.
      I'm so glad you stopped back here to give us the lowdown on what you thought of THE FAN. I hope you've become a fan of the film. Thanks, Pete!

    2. Wow, what a depressing ending for the book...but it works. It's kind of a shame that the film didn't follow suit, but as you said the timing with Lennon was unfortunate, and I can see that not really playing as well to the audience who's been rooting for Miss Ross the whole time.

      (Oh yeah...meant to mention that every time she's referenced as 'Miss Ross' all I could think was WHY WASN'T THIS MADE WITH DIANA?? That would have been hot! Also, I read that Elizabeth Taylor was supposed to originally star in equally interesting choice.)

      I no doubt will be visiting this film again further down the road. Thanks, Ken.

    3. Yes...that's a serious downer of an ending. One I'm not even sure I would have preferred, but that 11th hour speech Sally gives about the famous being tired of being hounded and scared by stalkers, always felt so tacked-on and superfluous, making me long for the harsher ending of the book.
      Also, I had NO idea about Liz Taylor or Diana Ross being an early contender for the role! Even with the inevitable name change (I CANNOT imagine Miss Ross green lighting a movie in which she's an entertainer with her real name stalked by a murderous maniac!)
      In hindsight, it was kind of gutsy for Bacall to have so much meta self-referencing in a movie about the potential murder of a Broadway star.
      Thanks for the imagination-stirring casting factoids, Pete!

    4. Oh, Diana was never considered as far as I know...I just couldn't help but think of her whenever Bacall was called Miss Ross. To me there is only one woman who is called that... (I still think she would have been good in this role, with a different character name!)

    5. That's too bad...I really enjoyed entertaining the idea of Diana in the film! She would be great no matter what name she went by!
      I do however remember reading that after MAHOGANY Marvin Hamlish was involved in trying to write a movie musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany's for Diana unrelated to the flop Mary Tyler Moore Broadway version). Now THAT would have been something!