Monday 14 December 2015

Dead of Winter - 1987 film review

As seasonally chilly as its title suggests, Dead of Winter is a 1987 film directed by the capable Arthur Penn, who is best known for Bonnie and Clyde and Night Moves. It's a loose re-make of My Name is Julia Ross, which I reviewed back in January. Oddly, the earlier film is not credited. Nor is Anthony Gilbert, author of the book on which the screenplays were based. John Norris recommended the re-make, and he's a good judge of films, as he is of books Some of the Gothic touches in the later stages of the film are excessively melodramatic, but overall this is an entertaining film.

In the opening scenes, a woman is murdered, and her finger cut off, just after she has collected a large sum of money. The action then switches to the life of Katie McGovern, a struggling actress, played by Mary Steenburgen. Katie auditions for a lucrative role and makes an immediate hit with the chap doing the casting, a Mr Murray (Roddy McDowall, in one of his more eccentric roles.) He explains that an actress called Julie Rose has had a breakdown in the middle of a film, and a lookalike needs to be cast to replace her so that the movie can be completed.

On getting the part,. she finds herself driven by Murray to a remote and spooky house in a pine forest. The place belongs to a Dr Lewis, who is wheelchair-bound, and - it soon becomes apparent - not a film director at all. Katie soon realises that Lewis and Murray are lying to her and that something unpleasant has happened to Julie Rose. Can she avoid a similar fate?

I enjoyed this one, largely because I am keen on storylines based on impersonations and doppelgangers. Although the screenplay is radically different from the original Gilbert story, it offers some creepy moments and genuine excitement, as well as plenty of hokum. Roddy hams it up rather to excess, but Mary Steenburgen tackles no fewer than three roles with a good deal of panache. Definitely worth watching..

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