Monday, February 15, 2010

Left For Dead

(Murray Markowitz, 1978)
Structurally this appears to be one of those you-be-the-judge whodunits, except that the courtroom flashbacks have nothing to do with the witnesses' points of view - sometimes they're not even indexed to the testimony. Only at the very end does the portrayal of the events leading up to Elke Sommer's murder diverge from linear objectivity, and while the filmmakers are obviously on the side of Donald Pilon's accused husband, the drift of the narrative is that anyone could have done the deed, so why not him? Still, two things make it all fairly interesting. The unusually specific backstory, which follows three friends' escape from revolutionary Hungary and onward to their peculiarly bitter falling out, turns the film into something of a study in how the psychological traumas of war linger and resonate through decades. The other fascination lies in how nasty it is. Every endlessly leering act of violence is accompanied with liters of oozing ketchup, including a remarkably gratuitous rape-murder courtesy of some escapee from the "Queen Street Institute for the Criminally Insane." Cec Linder's villainous chief of police breaks every rule with glee and impunity. In fact, just about every hand on deck is a conniving, self-centered son or daughter of a bitch, so that the film becomes this orgy of neurotic, circular backstabbing. About the only wholly sympathetic adult is a relatively moral hit-man/boxer played by none other than George Chuvalo. It's a strange world when Chuvalo out-acts the lead - Pilon is discomfitingly prone to bug-eyed tantrums, which does little to encourage our already tenuous sympathies.

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