(director/writer: Alan Rudolph; cinematographer: Tak Fujimoto; editors: William A. Sawyer/Tom Walls Jr.; cast: Geraldine Chaplin (Emily), Anthony Perkins (Neil Curry), Berry Berenson (Barbara), Moses Gunn (Pike), Jeff Goldblum (Mr. Nudd), Alfre Woodard (Rita), Jeff Perry (Harry); Runtime: 94; Lion’s Gate Films; 1978)

“The film was too arty at times, as is the want of the director, but it is a gripping film and a good character study.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A strange, moody, engrossing, modernized version of a 1940s film noir, from director/writer Alan Rudolph (Choose Me/The Moderns). It is noted for the understated but tense performance by Anthony Perkins and the electric and very passionate performance by Geraldine Chaplin, where you can actually feel her pain and sympathize with her even though she’s the aggressor. Setting the dark and torturous mood for the story is the soundtrack of Alberta Hunter, who is performing her most appealing blues score. Tak Fujimoto’s camera is sharp in its character delineation, cutting deeply into this tale of revenge with its powerful close-ups.

Emily (Geraldine Chaplin) is just getting out of prison after serving a long stretch for murdering the girl her husband Neil Curry (Anthony Perkins) was having an affair with. Neil is now her ex-husband, married to Barbara (Berry Berenson). He has never told Barbara about his ex-wife.

Emily is a nervous, chain-smoking, emotionally troubled woman who rents a boarding-house room in an unnamed suburban community where her ex-hubby resides. She gets the one in charge of the house, Pike (Gunn), to fix up her room and make it livable by playing on his attraction for her, and goes about her business of stalking Neil and harassing his wife.

Emily gets a job as a cashier in a small general store, because she befriended the store owner’s mother while in prison. Mr. Nudd (Goldblum), the nerdy boss, has a history of hiring those his convict husband-killer mother recommends, but is quick to fire them at the first sign of an irregularity.

Neil is a construction worker, blissful in his new marriage, with plans to build a more luxurious house for them to live in.

From Emily’s perplexing demeanor, it’s hard to figure where she’s going with this stalking revenge thing she has for her ex-husband. She scares Barbara when she breaks a window to enter Neil’s house. What Emily wants to know from Barbara: “Is she a good fuck? … A good cook?”

Emily succeeds in messing with Neil’s life and even gains the viewer’s sympathy, as she seems to be a victim despite her aggressive behavior. Her rough outward demeanor is because she’s frustrated by what she can’t handle. What is clearly seen, is all the pain she feels inside. In the background TV news flashes about an earthquake in Budapest are repeated, and each time the death toll keeps getting higher until it reaches an attention grabbing one million deaths. The irony is that all the main characters watch the news report, but it is too impersonal for them to react to it. They are too overwhelmed with the problems in their personal life to care about anyone else.

I remembered Emily’s name by the time the film ended, and felt moved by her story. The film was too arty at times, as is the want of the director, but it is a gripping film and a good character study.

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