The Mephisto Waltz (1971)
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The stunning beauty Barbara Parkins and the irrepressible Curt Jürgens steal the show and turn in performances that dwarf the rest of the cast. This is a low budget film and yet without all of today's special effects it is readily more thrilling and frightening than the typical horror film of contemporary American film.
Thank heavens it is on DVD I saw it originally and now eagerly seek to have it for my collection.
The script is tight and well-thought out, with the exception of Dillman's role as Roxanne's ex-husband. After all, if the diabolists are so sexually compelling, how could he divorce her. And though director Paul Wendkos occasionally goes overboard with the camera tricks, the scenes are stylishly done, especially the banquet with its snatches of pretentious banter, and the New Years party with its erotic grotesqueries bound to end in an orgy. And underneath it all lies an undercurrent of evil, even during the brightest splashes of sunlight.
Though Alda gets star billing, it's actually Bissett's movie, which she carries off in finely shaded fashion. Her scenes with the ominously silent Roxanne (just count Parkins' few lines) amount to an exquisite model of civilized contempt, minus the fisticuffs. Alda too, shines, as he acts out Ely's imperious manner at just the right moments, proving in those pre-MASH days that he was more than the humorously caustic Hawkeye Pierce.
As good as the movie is, I can't help wondering if it might have been even better had the mystery not been exposed as early as it is. Suppose the script had skipped the transference ritual and simply had Alda take on Ely's characteristics without explanation, such that the audience would have to ponder what's going on, instead of having it handed to them. There may have been good reasons for not taking this mystery route, but at least it's worth considering.
Still and all, Waltz remains a fine example of movie horror done in both color and sunny surroundings, and with a lot of style and conviction. Too bad, it's slipped into movieland's version of yester-year oblivion. It deserves better. And, if nothing else, the script raises the scary question of whether dogs really are man's (woman's) best friend.
Since the birth of the moving picture, the Devil has had a lucrative acting career. From Witchcraft Through the Ages to appearing as green goo in Prince of Darkness, there's never been a dull moment. In the Mephisto Waltz the "Master" makes a fleeting appearance, just a footfall and a shadow.
The Mephisto Waltz is oft compared to Rosemary's Baby, with the betraying husband and victimised wife. It is the direct opposite. The husband is the victim and the wife the betrayer. Throw in spatterings of Nothing but the Night, Season of the Witch, dream sequences similar to The Masque of the Red Death, and hints that the upper class/rich are "different" (They Live, Society).
The pianist Duncan Ely achieves immortality via soul transpostion. He selects his victim on their hands. It is interesting to consider who he was in previous "lives". The film hints that he may be Lizit, Rachmaninov and Mozart. Linking musical genius to pacts with the Devil is not uncommon e.g. blues guitarist Robert Johnson.
The satanists completely underestimate Paula Clarkson, even though she "warns" them that she's "tough, precocious and beautiful". Clarkson has obviously read/watched Casting the Runes/Night of the Demon (not the sasquatch film silly) and beats the satanists at their own game. She does this absolutely by selling her own soul. Surprisingly God and religion play no part in the film whatsoever unlike most films about the Devil. The characters in the film are Godless.
The most interesting aspect of the film is the aforementioned betrayal of the husband, Myles. Paula actively excepts Ely as her new spouse with no notion of redeeming or avenging her true husband. Why?. At the start, the couple share two scenes in bed. In both Myles is more keen on sleeping, rejecting Paula's advances. She jokes that they are intimate only once a year. She is not far from the truth. Myles has the libido of a eunuch with the personality, ambition and fidelity to match. When Ely possesses his body, the relationship with Paula becomes more physical and exciting. Paula prefers Ely to Myles who is quickly forgotten. Paula's only adversary is the daughter/wife Roxanne whose body she gladly accepts. Ely and Paula "deserve" each other.
The film is about a couple who is coerced into the household of rich socialite-Satanists, led by Duncan Ely, who is played by Curt Jurgens, who is pretty good here. What follows is a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between the converted and unconverted to Ely's sect. It is pretty well-written and shot, with genuine suspense and a deceptively simple use of oblique angles and soft focus to create a nightmarish atmosphere. The problem with the film is that it is too long, and domestic sequences are not poignant enough to be interesting, despite the strange Alda performance.
