B.F. Forever?

Shadowplay welcomes long-time Shadowplayer Chris Schneider with our first guest post of The Late Show, a movie I’ve been dimly curious to see since I was seventeen. Not curious enough to do anything about it, you understand. But that spark burns more brightly now…

Perhaps the best way to deal with THE NAKED FACE, the 1984 thriller that Bryan Forbes made of a 1970 Sidney Sheldon novel, is to offer an adapted version of a line from an earlier — and, frankly, better — film. That is to say, “Mortality, or some mysterious force, can place its gun-sights on you or me for no good reason at all.”

THE NAKED FACE was the last film directed by Forbes. It stars Roger Moore as, unexpectedly enough, a psychiatrist. It begins and ends in a cemetery — a watermark, one might say, of late films made by older directors (see Hitchcock’s FAMILY PLOT, Wilder’s FEDORA). One unsympathetic critic has written of hilarity of a film ending with anything-but-tragic Moore crying out “BASTARDS!” Yet it makes a kind of morose sense to see the whole film as a howled-out “BASTARDS!” in the middle of a cemetery.

Roger Moore wanted a change, they tell us, from the cheeky killing machine that was James Bond. NAKED FACE came between his last two films playing Bond. As a result, we see a Moore who wears glasses with sturdy frames. He *cares*. He’s even shown listening to Mozart. But murders keep happening around him. This is all the worse in that his wife and daughter died before the story begins, and one character describes Moore as belonging to “the walking wounded.”

Side-thought: NAKED FACE was made for Cannon, the studio of Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris. Was it a requirement in DEATH WISH-land that wife and children are what one loses in the first reel, if not earlier?

For a while it appears that Moore — sympathetic, if not exactly an actor to convey inwardness — is poised between a metaphorical Bad Father and Good Father. These would be Rod Steiger, a cop with a mean mouth and a tendency to glare, and Art Carney, who appears halfway through as a crusty P.I. discovered via the Yellow Pages. Carney even has a good Cinema de Alter Kocker moment when Moore questions him and he responds “I have my tricks” — prompting all the clocks in his dingy office to start chiming. Time! Mortality! Hoppla!

Carney is removed from the story, though, and Steiger slips through the cracks. This leads to an out-of- nowhere villain and explanation for it all, neither of which offers much satisfaction in a film that’s, basically, an uninspired cop show repurposed for movie theaters.

“David Hedison, as Moore’s brother-in-law, looks good-natured. Anne Archer, as a patient, looks troubled while wearing heavy lipstick in her FATAL ATTRACTION-like manner. Elliott Gould looks to be waiting for his paycheck.” That’s what my notes say. Coulda swore that the primary villain would be Steiger, who’s always seething, or Archer, who appears beautiful-but-unhinged in a femme fatale kind of way. But, nah.

Let’s add that, while it’s difficult sometimes to tell a good shout-y Rod Steiger performance from a bad shout-y performance, it’s still Steiger who offers what little dynamism there is to NAKED FACE.

Room service revolver.

Oh, yes, and this is the only film to come to mind with dialogue employing the word “excreta” — *not*, one should add, in connection with a death scene to provoke restive types into quoting Steve Martin’s MAN WITH TWO BRAINS line “Into the mud, scum queen!”


*Speaking* of scum …

The first half of the film is filled with homophobic backchat. This is unconnected with the plot, so it’s something of a red-herring — or should we say “red phallus”? Someone’s referred to as “a fag with a family,” somebody says “his alibi’s tight, he’s straight.” Shortly before the first victim, one of Moore’s patients, is killed, he asks how he can possibly reveal to his wife and children that he’s a monster — i.e. has sex with other men. Then he leaves and gets killed in a way not unlike Rene Auberjonois in EYES OF LAURA MARS. (Insert “wardrobe malfunction” joke here.)

One hears that the pro-Thatcher Forbes, who wrote the script, had some unlovely attitudes. I thought that might be the source. Further research shows, though, that it comes from the Sidney Sheldon novel.

Is this stuff thrown out to demonstrate that it’s a rough’n’tough policier tale? Or does it speak for the author himself?

One can only shrug in incomprehension and mutter “Bastards …”

David here again. Couldn’t resist adding:

THE NAKED FACE is directed by Turk Thrust and stars Turk Thrust II; Mr. Joyboy; Trapper John MacIntyre; Ed Norton; Cathy Ryan; Felix Leiter; and Irene Mankiller.

