Saturday 21 April 2007

Dead of Winter (1987) Arthur Penn

It's the turn of the old year into the new and rather than partying on down, an unnamed woman is busy chasing down a bag full of cash from locker to locker, getting strangled in a remote car park and having her finger cut off. We don't have any idea who she is or why any of this is happening to her but it's obviously important because it backs up the title credits and keeps us watching. Next thing we know actress Mary Steenburgen, playing actress Katie McGovern, is getting hired as the replacement lead in a feature film after the previous lead, Julia Rose, has gone mysteriously missing. Two guesses as to who the victim was. Anyway, the casting agent is the strangely eager to please Roddy McDowall and the producer of the film is the kindly and wheelchair bound Jan Rubes.

It's not too surprising to find that not all is as it seems. McGovern gradually discovers that there is no film and she's become part of some sort of nefarious real life plotline. Her audition tape is part of a blackmail attempt and her identity is being forced from her. There are a lot of odd little touches that don't seem to have anything to do with anything except help to keep us on edge, but everything is there for a reason. That includes the gas station that gives out goldfish like reward points and the player piano that was made for President McKinley but was delivered the day he was shot.

Mary Steenburgen is excellent in a demanding role, well three roles to be honest that must look alike but not be the same. Roddy McDowall is always a joy to watch and he's wonderfully off kilter here. Jan Rubes, who I only know from Witness, gives a powerful performance in a very Hitchcockian way. There are other Hitchcock touches too, including direct yet subtle references to many of Hitch's films through use of corpses or leg casts. My lass thought that this was far too obvious, but she sees through these things far more often than I do. I thought it was perhaps a little workmanlike, but cleverly subtle. I can see why it was a sleeper hit.

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