However, there are scary sequences of fantasy vs. reality and terror-based ideas, such as Jaquelin Bisset's realization that her dreams are reality and the pure horror of the dog attack scene. Initially director Paul Wendkos's inserts seem too jarring, but in being jarring they make the action more threatening.
I didn't really like the title sequence because it gives away too many of the nice shots we should be surprised or thrilled by later in the film. One thing that definitely adds to the suspense of the film is Jerry Goldsmith's score: it rivals Herrman's PSYCHO score for violin-fueled, full-blooded accompaniment to a horror film.
Overall, despite some problems of character development and loose ends, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ is a frightening film, and a devious twist on a concept used in such other films as THE SEVENTH VICTIM and ROSEMARY'S BABY, this one is a distinctive experience in the bizarre. Some may not like the plot's convolution, but assuredly watch if you are a fan of horror films of any connotation.
Myles Clarkson (Alan Alda ) is a music journalist and frustrated pianist, married with Paula (Jacqueline Bisset) and having a nine years old daughter. When he is invited for an exclusive interview with the outstanding pianist Duncan Ely (Curt Jurgens), he is very welcomed by the famous pianist and his beautiful wife Roxanne Delancey (Barbara Parkins), and becomes friend of the couple. The life of Myles changes completely, and he becomes a successful disciple of Duncan, and Paula believes that Duncan, Roxanne and their friends worship the devil. "The Mephisto Waltz" could be a good low budget movie, with a better development of the story and the characters. The film itself is very dated, with the type of psychedelic image, use of filters, and horrible work of edition, with weird cuts of many scenes. The story plagiarizes the storyline of "Rosemary's Baby", showing a community that worships the devil. The characters of "The Mephisto Waltz" are poorly developed along the story, and there are many flaws in the screenplay. For example, Abby Clarkson (Pamelyn Ferdin) has a mysterious disease and dies, and is forgotten in the rest of the story. Based on the last scenes, when Paula switches her soul with Roxanne's, was the desire of Paula for Myles so intense, that she decides to live with Myles having the soul of the man who traded the life of their daughter per a successful life? However, "The Mephisto Waltz" has a good atmosphere of horror and together with the astonishing beauty of Jacqueline Bisset are the best attractions in this confused movie. My vote is five.
Title (Brazil): "Balada Para Satã" ("Balad For Satan")
She's great in both. Everyone else is very good, but for Alan Alda, who is merely adequate. Funny, even Bradford Dillman is better here, but then Alda wasn't yet into his stride. This almost reeks of TV movie entrapments, it's a Quinn Martin production, but manages to overcome most of them with a fairly literate denouement.
There's the momentary lapse into trite dialog, and silliness, as exhibited by a trip to Mexico where entry into Mexico is announced by a painted billboard on a two-lane highway running past a park with water sprinklers going and with no border guards nor line of cars. Believe me, I went to Mexico in 1971 both from San Diego and inland Calexico, and there was no such sweetheart road of entry.
Well, watch it and you'll see what I mean. It's worth a view just for the great opening credits.
This "70's horror flick" comes complete with psychedelic dream sequences, devil-worshiping, terrifying morally bankrupt characters, and even a little campy acting. I've read it all--reviewers calling it dated, shoddily made, badly acted, wandering, and unfocused. However in my eyes, it is still a gem in spite of some of these things, and indeed because of some of them. Since the crazy 19th century came along, many an artwork has dealt with the supernatural, witchcraft, satanism, dreams and reality, etc. BUT very few works of art ever tell it in a style that reflects it. Very few films about the occult draw the viewer/listener/reader in so close that they realize they almost understand and are living in the strange world they view, and they are TERRIFIED as a result. This movie, and others like it, seek to do just that. Unfortunately, some techniques--like psychedelia--have become dated, though they are attempts at bridging the distance to the viewer with strange, maybe entrancing, maybe hypnotizing sounds and images. But were the first primitive musical notes thrown out? Were our first movies deemed a waste of time by the whole world? No, some chose to progress in the art, and the results have expanded our knowledge of ourselves. We shouldn't let a couple, now "dated," attempts be the end of it. We should keep trying to tell terrifying stories in a terrifying way. We should keep describing insanity, the diabolical, and the metaphysical using methods that get at the heart of the feelings, the other-worldy realities, the utterly foreign aspects of our world and of ourselves. At least, they were foreign until now! For this reason, and in spite of some true camp, this "weirdly" edited, acted, and directed story gets a 7 out of 10.
