A member of the House of Lords dies, leaving his estate to his son. Unfortunately, his son thinks he is Jesus Christ. The other, somewhat more respectable, members of their family plot to steal the estate from him. Murder and mayhem ensue.
While on the run from the police, Steve Railsback hides in a group of moviemakers where he pretends to be a stunt man. Both aided and endangered by the director (Peter O'Toole) he avoids both the police and sudden death as a stuntman. The mixture of real danger and fantasy of the movie is an interesting twist for the viewer as the two blend in individual scenes. Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When Cameron previews the footage of Bert's demise, the windshield has no hole in it, then a hole appears as they look at the footage, but then it's missing again in the next shot. See more »
What's wrong, Eli?
Wrong? The scene's wrong. That's what's wrong.
The scene plays like a dream. Plays like "Marat/Sade."
It was shit.
Shit? Shit, huh? Who was that that called me on the phone when he first read it, woke me up in the middle of the goddamn night, raving about the magical madhouse scene? Who was that? My upstairs maid, Eli?
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After the credits end, the movie-within-a-movie director (played by Peter O'Toole) yells, "Sam, rewrite the opening reel! Crush the little bastard in the first act!" And then he laughs during the fade-out. See more »
I won't carry on about the plot of this marvelous flick since it's already been adequately limned, but do let me emphasize a few points that have been kind of grayed out in other comments. The score by Frontiere is outstanding, from the up-tempo opening blast to the final credits. It's not only unnerving but vertigo inducing, so it supplements the plot perfectly. The photography is outstanding as well, the colors appallingly vivid, as in an MGM cartoon, which in this context is most apt. (It is a mystery/comedy/thriller/philosophical disquisition, after all.) The Hotel Coronado in San Diego has never looked quite so palatial, not even in "Some Like it Hot."
Rush's direction boggles the mind, to coin a phrase. The film begins with a helicopter. A hand pops out of the helicopter and drops a half-eaten apple. The apple bounces on the hood of a parked car. We follow without comment the apple, the line of events, and it turns out to be what gets the story moving.
There are multiple very strange touches throughout. As a movie star myself, having been a faceless extra in half a dozen films, I have to add that movies are simply not shot this way. An expensive and dangerous (and ultimately lethal) stunt is performed as we enter the actual narrative and there is only one camera rolling -- and that in a helicopter so far away that its engine can't be heard? But it doesn't really matter. The movie plays tricks all along with the difference between "reality" and "illusion," an old game into which it's difficult to inject more life, as this movie manages to do.
At one point, Railsback is told to perform a short if dangerous stunt, leaping from one roof to another. He does so, but the stunt escalates. Not only escalates but goes on and on, with Railsback unexpectedly crashing through ceilings and floors in a shower of glass before winding up in the midst of drunken, partying enemies who shout at him and laughingly lift his body above their heads and pass him around the room. It will shock you almost as much as it shocked him. O'Toole asks him after this long gag what it is he wants. Says Railsback: "Not to think I'm going crazy."
The smallest parts are done well. A very authentic-looking German soldier with a cheery old face and big white mustache is loading his rifle for a scene in which he and his comrades are going to fire at Railsback. "I hope those are blanks," Railsback tells him. "It doesn't say so on the box," replies the soldier with a friendly tone and a big smile.
Let me mention Eli Cross, the director, played by O'Toole. At one level this movie is made, through his character, into an examination of God, and his whimsical sense of responsibility towards the human beings whose lives he controls. "Eli Cross"? I mean -- okay -- Elihu, the crucifixion -- the whole JudeoChristian tradition is embodied in that cognomen. Cross has a habit of riding around the sky in a giant crane whose seat drops unexpectedly out of space and into the middle of peoples' conversations. Before the shooting of the final stunt, Cross raises his hand, looking at the horizon, and says something like, "I hereby decree that no cloud shall pass before that sun." And while shooting another scene, the cameraman calls "Cut." Cross pauses, then asks, "WHO called cut?" The cameraman explains that there were only a few seconds of film left on the reel so they had to cut at that point. Cross, like the angry God of the Old Testament, shouts that, "NOBODY cuts a scene except ME!" After chewing the cameraman out thoroughly, he fires him on the spot. You see, if a movie is supposed to resemble life, then ending a scene suddenly ends the filmic exposure of the two human conversants and only -- well, you get the picture. A lot of this rather obvious theological stuff seems to have gotten by unrecognized or at any rate uncommented upon. It doesn't need to be dwelt on.
There are already so many layers to this film that the viewer can afford to be only half aware of any one of them at a given moment. It stands by itself as a kind of very strange comedy. I didn't find Railsback's background as a Vietnam vet put on very thickly, by the way. It would be nice if God really were as accessible as Peter O'Toole is in this movie. All you would have to do to find salvation is jump through some well-defined hoops. As it is, though, I for one find myself muddling through from one day to the next simply hoping not to step on too many toes. Gimme a fiery hoop or a dive off a bridge any day. Just as long as my scene isn't cut too quickly.
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