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BLACK RAINBOW(director/writer: Mike Hodges; cinematographer: Gerry Fisher; editor: Malcolm Cooke; cast: Rosanna Arquette (Martha Travis), Jason Robards (Walter Travis), Tom Hulce (Gary Wallace), Mark Joy (Lloyd Harley), Ron Rosenthal (Irving Weinberg), John Bennes (Ted Silas), Ed Grady (Editor, Geoff McBain), Linda Pierce (Mary Kuron), Olek Krupa (Tom Kuron); Runtime: 103; Goldcrest Films; 1990-UK)
“The result is a stimulating film addressed to the intellect …”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This made-for-TV thriller provides plenty of mystery. It’s a story that crosses religion and spiritualism with worldly cynicism and murder. Rosanna Arquette stars as Martha Travis, a medium who travels the rural South with her widowed, alcoholic father, Walter (Jason Robards). They communicate with the dead. Their act takes place in a church-like setting (gospel choir included).

The film opens as the reporter of the small-time newspaper “The Oakville Bee,” Gary Wallace (Tom Hulce), who covered the murder of her father, tracks Martha down to an unnamed rural Southern town after years of searching for her. She disappeared after the murder and the locals in town say since she moved here ten years ago no one has spoken to her, that she’s probably a ghost. Gary goes out to her shack and takes pictures of her from a distance to confirm that he spotted her to his editor (these pictures mysteriously will not be developed with her in them), and the film goes into a flashback relating what led up to the murder.

In their phony act Martha dresses up with a cross and white robes and sits on a throne and tells the believers who flock to their meeting that everything is perfectly happy in the hereafter, but when she suddenly develops the gift of doom prophecy — she starts to witness a brutal killing before it happened. The rainbow visions appear to be black, and she sinks into despair. Her cynical father tells her to remember this is only entertainment, but she swears she really saw the murder. The next day when the murder takes place just as she said it would, a skeptical young reporter is sent by his editor to interview her and get the lowdown on what she has seen. Gary goes to the nearby town they are now appearing at and meets the drunken father and is pounced on sexually by the man-hungry medium. She is saddened that her father has taken away her life and that he doesn’t believe she can see things in the other world, and has kept her from having any friends.

We soon learn that the murdered man was going to be a whistle-blower about safety features at the town’s chemical plant and the boss of the plant, a hypocritical Christian church-goer, Ted Silas (Bennes), hired a hit man (Joy) from Chicago to kill him. It also shows the Jewish police chief, Irving Weinberg (Rosenthal), knew about the hit and covered it up to protect Silas. But when the newspaper ran the story about the medium, it also ran a series of stories charging the police are not doing enough to investigate the crime. The public outcry is for the police to start interviewing the medium. It turns out the medium knows the name and what the murderer looks like and tells this to the reporter, thereby putting the pressure on the police to investigate the crime fully.

After checking out the details of the story, the reporter changes his mind and is now convinced that Martha’s powers are real. The medium will also divine a chemical explosion in the Silas’ plant, which will result in the deaths of those named in her act. The film turns into a suspenseful yarn of the hit man coming after her and killing her father while possibly killing her, as there is a delicious air of mystery about the shootings.

Arquette is excellent in an understated performance. Robards brings a certain sense of tragic power to his role. While under the capable direction of Mike Hodges (Get Carter), the film is superbly paced and plays up the ambiguity in a satisfactory manner. The result is a stimulating film addressed to the intellect and a challenge for establishing reality.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”