Journalist Myles Clarkson (Alan Alda) once dreamt of being a concert pianist, but gave up his dream when his debut performance was heavily criticised. However, he still has extraordinary musical talent, and this is something that has not escaped the notice of a dying pianist named Duncan Ely (Curt Jurgens). Ely suggests an interview with Clarkson and the latter, flattered, is only too keen to oblige. But the reality of the matter is that Ely is actually a dedicated Satanist who plans to use occult magic to "switch" bodies with Clarkson when his inevitable death from leukaemia eventually occurs. As anticipated Ely soon passes away, but Myles' wife Paula (Jacqueline Bisset) quickly notices strange and inexplicable character changes in her husband. He is more aggressive and perverted in bed, oddly colder and crueller towards her, and full of renewed vigour towards his musical compositions. He also seems rather taken with Ely's daughter Roxanne (Barbara Parkins), making Paula feeling less and less wanted. Paula gradually pieces together the mystery with a little help from Ely's ex-son-in-law Bill (Bradford Dillman). She discovers the history of Ely's satanic practices and also learns that Ely had an incestuous relationship with his daughter a relationship he plans to renew now that he has taken over her husband's body. But Paula isn't prepared to accept defeat without a fight, and goes to extraordinary lengths to have her twisted revenge ..
The Mephisto Waltz has moments that are effectively eerie, such as a few shuddersome dream segments and a memorable sequence involving a masked ball, but more often than not it is rather predictable. The open-ended climax is also rather heavy-handed. I usually like movies with unusual and thought-provoking endings, but this one just seemed excessively hokey. The whole concept of Paula summoning the Devil to help her get her own back against Roxanne - by BECOMING Roxanne (!!) - spoils the film for me. Paula is the one character with whom we can sympathise throughout the film, but at the end she fights evil with evil and this strips away any audience appeal her character might bear. Jerry Goldsmith provides a suitably creepy music score, and the flashy cinematography of William W. Spencer generates occasional suspense, but on the whole The Mephisto Waltz narrowly misses the mark. While some will enjoy its dark playfulness and interpretable ending, others like myself will find it frustratingly underdeveloped.
Alan Alda plays a music journalist who is tricked by an older musician who is a satanist, and his body is usurped by the older man's soul. Alda's wife Paula knows something is wrong, and throughout the movie slowly discovers the truth. She seems strangely unaffected by the loss of her husband's soul (and mind); she wants his body (!) (as if it is more her husband than anything else). However, she loses her husband to another satanist, and without any prior knowledge of satanism, proceeds to trick them all at their own game, by selling her soul and taking over Alda's wife's body. "Happy" ending.
This teaches us:
That the mind and soul are nothing, the body is everything (well, it is an American story); That beauty literally is only skin deep; that love is only as deep as your skin; that adults are willing to sell their souls instantly to get mortal happiness; that Satan can evict your soul any time he wants and replace it with someone elses, even without your permission; and that God won't interfere, as he isn't even mentioned in the movie.
Not good lessons for nine and ten-year-old kids to watch as Alda and his wife are smooching on the way to bed at the end of the movie.
How did they get away with this movie on t.v. at a time when kids were watching? Were they aware of the themes, and how sick the message was?
People talk about how sick t.v. is today. Gotta tell you, folks; things like this outdo any number of shows that use the word "penis." The movie is well-made, creepy, with one of the most effective and believable appearances of "The Evil One" in any movie I have ever seen; because he doesn't appear with million-dollar special effects; he is simply there, a (strangely convincing) entity in the shadows, waiting to do his business with stupid humans when summoned, and leave.
