The Morning After (1986)|
In this movie Jane Fonda plays a washed-up
actress whose career was killed by booze. She must have been an actress a
quarter of a century before the film's action, because it takes place in 1986
and she is still driving her 1963 Mercedes. She is still boozing it heavily now,
so heavily in fact that she has a severe problem with blackouts. We know,
therefore, that she has been hitting the sauce hard for some twenty-five years.
Very hard. She goes to bed drunk every night, and she starts drinking again
every morning. Let's assume she's about 49 years old now, Fonda's actual age
when she made the picture, and a reasonable assumption given the age of her car.
And yet she looks marvelous. Her skin is excellent. There is no cellulite on
her thighs, nor wattle beneath her chin. Her legs are muscular. There's no
jiggle in her triceps. Her stomach is taut and toned. Her small breasts are firm
and perky beyond any reasonable expectation for a fiftyish woman. She has a
perfect all-over tan.
Man, being an alcoholic is sweet! I've really been going about things all
wrong with this damned teetotaling and exercising. I gotta pick me up some booze
and get in shape - and catch up on years of missed fun in the process!
Fonda wakes up one morning beside some anonymous stranger, as she
obviously has done many times before, but this time is different.
This guy has a knife in his chest. Conveniently enough, following
one of the primary rules of movie reality, the TV is blaring a
morning show in which the perky anchor is interviewing the very guy
lying beside her, who seems to be an erotic photographer. She tries
to shake the cobwebs out of her head and think.
First of all, she has correctly guessed that the TV show is not
airing a live interview.
Having resolved that, she realizes that she is in big trouble.
She is known to have alcoholic blackouts, and she once did some jail
time for assault with a deadly weapon - a knife. The problem is not
simply that the police won't believe in her innocence, but something
much deeper than that. She doesn't even know whether she is
innocent. She decides to clean up the apartment, remove any traces
of her own presence, and leave.
Opening title sequence begins.
That is a pretty smart opening for a thriller.
Catches ones attention. Gets one curious to know more.
She returns to the same address later in the day
to finish off the clean-up, and something strange happens. As she
works around a cat who obviously belongs there, she notices that the
cat is suddenly missing. She hears a meow coming from inside a closed closet,
and goes to open the door when she is thunderstruck by the awareness
that cats can't open and close closet doors. Someone is in that
closet. She gets the hell out.
You see what I mean about the effective "hook"? This was shaping up to be a
really good thriller.
Unfortunately, the scriptwriter didn't have any
more ideas. He had apparently envisioned an excellent set-up for a
thriller, but never came up with a logical or interesting way to
explain everything he had pictured.
There are several rookie mistakes, the main one being that the rule of economy of characters makes the
fundamental solution too obvious. We don't know the details, but we
know that the woman's estranged husband must be behind it all? Why.
Because there are really only three characters in the movie. There
is the actress. There is a hippie ex-cop that she ran into at the
airport and cajoled into giving her a ride. There is the actress's
husband. We know that the ex-cop could not be involved in any way,
because she only ran into him after a half-dozen accidents and
impromptu changes of plan which nobody could have anticipated. It
was pure coincidence that she ended up in his car. Therefore, there
are only two possibilities: the actress really did kill the guy in
her bed, or the husband framed her for some reason or another. If
the actress had really done it, this could have been a great movie,
in the manner of Memento, but that isn't the way things work in big
studio movies with big stars (Warner Brothers and Jane Fonda,
Therefore, after only about ten minutes of running
time, we know that the only possible solution to the mystery must involve the husband
in some way. It is only a matter of determining why and how he did
it. Of course the main character is within the plot and not watching
it like us, so she doesn't know that the husband is the only
possible suspect, but it's no great thrill for us in the audience to
wait for her to catch up with us.
Oh, dear. The words "no great thrill" are deadly when written in
a review of a thriller.
By the way, do you remember when I said that there were only
three possible solutions. I turned out to be wrong. There was a
fourth possibility. The murder could have been done by someone who
did not appear in the film and had nothing to do with the main plot
at all. I know what you are thinking. "Oh, balderdash! No screenwriter could
get away with that. What would be the point?" As it turns out,
that really was the solution. The actual murder was committed by some woman
from an upper crust family. Did you remember that the murder victim
was an erotic photographer? Well, he had some pictures of the rich
woman; she was tired of being blackmailed; end of story.
That still didn't exonerate the husband. After
all, nobody ever said that the murder and the frame-up were done by
the same person.
Get the picture?
Despite all that I have written, I rather enjoyed
this movie. Although it never fulfilled its promise as a
thriller, The Morning After turned out to be a good "mismatched
buddy" flick, with the buddies in question turning eventually into
lovers, as we hope they do. Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges did a great
job as the actress and the hippie ex-cop, and the scriptwriter
created great parts for them, filled with depth, rich with
dimensions, interesting in tiny details. They relate in ways which
seem real, and I found myself growing very comfortable in their
company, and interested in their conversations. The screenwriter
also gave Fonda some acerbically witty dialogue, and a very capable
director (Sidney Lumet1) did
what he could with the film's atmosphere, even milking a few
suspenseful moments out of the non-mysterious mystery.
Lumet is not often mentioned in discussions of the great American
directors, but he probably should be. He certainly has had a
distinguished career. Here are his top films:
The top three are rated in the all-time Top 250 at IMDb.
Dance With Death (1991)
"Sure," I thought, "I can sit through one more
adaptation of Strindberg's greatest play. Haven't thought about it
Sure, Martin Mull seemed to be a
little miscast as the bitter, fierce, overbearing captain, but I
figured there was no sense in trying to copy Olivier's brilliant
interpretation in the 1969 film, so the director must be trying to
put a completely different and more contemporary spin on the
classical portrayal of a dead, loveless marriage.
And then I realized I was thinking of "Dance OF
Death," as opposed to this film, "Dance WITH Death." This movie, as
it turns out, is yet another one of those films in which a serial
killer is gradually eliminating our precious national stripper
reserve until a brave female cop or reporter - a reporter in this
case - goes undercover to rip
the lid off the scandal and her own wardrobe.
So what makes this film any different from the
scores of others with the same plot not written by Strindberg?
- Well, it has Martin Mull in it.
- And it offers a chance to see a young, chubby Lisa Kudrow as
she looked a few years before "Friends." (Right)
Apart from that, it is one of those plots where the scriptwriter
tries to make it look like every single character, male and female,
could be the killer. In fact, it goes so far as to mis-identify not
one but two guys, and makes those characters go down in a flurry of
police bullets before the real baddie is unmasked!
Oh, well. I
guess you wouldn't be watching a serial stripper murder movie for
the plot, would you?
Here's the good stuff: