A new commanding officer arrives at a remote castle serving as an insane asylum for mentally ill and A.W.O.L. U.S. soldiers where he attempts to rehabilitate them by allowing them to live ...
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A new commanding officer arrives at a remote castle serving as an insane asylum for mentally ill and A.W.O.L. U.S. soldiers where he attempts to rehabilitate them by allowing them to live out their crazy fantasies while combatting his own long-suppressed insanity.Written by
The film was partially financed by Pepsico, the makers of soft drinks such as Pepsi. The company had leftover funds that couldn't leave the country of Hungary and to use them, they decided to co-finance the film. Both Pepsi and the director had clauses: Pepsi's was to shoot the film in Budapest; Blatty's was to not have any product placement by the company. Both agreed to the terms, although Blatty slightly relented: a Pepsi machine does appear briefly in one scene. See more »
First version seen in US during general release was distributed by Warner Brothers and ran 112 minutes. It contained following differences from the 118 min. director's cut seen on the 2002 DVD:
Soundtrack in Stereo
Opens with Warner Brothers logo
Credits sequence immediately follows logo and does not feature brief "computer print-out" sound fx
Ed Flanders' opening narration over master shot of castle immediately follows scene of Cutshaw awakening from nightmare and looking out at the sunrise, and then cuts to the wacky assembly of the men in the courtyard, which plays straight through.
Joke about Cutshaw's squeeze-bulb-horn cane being a "foghorn" is absent
No suspenseful music during Kane's introduction to the group and initial entry into the castle
Sound effect of chips crunching in Cutshaw's pocket absent from sound mix after the first indication
Cutshaw's "Show me a Catholic..." line is delivered in alternate, medium angle take
Fell's dialog about the men having high IQs and Kane's dissertation on evil and suffering is absent. After Fell discusses Reno it cuts directly to his joking suggestion of shock treatment
Reno and Spinnell's interchange regarding types of dogs for Shakespearean roles has music playing in background, is preceded by an exterior of the castle at night, and runs longer to show Cutshaw enter and add "Reno, in need you", to which Reno replies, "You need me? Hell, I need me!"
Reno's line to Cutshaw in the tree, regarding "ski tracks on the table" is absent
Lunar crucifixion dream is shown with rain falling throughout, and runs slightly longer
When Kane looks over at the chair, the muted calls of "Vincent!" and "Oh God, I love..." are absent from the soundtrack
Groper's complaints to Kane about the men are heard off-screen as Fell is seen breaking down outside Kane's office, and the scene inside the office with Kane reading the love letter is absent
Fairbanks trying to get a soda from the Pepsi machine is seen without hearing Reno calling for Kane and insulting Fell, which is then seen directly afterward, on-screen, before the Hamlet dissertation
During Reno's Hamlet dissertation, Reno insulting Fell ("coextensive with Nero's ass") is absent
Fairbanks complimenting the atoms in water is absent
The Frankenstein-masked Cutshaw has an extra line to Groper on the soundtrack after he "claims this swamp for Poland"
Scene of Reno trying to teach sheep Shakespeare is absent
As the Chain Gang parties at the bar, there is a shot of topless biker women with painted nipples dancing, in lieu of the shot of the nameless victim (seen bound and gagged in the back of a pick-up truck at the film's beginning) nodding his head
The exterior shot of Kane arriving at the bar runs slightly longer
After the bar fight, an interior scene of Kane and Cutshaw returning to the castle precedes the shot of the police car racing up to the castle. In the scene, Cutshaw lets Kane, who is wearing Cutshaw's letterman jacket like a cape, inside the main hall and they both slowly ascend the stairs to Kane's quarters
When Cutshaw returns to the castle in the epilogue, the exterior scene cuts to the interior at the point where Cutshaw is just entering Kane's office. The scene with Cutshaw in the main hall is absent.
It's rare to find five films that offer as much combined intelligence, passion, visceral excitement, and uncontrolled belly laughs as this. "The Ninth Configuration" is the sort of film people either love or hate. Like many great works of art, it doesn't settle into any middle ground. It's my all-time favorite movie, not perfect but a real screen miracle all the same. This is the sort of movie they don't make any more, because they never really made anything like this. Just this one time. For that, and much else, it is unique.
Scott Wilson plays the despairing Capt. Cutshaw, who believes the universe is a random void based on suffering and cruelty. He is challenged in his atheism by Stacy Keach, a Marine colonel sent to command the institution where Cutshaw and other Army servicemen, many Vietnam War heroes, have been committed to after assorted acts of deviancy. Cutshaw's own madness culminated in his refusal to be launched into space during a final countdown, vividly pictured near the beginning in one of many arresting visuals when the horizon around the launching pad suddenly fills up with the sight of a ferocious, threatening moon, several times bigger than life.
Cutshaw and Keach's Col. Kane duke it out in a serious of probing yet riotous metaphysical dialogues. "I don't belong to the God-Is-Alive-But-Living-In-Argentina club," Cutshaw announces. "But I believe in the Devil alright. And you know why? Because the prick keeps doing commercials!" Kane's counterargument, much weaker at the outset but gaining intensity as Cutshaw's desire to be converted becomes more clear, is that if evil is as powerful and omnipresent as Cutshaw thinks, correctly, than why doesn't he also believe in the real, counterbalancing power of human goodness as something that has its origins beyond humanity?
Meanwhile, the other inmates follow their own neuroses, adapting Shakespeare for dogs and trying to train atoms to allow humans to walk through walls. There's also Neville Brand's Major Groper, a put-upon asylum keeper who finds himself victimized by such pranks as having his name attached to a love letter sent out in a mass mailing addressed to "Occupant." "I got phone call after phone call," he complains, adding bitterly that the female respondents he did contact were "ugly as sin."
People criticize the movie for being filled with such amiable nuttiness, but it relieves the heaviness of the central story and sets the right tone of anarchy and chaos to be sorted out as the picture develops. The third character in this film, after Cutshaw and Kane, is Ed Flanders' Dr. Fell, the medical officer who treats his hangovers with whisky and Alka-Seltzer and observes the lunacy around him with a bemused calm. But he has no small stake in the larger story being worked out between Kane and Cutshaw. In fact, he's more the central figure than anyone, and watching his reactions at key moments is one of the many treats of repeat viewings.
The acting is superb, particularly by the three principals. As we learn in the penetrating director's commentary that accompanies the DVD, the three leads were originally supposed to be Nicol Williamson as Kane, Michael Moriarty as Cutshaw, and Jason Robards as Fell. They would have been good, but not anywhere near as good as the three performances we have. Further proof of God's existence, for anyone who feels the "Ninth Configuration" argument advanced by Kane doesn't hold water, can be found in the fact Wilson and Keach were last-minute replacements in a low-budget film made only to help create a loss-leader for the producers. Unpromising origins to be sure, yet such a brilliant payoff. And how richly perverse: I love the way Kane makes his strongest case for man's goodness while dressed in full Nazi regalia. You don't even notice that the first time you see it, because the power of his words and the questing desperation in his eyes.
I'm dancing around the story itself, because a first-time viewer deserves surprises. Think of C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters" with a kick-ass bar fight, and you are in the right ballpark. Add to that the moody set design of an old castle in the Pacific Northwest (but actually shot in Hungary), an unobtrusive but powerful score, and surefire direction by screenwriter William Peter Blatty, who sets every scene as a sort of tableau of Cutshaw and Kane's inner turmoil.
Most of all, the film is amazingly quotable, particularly the canine Shakespeare adapter's (Jason Miller, sublime as Reno) unique take on "Hamlet," which takes the story in a whole new direction while offering a brilliant analysis of Shakespeare's great play. Even the little lines resonate with rare power. "Every kind thought is the hope of the world," Fell says at one point. Humble but true, as this film is proof.
You may not be converted into a belief in the divine, and the end does push things a bit harder than many would like (though with a blind courage rarely seen in film), but "The Ninth Configuration" will make you think a little more about the questions of our existence. And you will laugh a lot on the journey. Like I said, they don't make films like this anymore because they never did. This is a one-of-a-kind experience worth seeing.
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