Friday, October 15, 2010

Stone Cold Dead

(George Mendeluk, 1979)
While it doesn't come close to living up to its ambitions, this police-and-prostitutes procedural does have something going on upstairs. In telling the tale of the murderous hooker-hater with the camera that is also a gun, Mendeluk aims for a vulgar existentialism, with generous shades of gray in the interplay between cops and criminals, and a surprising emotionalism - when Richard Crenna outs crooked partner Chuck Shamata he bursts into tears, and drug-smuggling kingpin Paul Williams (!!) seems to be channeling Brando as he mourns his junkie girlfriend or cries plaintively from the cell for his glasses. The surprise identity of the killer offers one more variation on the enemy-within theme as well as complicating the film's attitude toward sex workers, but it works (just a bit) better as ideology than as drama - in spite of the usual lengthy confession/explanation, this red herring doesn't pass the smell test. Part of the problem is that except for the anomalously earthy Crenna and tormented 'hostess' Linda Sorensen, none of these potentially compelling characters are on screen enough for us to invest much in them - their development is so stunted that the emotive high points seem to fall out of the sky. Because of this, when the big "Chinatown"-style defeatist ending comes down, it feels unsatisfying and unearned - just like the allusion to "Peeping Tom".

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