John D. MacDonald

Ring Around the Redhead (1985, Theodore Gershuny)

Television is a visual medium but budgetary constraints sometimes lead to a lack of visualizations. I assume Ring Around the Redhead, an episode of “Tales from the Darkside,” had some serious budgetary constraints. The entire episode has two and a half sets–one is inventor John Heard's basement, the other is the prison where he waits on death row.

The episode has two big problems; both are director Gershuny's fault. First, his direction is pedestrian at best. Sure, he's got a small budget, but he's not inventive either. Second, he adapted the script from a forties short story. Heard's inventor–not to mention Caris Corfman's reporter–make no sense in a modern context.

Heard's earnest and tries his best. Penelope Ann Miller's appealing as the otherworldly creature he literally pulls from his floor–Ring obviously has some major problems needing ingenuity to visualize. And Gershuny doesn't have any to offer.

At least it's short.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Theodore Gershuny; teleplay by Gershuny, based on a story by John D. MacDonald; “Tales from the Darkside” created by George A. Romero; director of photography, Jon Fauer; edited by Jeffrey Wolf; music by Michael Gibbs; produced by William Teitler; released by Tribune Broadcasting.

Starring John Heard (Billy Malone), Penelope Ann Miller (Keena), Caris Corfman (Adele) and Greg Thornton (Jimbo).


Cape Fear (1962, J. Lee Thompson)

Maybe half of J. Lee Thompson’s shots in Cape Fear are good. Unfortunately, the other half aren’t mediocre, they’re bad. He’s given to iconic shots of Robert Mitchum, some of which make Cape Fear look like stills from an old Universal horror picture, with Mitchum as Frankenstein’s Monster. As a horror film–Mitchum’s Max Cady is an abomination–Cape Fear as some rather effective moments. But Thompson doesn’t play most of it as a straight horror film–the ending, with Mitchum loose, yes–but the beginning… Thompson thinks he can thoughtlessly ape other directors–the Welles Touch of Evil references are legion–and get the same cerebral result. He cannot.

And while Mitchum is fantastic as one of the more terrifying movie monsters, Gregory Peck is playing a superhero. The Great Stone Face. No matter what’s going on, Peck’s got one expression. No matter what’s going on, Peck’s voice has one tone. Eventually, his hair gets mussed up and it finally becomes clear he’s in a panic. Peck rarely gives emotional performances–though better directors certainly know how to make him come off human–but it’s absolutely essential in Cape Fear and he doesn’t cut it. As Peck’s wife, Polly Bergen is okay, certainly more expressive than Peck, but not much. Lori Martin is an able terrified teenager and the rest of the supporting cast, Martin Balsam, Telly Savalas and Barrie Chase, bring a lot to their scenes.

The film plods along–like most horror movies, there’s nothing to it once the viewer knows how it ends–to the blaring Bernard Herrmann score. The score’s way too much and a lot of Cape Fear feels like Universal trying to make a studio thriller post-Psycho (down to using the same set as Mother’s house). They fail, thanks to Thompson, thanks to Peck. What they do get is Mitchum acting really well, which is he did most of the time, and in far better films.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by J. Lee Thompson; screenplay by James R. Webb, based on a novel by John D. MacDonald; director of photography, Sam Leavitt; edited by George Tomasini; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Sy Bartlett; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Gregory Peck (Sam Bowden), Robert Mitchum (Max Cady), Polly Bergen (Peggy Bowden), Lori Martin (Nancy Bowden), Martin Balsam (Police Chief Mark Dutton), Jack Kruschen (Attorney Dave Grafton), Telly Savalas (Private Detective Charles Sievers), Barrie Chase (Diane Taylor), Paul Comi (George Garner), John McKee (Officer Marconi) and Page Slattery (Deputy Kersek).


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