26 November 2001 | Poseidon-3
"Whatever Happened to 'Baby' Bacall?"
Bacall got into the "Formerly A-List Movie Queen Fright Fest" genre a bit after its peak in this odd blend of glitzy suspensor and violent slasher flick (and even spawned a mini-trend of it's own, the "High-powered female being brought down by a maniac" flick.) The film could hardly be described as "good", but it's still entertaining in a tacky, campy way and does include some unsettling moments. Bacall is Broadway fixture Sally Ross, attempting her very first musical (just as Bacall had done with "Woman of the Year" and "Applause!") Biehn is an overly fixated fan who types her a stream of increasingly obsessive fan letters. When Bacall's secretary (Stapleton) doesn't handle his letters in the manner that he wishes, all hell starts to break loose. Biehn begins to eliminate the people surrounding Bacall until they have to face each other one on one. Meanwhile, detective Elizondo tries to get to the bottom of the killings while attempting to safeguard Bacall. Bacall's performance varies greatly. She perfectly captures the sardonic wit and sarcastic, self-effacing qualities of the character in the original novel. At the same time, she often looks bored when her character should be upset. Biehn has some decent moments (notably when he tells off his sister and when he prepares to confront his boss) but the directorial choice to so often feature his long, blank stares diffuses his intensity and threatening qualities. His blase line delivery and calm performance aren't necessarily inaccurate, though they can be less effective than broader approaches from a cinematic stance. In fact, it's possible that most killers are more like this than the flamboyant movie murderers audiences have come to expect. Stapleton completely steals the film as the snarky, non-nonsense secretary. Her performance is so on the money and so true to the book's characterization that it almost seems written for her. She and Bacall have great chemistry together and display a believable relationship (more believable than Bacall and Garner, who plays her ex-husband.) Garner is easy to watch, but is left to flounder with a role that has limited importance to the story, which is basically a face off between Bacall and Biehn. Adapting this novel had to have been quite difficult as the book is simply a collection of letters from one character to another. There is no narrative. In adapting it, the writers have diluted the relationships somewhat and pumped up the violence (In the book one person is injured and two die....in the movie two people are injured and at least four people die.) This unnecessarily exploitive approach (especially at the end) is what puts it into the slasher/horror genre rather than the suspense genre (though the film was even softened a bit in light of the then recent killing of John Lennon by a crazed fan.) The worst (and most hilarious) aspect of the film is the depiction of(and assault on the audience from) the musical numbers. If someone wants to believe that Bacall can sing that's their business, but no one can say that the numbers in this movie are any good. Viewers will be screaming for her to stop after one more round of, "No energy crisis...My professional advice is...." as she saunters across the floor with the grace of a yak during mating season. Then there's the infamous "Hearts, Not Diamonds" showstopper in which her voice cracks like the San Andreas Fault. Could a show this heinous really have been produced on Broadway?? If so, no wonder audiences stick to "Phantom" and "Les Mis" for years at a stretch! However, she is rightly punished on opening night when Biehn takes a riding crop to her! Check out this gem which paved the way for Morgan Fairchild's "The Seduction" and Lee Grant's "Visiting Hours."