See No Evil (1971)

See No Evil 1971

Aka Blind TerrorHelp! Sarah Rexton (Mia Farrow) has recently been blinded in a horse riding accident.  She  moves in with her uncle George (Robin Alison), his wife Betty (Dorothy Alison) and her cousin Sandy (Diane Grayson), who live in a big house in the English countryside.  She adjusts to her new condition, unaware that a killer stalks the family. After her former boyfriend Steve (Norman Eshley) presents her with a new horse and suggests they resume their romance, she returns home after their date and doesn’t realise that her family’s bodies are left in various locations around the house. She gradually discovers her murdered relatives. A cat and mouse game commences as the sightless woman evades the killer while trying to learn his identity and she flees the house on her chestnut horse, the man’s bracelet in her grasp… Brian Clemens’ screenplay was written on spec and once Farrow liked it, it got the greenlight. It’s an enormously effective psychological thriller because the dice are so loaded against the heroine and we can see what she cannot – albeit the killer isn’t revealed until the last possible moment:  we just see low angle shots of his distinctive boots. Confining our knowledge of the scene evens up the odds somewhat for Farrow’s performing of her role which is relentlessly realistic and you might even find yourself squirming as Sarah deals so ably with the limitations of her new life and outmanoeuvres the killer in the one way she knows how – using a horse. Farrow is vastly impressive as the part requires her to be both visually impaired and physically resourceful and doing both without seeking pity.  Director Richard Fleischer paradoxically creates an uncanny physical and narrative structure which requires that we remember which door leads where in the house – compensating for Sarah’s lack of vision. We are also restricted in what we are shown and how the gruesome situation is revealed in the middle third is particularly impressive. We were here before to an extent in Wait Until Dark but the setting, the use of landscape and the relentless grip of the pacy storytelling all combine to make this a compelling suspenser.

The Great Gatsby (1974)

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You can’t repeat the past? Of course you can. Nick Carraway (Sam Waterston) is a young man from the Midwest living modestly among the decadent mansions of 1920s Long Island. He becomes involved in the life of the mysterious Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford), a rich man who throws the most lavish parties on the island. But behind Gatsby’s outgoing demeanor is a lonely man who wants nothing more than to be with his old love, Nick’s second cousin-once removed, the beautiful Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow). She is married to the adulterous and bullheaded millionaire Tom (Bruce Dern), creating a love triangle that will end in tragedy when a misunderstanding leads Tom’s lover Myrtle (Karen Black) to her death in a road accident and her cuckolded husband seeking revenge … We hear all about Gatsby long before we meet him, even if Nick imagines he sees him on the end of the dock early on, with that green light winking on and off. It’s the perfect way to introduce a character who is a self-made myth. Everyone has a different idea about the protagonist of a novel which itself is a masterpiece of sleight of hand storytelling:  it tells us on page one just how. There are a lot of things to admire about this film which is as hollow with the sound of money as Daisy’s voice:  the design, the tone, the casting, which is nigh-on perfect, but the writing leaves the performances with very little to do. Redford, that enigmatic, elusive, evasive Seventies superstar is the ultimately unknowable, uncommitted actor trying to revivify his past love, even as Daisy cries out to this now-multi-millionaire Don’t you know rich girls don’t marry poor boys? Waterston does his best as the writer/narrator who knows far less than he lets on. Dern probably comes off best as the unfiltered louse Fitzgerald wrote but overall Francis Ford Coppola’s script while faithful cannot replicate symbolic effect and the entire novella represents in the most eloquent language ever written class gone wrong in the ultimate American tragedy. Directed by Jack Clayton.

 

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

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This is not a dream, this is really happening! Such was writer/director Roman Polanski’s respect for Ira Levin’s novel that when he wanted to make one minor alteration to the modern classic he contacted the author to ask his permission. The novel is a satire about modernity but such was its impact the story’s surface elements about devil worshippers in NYC’s Dakota Building off Central Park retain a blackly comic power, aided enormously by the staging, photographing and performances. Mia Farrow is the limpid Rosemary Woodhouse, whose new husband Guy (John Cassavetes) is an ambitious actor quick to sacrifice his beloved and sell his soul for fame. (Sometimes I think Cassavetes’ casting is the film’s one mistake – anyone could mistake him for the devil with that face.) Ruth Gordon is raucously hilarious as the overly nosy neighbour with a penchant for chocolate mouse (with a distinctly chalky undertaste) while Sidney Blackmer is her persuasive husband whose obscure origins are uncovered by Rosemary’s friend. Farrow’s horrifying deterioration throughout her pregnancy is complemented by that famous Vidal Sassoon cut she got on set. The daylight in the brilliantly designed apartment;  the framing and movement through space;  the tone;  all these are components of Polanski’s inimitable filmmaking, and, together with William A. Fraker’s cinematography and the score by Christopher Komeda you have a classic of Gothic paranoia and a masterpiece of cinema. Every time I hear Farrow singing along to the title I quake and yet I keep watching, and I peer around that door, just like Polanski wants me to do… Terrifying and unforgettable.

Miami Rhapsody (1995)

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When this was released theatrically I dragged my best male friend along – a psychiatrist who had to concede it was indeed possible to make a female Woody Allen movie even if he really didn’t buy into Sarah Jessica Parker. (And also claimed that Mia Farrow was the spawn of the devil because of what she said about the Woodster – we agreed to disagree!.  I, on the other hand, had been a fan of SJP since Square Pegs and was also incredibly impressed that she had been the long-term galpal of Robert Downey Jr. This was in fact a kind of rehearsal for Sex and the City – writer/director David Frankel worked on the show and costumier Patricia Field first worked with SJP right here. There’s a real lesson in screenplay construction here – since it’s all about marriage. SJP is ad writer Gwyn, who is engaged to zoologist Matt (Gil Bellows) and wants a marriage just like her parents (Mia Farrow and Paul Mazursky). Except her mother confesses her adultery to her with Antonio Banderas, her invalided mother’s nurse, and her father is in a longterm romance with his travel agent. Her newly married sister (Carla Gugino) cheats on her cheapskate footballer husband with her high school ex (Jeremy Piven) and her horndog brother Jordan (Kevin Pollak) hates being deprived of sex by his pregnant wife (Barbara Garrick) so he also confesses his adulterous liaisons to his little sister. Gwyn comes to her difficult decision as everyone around her tells her how disastrous their marriage is … and tries to escape her own commitment by agreeing to try writing a screenplay for a dreadful comedy pilot, dragging Antonio along for support. Needless to say, there is somewhat of an unexpected ending. A great ensemble works very well with a witty script, a guest spot by supermodel Naomi Campbell and superb Florida locations. Great fun – made in those halcyon days when intelligent movies didn’t have to be made on crazy budgets and people could make insightful statements about how to get on with the mundane issue of living with a soupçon of wit.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

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This came out right after I’d spent my first summer in New York City. Seeing it was like being immersed in a very warm welcoming bath. And what a cherishable film it is, a Chekhovian comedy drama about the impossible lives and loves of a trio of sisters played by the incredible Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest and Barbara Hershey with Allen himself and Michael Caine and Max von Sydow rounding out the cast. This is on constant rotation chez moi. One of the greats.