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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

VHS Vednesday: Double Exposure

DOUBLE EXPOSURE (1982). Directed by William Byron Hillman. Starring Michael Callan, Joanna Pettet, and James Stacy.

The plot: A troubled commercial photographer is plagued by nightmares in which he murders his models (as well as other nightmares in which he's murdered himself). Sure enough, the victims from his dreams turn up dead in reality, leading him to the not-unreasonable suspicion that he's losing his mind. Of course, things aren't as simple as all that, and there's no shortage of suspicious characters around him.
Our protagonist is played by Michael Callan, perhaps best remembered as one of Jane Fonda's suitors in Cat Ballou. In other films, he's established himself as a decent, likeable actor, but that doesn't come across here. The film presents his character as an irresistable ladies' man, but he just comes across as a creep, particularly in the scene where he first meets his leading lady (Joanna Pettet). Is it the fault of his performance or the script? I'm going with the script.
The highlight of Callan's performance is a hilariously over-the-top scene in which he alternately apologizes to and berates his photographs of the dead models...a sequence that brings new meaning to the words "mood swing." A convenient echo punctuates his ranting: "Maybe I should call the police. NOOO! (Nooo!) Maybe I should kill myself. YEESS! (Yeess!)" It's this movie's answer to Hamlet's soliloquy.
The most interesting element of the movie is the casting of James Stacy as Callan's brother. A promising young actor in the 1960s (starring in the TV series "Lancer"), his life was forever changed by a 1973 motorcycle accident in which he lost his left arm and leg. He continued his acting career, despite the limited opportunities available to him (you may remember him as the bartender from Something Wicked This Way Comes, or as the partially-destroyed cyborg in F/X 2). Interestingly, Double Exposure makes hardly any acknowledgment of the character's physical condition, apart from a passing reference to "the accident" early in the movies. I got the impression that the script was originally written for an able-bodied actor, with only minimal changes when Stacy was cast...which would be admirable, except (SPOILER WARNING for a 26-year-old movie that you're probably not going to see anyway) he turns out to be the killer. Now, since most of the actual murders (as opposed to the dreamed murders) were committed off-screen, it's plausible that he might have pulled them off, but there are also other killings that we see with our own eyes, and some of these (such as breaking a victim's neck) would, let's face it, be physically impossible for him (even with the previously-unrevealed prosthetic limbs he's wearing in the climactic scene). So, the big revelation comes across as a cheat.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
The supporting cast is chock-full of familiar faces who had either seen better days or would go on to bigger things: Seymour Cassel (a regular player in John Cassavetes' and Wes Anderson's films) as Callan's psychiatrist. Pamela Hensley (of TV's Buck Rogers) as one of the cops investigating the murders, and Cleavon Little (Blazing Saddles) as her hard-nosed captain. Misty (Hee Haw) Rowe as a lingerie model. Oh, and there's the big, bald character actor Robert Tessier (one of those "hey, it's that guy" actors you've seen many times, even if you don't know his name) as the bartender. And, in her film debut, Victoria Jackson as one of the brothers' dates...and she even does some of her future Saturday Night Live schtick of reciting poetry while doing a handstand!
However, I'd like to make particular note of one of my favorite actresses...Sally Kirkland. Yes, I like Sally Kirkland, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Sure, she may be notorious for her wacky interview antics and outlandish, attention-seeking outfits, but if you can look past that, she really is a gifted actress. (I like to think of her as Edy Williams with talent.) In Double Exposure, she has the thankless role of a particularly clueless hooker whose reaction to a pair of hands around her throat is "You gonna give me a neck massage?" However, once she realizes what's actually happening, Kirkland does an impressive job of conveying sheer terror and fight-for-your-life desperation through her facial expressions. It may be a gratuitous "get-naked-and-die" scene, but she gives it her all. No, it's not Anna, but it's not the low point of her career either. (That would be either Fatal Games or Flush.)



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