An appealing oddity — a John Guillermin movie that’s a sensitive, quirky character piece rather than a shallow, bombastic genre exercise — MR. PATMAN aka CROSSOVER has a lot more in common with 1965’s intriguing RAPTURE (available in all its b&w widescreen glory from Masters of Cinema) than it does with the KONGS that bracket it. Although, having never had a DVD release, it’s represented by a fuzzy VHS pan-and-scan offering no suggestion of any visual splendour that may have been present at some stage, for all we know. The nitwit in charge of the transfer seems to have suffered from a compulsive elbow fetish, preferring to include the arm-joints of two characters at either side of a yawning chasm of negative space, rather than ever adjust the framing to let us see a face.
The movie, in this form, may not look like much, but it has a superb central performance by James Coburn, not an obvious fit for the protagonist of Thomas Hedley Jnr.’s sensitive scenario — a blue-collar psychiatric nurse, travels by bus, lives alone with a ginger tomcat, has lost his faith, gets too involved with his parents. As Mr. Patman slides towads mental breakdown himself, the film can be read as a much darker take on THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST — “If I were a psychiatrist — which I am — I’d say I was having a paranoid episode — WHICH I AM!”
Whereas the late Theodore J. Flicker, beginning his psychedelic satire, announced to his crew “I want to make the most realistic film ever!” (“He failed,” said Fiona. “Or…succeeded,” I replied, smiling mysteriously), Guillermin’s sludgy-looking movie, with it’s TV establishing shots and perpetually foul Canadian weather, looks much more dispiritingly like realism as it is usually represented, which is why some prefer drugs and I prefer movies. But the Franco-Irish hack may have hit upon the perfect use of this non-style, since reality itself starts to slip away from Patman. Presenting truth and delusion in equally dowdy terms could almost read as a shrewd policy.
The portrayal of the psychiatric ward seems pretty accurate to my experience as a visitor. There’s a slight trace of that annoying lie — the mad as gifted with a special insight — but this is inflected by Patman’s own disturbed POV and so is forgivable. There’s some gratuitous nudity to try to hold our interest — there IS a bit of gratuitous nudity on the ward, since some people in the manic phase just can’t find the time to get dressed — but it generally isn’t glamorous and makes you want to look away. The doctor’s are depicted as callous, which is probably true but probably somewhat necessary — the sympathy they offer is professional rather than human. The real bastards, in my experience, are the nurses who have been at it too long. They’re more likely to get compassion fatigue and empathic burnout, becoming hard and uncaring — they spend far more time with the patients than doctors ever will — than to become too close and caring like Patman. Those who do care — usually the newcomers — have to somehow rub along with their brutal colleagues, which would have been an interesting dynamic to show.
But instead, the film offers Coburn’s best and most surprising performance — OK, as per the rules (was this contractual) he does sleep with two women (Kate Nelligan and Fionnula Flanagan, both excellent) but otherwise he steps far outside his comfort zone and there’s a scene with his cat that will break your heart. He should have won his Oscar for this, not AFFLICTION (a fairly one-note performance that happened to be the right note, in a film now quite forgotten) but there was no way that would happen. Nor can one imagine a world in which this film would be a success of any kind. A shame.
Here, Coburn finds a novel way to perk up a day at the office.
And here is the scene that breaks my heart, anyway. Cat-lovers, get out your handkerchiefs.