A Howling in the Woods (1971) (TVM)

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This adaptation of Gothic romance queen Velda Johnston’s novel heralded the reunion of I Dream of Jeannie‘s Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman. In truth, Hagman has a glorified cameo as her husband whom she’s divorcing. Her arrival in Lake Tahoe is not welcomed – the police follow her when she hits town and stepmom Vera Miles cannot conceal her annoyance when she walks in the door of her former home. New stepbrother John Rubinstein sees her as seducible fodder but something is up since Pop never seems to be around. She takes up residence in a cabin and soon gets the distinct impression she’s in danger and there’s that dog howling in the woods  …This NBC TVM has pedigree – adapted by Richard De Roy, directed by Daniel Petrie, scored by Dave Grusin, whose work would be so significant to so many big screen features in the coming years. It operates almost completely in the suspense mode and is all the better for it, with little relief coming from the welcome arrival of Tyne Daly down the cast. Eden does very well as the woman in jeopardy. Just a shame it’s not properly available in a decent format, like a lot of early 70s TV movies.


The Godfather Part II (1974)

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An utterly compelling sequel? Yes, it’s possible.  In fact for many people this is better than the original. But then it’s a prequel as well as a sequel and has an absorbing richness deriving from the fabled origins of the Mob back in Sicily and its growth during the Prohibition era. Robert De Niro plays the young Vito Corleone and his life is juxtaposed with that of his son the current Don, Michael (Al Pacino), as a Senate Committee closes in on the Mafia and his rivals start wiping out everyone in sight while he tries to expand his casino interests in Las Vegas. An immensely fulfilling narrative experience with stunning performances including legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth and Troy Donahue playing Connie’s latest squeeze, Merle Johnson – Donahue’s birth name.

The Deep End (2001)

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The queer re-imagining of The Reckless Moment, based on the novel The Blank Wall, by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, is not as radical as one might have anticipated. Scott Mcgehee and David Siegel had made waves (at festivals at least) with Suture so this incursion into middle class critique represented a new turn. The teenaged daughter from the original film is now a gay son (Jonathan Tucker), whose mother (Tilda Swinton) is presented with a complex dilemma. She finds her son’s lover’s body at the family lakeside dock following the couple’s fight and disposes of the corpse. Then she is blackmailed with a vhs of her underaged child being sodomised by the man. She has to find the money while running a three-child household without a husband – he is at sea – and a father in law who has a heart attack; she can’t find anything like the sums being demanded in exchange for the tape;  finally she is confronted by the real blackmailer behind the gay hustling ring which targeted her son. All the while she finds herself falling for the blackmailer’s sympathetic partner (Goran Visnjic) who has been tasked with extorting the impossible funds. The new setting (Lake Tahoe, not Balboa California), the updating to make it about sex not class, the shooting style (perfect, clipped by Brit DP Giles Nuttgens), all work perfectly to support a fine performance from Swinton. There is a reference to the earlier film (Mason’s character’s name) but otherwise this is a standalone and rather resonant success, the natural outgrowth of New Queer Cinema.