Directed by Brian De Palma
Story by Brian De Palma, Paul Schrader
Screenplay by Paul Schrader
Starring: Cliff Robertson, Genevieve Bujold, John Lithgow
Fifteen years after the a tragedy claimed his wife, Michael Courtland (Robertson) is finally beginning to move forward. When he meets a young woman in Rome, Courtland becomes obsessed with her uncanny resemblance to his deceased wife.
This movie is based on a story developed by Paul Schrader (City Hall) and Brian De Palma (The Untouchables). Schrader completed the screenplay, and De Palma took on the work of directing the film. The movie features a small cast including Cliff Robertson (Charly), Genevieve Bujold (Anne of the Thousand Days), and John Lithgow (Blowout).
This story comes together like a combination of themes seen in films like Vertigo and Don’t Look Now. The writing sets up the story with a series of scenes that feel more like dreams than reality. Following the setup, the film goes on a strange journey through the obsessive actions of a grieving man. The movie plays with silence as a vehicle for building the sense of foreboding. The dialogue is sparse at times, and often seems too obvious. This one is a confused screenplay that lacks a decisive tone. There are moments that feel incredibly dark, while other moments bring out a somewhat pathetic side to the main character. The film also features a series of what can best be described as “pre-endings” that undercut any strength the film might have finished with.
This cast had a tough job with this film. The writing is confused, and their performances mirror that lack of consistent tone. Despite the writing issues, there are some good moments from all of the stars. Cliff Robertson does a decent job, despite the writing issues. His best moments all occur during the sadder scenes in the film. Those are the moments he seemed to connect with the role. The more obsessive moments in his role don’t play as well. He plays the role with an odd approach that sometimes feels more dirty than obsessed. John Lithgow also has some good moments in this one. Unfortunately his role is divided into two parts that feel almost like two different characters. The best work in this one comes from Genevieve Bujold. Her performance holds much of this movie together. She also seemed to have the most consistent connection with the main arc of the story. Overall the writing didn’t offer much for the stars to work with.
This movie does have some nice visual moments. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (The Rose) does a good job using the visuals to create tension throughout the film. The entire film has an ethereal visual style that is very similar to films like Rosemary’s Baby or Somewhere in Time. This doesn’t seem to add anything to the film due to the confused tone of the story. Still, the camera work is one of the best aspects of the film. Unfortunately the music doesn’t help this one very much. Composer Bernard Herrmann didn’t bring his best work to the table for this film. The repetitive nature of the music seems intended to create tension, but it really just feels overdone in the end. Ironically, his score earned the film an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. (So maybe my opinion isn’t in line with the 1976 Oscar voting pool.)
Overall, this movie just doesn’t seem to come together. The biggest issues in the film all come from the confused screenplay. I would only recommend this to committed fans of De Palma or Zsigmond. Otherwise, there are much better options for this type of psychological thriller. Hitchcock did this better, and this one ultimately feels like a poorly done derivative attempt. I give this one 2 out of 5 stars.