10 July 2010 | robert-temple-1
An Intriguing Amnesia Thriller
It is always fascinating seeing what filmmakers will do with identity themes, such as when people entirely forget who they are. Amnesia stories are usually very absorbing. In most cases, amnesia is a transitory state which lasts for a relatively short while, but here we have a lead character played by Stacy Keach who has had such serious brain damage that his amnesic state has persisted for 17 years, during which time he has been locked up in prison for crimes he did not commit, and the story commences with his being let out. He has no idea who he really is, but he does realize that the identity under which he was convicted must be a false one. It is ironical that this film largely takes place in Lexington, California, a ghost town in Santa Clara County which is now covered by the Lexington Reservoir. For Keach himself plays a living ghost. He does this very well, and finds it easy to look puzzled and confused. The female lead is played by Geneviève Bujold when she was young and very cute. In this film she speaks slowly and strangely, as if she were on medication at the time, or perhaps because she was struggling to control an accent. Also, Bujold plays a radio announcer in the small town of Lexington with such lack of energy that surely no radio station would have tolerated such a limp announcer for more than a day. (Having once been a radio announcer, I am well aware of what is required.) That is therefore the least convincing aspect of the film. Apart from her slow speech and her wholly inadequate radio talent, Bujold is very good. She relates well to Keach, and their eventual involvement is believable. The film is directed by Stacy Keach's brother James Keach, and the supporting cast and crew lists are peppered with minor Keaches and also James's wife at the time, Mimi Maynard. Those intrigued by the surname Keach might be interested to know that the word 'queach', from which it may be derived, had the meaning in Middle English of a woody thicket. In his famous translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses in the sixteenth century, Arthur Golding speaks of a 'bushie queach'. I suppose a bushy queach might be Stacy with a beard? Well, just a thought. So the one thing that 'Queach' remembered in prison was the name Lexington, though not sure of which state. One of his con friends suggests a visit to Lexington, California, which is the nearest of the Lexingtons, just to see if it stirs any memories. The way the story then unfolds is not at all typical of the way things work in California, so the story must originally have been formulated to take place in a small Southern or Midwestern town, and they switched it to California for budget reasons. The film is adequately directed by James Queach, but there are some really bad shots, where people are obscured by objects or other sloppy things like that happen. Was this because (a) the cameraman was incompetent, (b) there was no money for retakes, or (3) the director was not doing his job properly? I think the cameraman has to take the fall. It turns out that Stacy's character really did come from Lexington, and that his evil younger brother, played with sinister conviction by Tobin Bell as a jealous, domineering psychopath, was behind the whole dastardly business (which is too complicated to explain in a review). Veronica Cartwright gets a chance to do some histrionic over the top drinking and sobbing and carrying on as the evil brother's wife. Will the evil brother be brought to justice? Or will all the bribed sheriffs and deputies of the town continue their reign of murder and mayhem, enslaved to the evil brother's dominance, power and money? (At one point in the film he actually says: 'I've got the money, I've got the power.') Can Stacy get his identity back? Or will the evil brother kill him first? Will good triumph over evil or evil triumph over good? 97 minutes to find out. And yes, this film is only available on a 20 year-old video, with the sound quality deteriorating on the dirty old tapes as the years go by. What is going to happen to all these currently obscure post-1960 movies which are not famous films with major stars, are not yet 'old movies' in the trendy sense, and are not yet being preserved properly or in any form of circulation? There are hundreds of them out there and nobody cares. By the time another generation comes along and values them, many will have been lost.