17 Responses to “B.F. Forever?”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Sidney Sheldon is the auteur of “The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer” (in which a teenage Shirley Temple throws herself at Cary Grant in the hope of mining his Inner Roman Polanski) and “The Other Side of Midnight” — the all-time fave of the late, great and much-missed Dorothy Dean as she found it the most perfect example of her favorite theme, “REVENGE!” Like Gene Tierney in “Leave Her To Heaven” Marie-France Pisier goes to her grave in order to avenge her shallow treatment at the hands of John Beck (Who he? Good Question) a Tailor’s Dummy she finds unaccountably attractive. Susan Sarandon is also involved but it’s been years since I last saw it so I forget exactly how. Anyway she looks lovely in the finale wearing an elaborate cape ensemble.

  2. Lots and lots of naked Pisier in that one, but Sarandon remains chastely covered until suddenly she ventures out in a nightie in a thunderstorm… I remember nothing else.

    Sheldon also gave us The Buster Keaton Story, where his devotion to the unfactual set a new standard, even for Hollywood.

  3. david wingrove Says:

    The irony is that, for all their vulgar homophobia, Sidney Sheldon’s novels had a large and fervent gay following. But only one of them has ever been adapted satisfactorily to the big screen – the majestic camp classic THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT!

  4. Spent a great deal of time looking for Susan Sarandon in the nightie in the thunderstorm this afternoon but apparently my search terms were inadequate. A lot of cleavage, tho, so it was nowhere near as frustrating as Tony Scott shoving every fucking potted plant in the western hemisphere between the camera lens and the Susan Sarandon / Catherine Deneuve lesbian scene in “The Hunger.” I know I have complained about this before, and I hate to speak ill of the dead, but goddamn it.

  5. ehrenstein47 Says:

  6. ehrenstein47 Says:

  7. God bless you, Mr. Ehrenstein.

  8. ehrenstein47 Says:

    J’Adore Marie-France, She was one of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s favorite chained models. Her laughing fit on seeing Garbo in “Camille” in Techine’s “Souvenirs d’en Fraance: is a memorable movie moment. And she’s enchanting as one of the Ghosts in “Celine and Julie Go Boating.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwd1-TBq7Kg

  9. ehrenstein47 Says:

  10. There’s a sort of tragic cloud around all this: Pisier killed herself, Tony Scott killed himself, and the director of Other Side absent-mindedly walked into the tail-blade of a helicopter. Ouch.

    Still, Sheldon lived to 89 and Sarandon is going strong!

  11. IIRC it was my review of The Naked Face that triggered Forbes into writing a letter to Time Out in which he called me a “trufflehound.” I know I’ve mentioned this before, and I still have the letter somewhere, but since I am in the middle of packing there is no way I can locate it right now. I’ll try and post it when I get organised (and also maybe find my letters from Jimmy Sangster, Amy Robinson and Dickie Attenborough… Michael Caine once sent an email to the Telegraph to thank me for something I wrote about him, but emails don’t really have the same cachet, do they).

  12. Saw The Other Side of Midnight on my own in a small cinema in Dartmouth while stoned out of my gourd on hash brownies (actually hash rock buns, but wasn’t sure people would know what rock buns are), and thought it was the Best Film Ever. Haven’t dared revisit it since.

  13. Well… now we know the secret of appreciating it.

    What’s the best Harold Robbins movie? That one might come closest to his porno aspects. An internet acquaintance was in talks with the estate at one point about launcing a whole new series of movie adaptations, but really, I think that era is gone…

  14. chris schneider Says:

    First of all, let me establish that Sidney Sheldon’s daughter Mary was a high-school friend of mine and that I met Sidney Sheldon a coupla times. Perfectly nice and reasonable individual in my encounters with him.

    He said nothing in connection with LGBT+ issues that I can remember. I do, however, remember him remarking with disapproval that Harold Robbins doesn’t like women very much. This was around the time, more or less, of the publication of THE NAKED FACE.

  15. Robbins seems like a misogynist, just from his writing, yeah. Well, just from his sex scenes, which were the only bits I ever read.

  16. Actor Don Porter uses the word excreta in Delmer Dave’s film adaptation of Herman Wouk’s typically mammoth novel Youngblood Hawk, starring James Franciscus.

  17. I’m now wondering if Renton doesn’t use the term while enumerating his buckets in Trainspotting: he definitely says “vomitus”, which must be even rarer.

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