This would have been a good R-rated movie; but it was entirely inappropriate for children, stupid for parents to let them watch, and I would definitely *not* let impressionable children watch it. It makes the statement that God is out to lunch, and happiness can be obtained only by selling your soul (before it is ripped out of you.)
Seven out of ten stars, because of production, not content.
Subtle performances by Parkins and Bisset set the stage for the ultimate cat fight for the new Miles' body, which for devil worshipers is the ultimate lover. Alda's transformation from mild mannered Miles to alpha male Duncan is convincing as is the excellent performance of Curt Jurgen. But it is the discussion of god is dead, the devil is hip, and dogs with human head masks make this film a gem and wonderful slice of horror storytelling before slasher nonsense overtook the film industry. Body snatching, incest, and Satanic cults among the Hollywood beautiful people seem tame compared with the reality of the Manson family horror murders in the hills that took place only two years earlier. Nevertheless, the Mephisto Waltz makes for fun watching if only to see two of the most beautiful women of the era on screen with Hawkeye Pierce.
Once the main premise has been set - a famous pianist (Jurgens as Ely) wants to live on after death in the body of a suitably matched person (played by Alan Alda) - and the diabolical (in several senses of the word) act has been carried out the plot chugs along with nowhere to go. Luckily, the ex-husband of Ely's daughter appears with details of their eerie past to shove the film towards its conclusion. Unfortunately, the chain of events that unfolds is unconvincing to say the least and the ending makes absolutely no sense - nobody is in their right body (or mind) by the end.
If Bissett can suss that Alda is possessed by Ely, don't you think Ely might work out what has happened to his daughter?
The acting is pretty poor, apart from Alan Alda, who is spectacularly poor. I think he's even worse than the dog. Also, it's fairly easy to guess the next person to die at each stage.
Finally I was quite surprised that the mike boom didn't get its own credit - it was in the film more than most of the principal actors!
I think a remake by Darren Aronofsky would be interesting with Ben Affleck portraying Alan Alda's role, Emily Blunt reprising Paula (Jacqueline Bisset's character), Bill Nighy as Duncan Ely and Rosamund Pike as his daughter Roxanne.
On the plus side, all of it is stylishly photographed and played with a certain amount of relish, at least by Jacqueline Bisset, Curt Jurgens and Bradford Dillman. Biggest flaw is casting Alan Alda in the central role as the pianist who inherits the musical talent of Curt Jurgens when the Satanist dies, bequeathing Alda with his body and soul. Bisset is the wife who slowly comes to suspect that her husband has been taken over by someone else.
Not quite as strikingly original as "Rosemary's Baby", it does have some effective horror moments, notably involving scenes with a rather ferocious black dog and a scene where the Devil is summoned but we never actually see him. Imagination is given free reign here (at least fleetingly), shades of Val Lewton. Perhaps a technique that should have been used more often throughout.
None of it quite makes sense and the ending is a distinct letdown, but there are some chilling moments nevertheless. Bisset and Parkins are beautifully photographed, with Bisset coming out ahead in the acting department, playing the stressed out wife with appropriate fear and tension. Parkins, on the other hand, seems to rely on one frozen expression, sleepwalking through her role, relying solely on her looks to get by in a way that Hedy Lamarr was often accused of doing in films of the '40s.
As for Alan Alda, he is much too bland, lending neither interest nor credibility to a role that demands a strong romantic lead. His career suggests that he is clearly more comfortable in character roles requiring comic flair, not straight dramatic parts. Bradford Dillman is at least a stronger presence in a lesser role.
All in all, not bad for watching when you're in the mood for a tale of the occult. I seem to recall enjoying the book years ago and the film doesn't quite measure up. It emerges as one of those films that could have been much more satisfying with better casting and direction.
Alda's shambling gracelessness lends little credibility to this movie but when he is off-screen, although it does not rival the Ripley/Alien slug-fest in Aliens, there is enough acceptable conflict between Bisset and Parkins give this movie some distinction. Oh, yeah, Curt Jurgens is pretty good, too.