Nov 23, 2014

On DVD: Lauren Bacall is Stalked by The Fan (1981)

While The Fan wasn't quite the camp extravaganza I expected, it's an oddly satisfying film. Though the thriller never got my heart pounding, it has such a strong cast that it didn’t fall flat either. I've been curious about this movie for years and in a new DVD from Warner Archive, I finally had the chance to check it out.

Based on a 1978 novel, The Fan stars Lauren Bacall as legendary movie star Sally Ross. The actress is rehearsing for her first starring role in a Broadway musical, though she can't really sing. Since Bacall actually starred in two Broadway musicals around that time, you're basically forced to accept the whole set-up as plausible.

Ross is being stalked by Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn), a record store employee who becomes increasingly frustrated by his thwarted attempts to make contact with the star. Determined to get to her, Breen sharpens his straight razor and begins slashing through the people in Sally's life.

Since that part of the plot only fills about half the running time, the movie is forced to meander through relationship drama, long dinners and Sally's arguments with her assistant (Maureen Stapleton). The slackening of pace kills the suspense, and leaves it a bit limp as a thriller, but the actors are so good that it ends up being enjoyable just seeing them do their thing.
Bacall, lovely at 56

Stapleton steals all of her scenes with a familiar no-nonsense warmth. She has a way of reminding you of someone you know, though you can't think of the name. James Garner is also pleasing as Ross' still loving ex-husband, though he's basically in the girlfriend role and doesn't have much to do. He's got nice chemistry with Bacall though and it's charming to see them together. I also loved seeing a very young Hector Elizondo as a police inspector who enchants Ross. He's very slick with his low-buttoned shirt and gold chain. Not many stars can pull that look off.

For most of the movie I thought that Biehn's performance was a bit lackluster, but I eventually realized that the real fault was with the script, and perhaps the pace of the film. There's plenty of nasty slasher scenes with gushing blood, but it feels gross rather than horrifying. The tension never bubbles over, even in the finale. I think given something more to work with, Biehn's baby-faced killer could have been a lot more menacing.

As it is, I didn't believe for a moment that Bacall would need to run from this guy. The first time she's face-to-face with him, she's supposed to look frightened, but appears more like she's ready to kick his ass. And I believed that she could have dropped him right then too.
Scared? Or ready to take out the trash?

Lauren Bacall is an interesting presence in this film. She's not classing it up as much as she seems to think she is, but at the same time, she can't help but be classy. The musical numbers are a glittery, campy mess and enormously entertaining because of it; however, though she barely rasps through her absurd numbers, she's still every bit a star. I was also astonished by how exciting it was to see Bacall's untouched 56-year-old face. I've become so used to seeing frozen Botoxed visages of women of that age that I marveled at the beauty of a naturally aging, and consequently much more effective actress.

The print had a lot more grain than I typically see in a Warner Archive release, and I thought it suited the gritty, early 1980s New York setting well. Anything sharper would have felt a little off.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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