Friday, December 5, 2014

The Cannon Files: THE NAKED FACE (1985)

(US - 1985)

Written and directed by Bryan Forbes. Cast: Roger Moore, Rod Steiger, Elliott Gould, Anne Archer, Art Carney, David Hedison, Ron Parady, Deanna Dunagan, John Kapelos, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Dick Sollenberger, Cynthia Baker Schuyler, Virginia Smith. (R, 105 mins)

Action movies and ninjas may have been what kept the lights on during their heyday, but Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus wanted to take Cannon in a classier direction. Occasional prestige projects like Jason Miller's THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON (1982) would get made, but it wasn't until 1984 that Golan & Globus started to actively court respectable filmmakers who were on the outs with Hollywood or fed up with playing the major studio game: 1984 saw the release of John Cassavetes' LOVE STREAMS and Golan's own Woody Allen-esque OVER THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE, while 1985 brought Robert Altman's FOOL FOR LOVE, Liliana Cavani's THE BERLIN AFFAIR, and two American films from famed Russian auteur Andrei Konchalovsky with MARIA'S LOVERS and RUNAWAY TRAIN. With the late 1984 hit MISSING IN ACTION, and then the likes of MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING, DEATH WISH 3, INVASION, U.S.A., and AMERICAN NINJA, 1985 was really the year that Cannon blew up and that beautiful logo became a weekly staple in American multiplexes. However, there were several big-star Cannon offerings in 1985 that, for various reasons, fell through the cracks and didn't get much exposure: Anthony Harvey's offbeat dark comedy GRACE QUIGLEY, an unlikely pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Nick Nolte in a doomed production whose troubles began when original director Hal Ashby quit during pre-production and ended with the film existing in three different versions that satisfied no one; Desmond Davis' Agatha Christie adaptation ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE, starring Donald Sutherland, Faye Dunaway, and Christopher Plummer; J. Lee Thompson's THE AMBASSADOR, a very loose adaptation of Elmore Leonard's 52 Pick-Up, with Robert Mitchum, Ellen Burstyn, and Rock Hudson in his final big-screen appearance; and THE ASSISI UNDERGROUND, written and directed by Polish author Alexander Ramati and based on his own novel, dealing with the Catholic Church's rescue of Italian Jews from the Nazis. ASSISI, starring CHARIOTS OF FIRE's Ben Cross, Maximilian Schell, Irene Papas, and James Mason in his last film (it was released over a year after his death), was originally a three-hour epic that Cannon chopped down to two before they stealthily unveiled it in a few markets.

One such 1985 cast-off was THE NAKED FACE, based on a novel by Sidney Sheldon. The project was chosen by Roger Moore, who was growing tired of his James Bond persona and was looking to branch out into more serious acting roles. Moore tried to leave the 007 franchise after 1981's FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, but was wooed back for two more films: 1983's OCTOPUSSY and 1985's A VIEW TO A KILL. Golan & Globus were happy to accommodate Moore and even went along with his recommendation of hiring Bryan Forbes to write and direct the film. One of Moore's oldest and dearest friends since the two met while in the British Army just after WWII, Forbes was a veteran British journeyman with numerous highly respected films to his credit: THE ANGRY SILENCE (1960), THE L-SHAPED ROOM (1962), SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON (1964), KING RAT (1965), THE WRONG BOX (1966), and his biggest commercial success, THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975). He also wrote several novels and acted occasionally, with his best-known role being Turk Thrust, the guitar-strumming attendant at the nudist colony visited by Inspector Clouseau in Blake Edwards' A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964). Forbes also produced and co-wrote Basil Dearden's doppelganger suspense thriller THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF (1970), regularly cited by Moore as his personal favorite performance of his career. Forbes took the job and THE NAKED FACE was shot entirely on location in Chicago in the fall of 1983 when Moore had some downtime between OCTOPUSSY and A VIEW TO A KILL. During this period, Moore also managed to fit in a cameo as a post-plastic surgery Clouseau in 1983's misbegotten CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER, where he was credited as "Turk Thrust II" as an inside joke for his buddy Forbes that's more amusing than anything in the movie.

THE NAKED FACE presents Moore as Dr. Judd Stevens, a successful Chicago shrink who finds himself the target of a killer. First, a patient is stabbed two blocks from his office after Stevens loans him his raincoat and he's mistaken for the doctor. Then Stevens' receptionist is killed. Stevens, who lost his wife and daughter in a car accident two years earlier, leads a quiet life and is greatly disturbed by these events. Not helping matters is Lt. McGreevy (Rod Steiger), the irate cop assigned to the case with the more sympathetic Det. Angeli (Elliott Gould who had just starred in OVER THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE). Loud, bad-tempered bigot McGreevy thinks Stevens is the killer and has something to hide, so he harasses the doctor mercilessly, probing every aspect of his life to find incriminating evidence against him. McGreevy's beef with Stevens is personal: several years earlier, McGreevy's former partner was killed by a perp who got to plead insanity thanks to Stevens' testimony. McGreevy ignores any leads that don't involve arresting Stevens, and even when two gunmen break into his apartment and try to kill him, Stevens still can't convince McGreevy that someone is trying to kill him. Angeli sees that McGreevy is trying to railroad Stevens and gets him taken off the case, which then adds him to McGreevy's endless shit list. While Angeli actually works the case, Stevens resorts to eccentric private eye Morgens (Art Carney), who finds a bomb planted in Stevens' car and quickly finds out who's causing all the mayhem, as McGreevy secretly follows Angeli to stay peripherally involved in the case, plotting his next move.

THE NAKED FACE is a simple and straightforward thriller with some moments of genuine suspense and a good performance by Moore. Moore seems enthused to be away from his winking and increasingly self-deprecating James Bond act and playing a real character who's often presented as weak and vulnerable. Frequently sporting thick lenses in a set of large and unflattering eyeglass frames (even by 1985 standards), Moore's Stevens is hardly a fighting man of action and takes his share of physical and verbal abuse throughout. When he's trapped in his apartment by a gunman, he's practically cowering in the corner of his bedroom when he's rescued by his surgeon brother-in-law (David Hedison, Moore's LIVE AND LET DIE Felix Leiter), who scares away the intruder. There's no wry, snide one-liners here and Moore is quite good in a more subdued role than audiences were accustomed to seeing him play. The major problem with THE NAKED FACE, other than its overbearing score by Michael J. Lewis, is that once the antagonist and their motivation are revealed, your response will likely be along the lines of "And?!" It seems like a lot of people are killed for not much of a reason, and having the villain order his flunkies to kidnap Stevens and bring him to his base of operations so he can talk and talk and over-explain his motive and address Stevens in a dismissive tone seems like something that would happen in a 007 movie. Forbes also changes the ending of the book in a way that does nothing to help the film, which fades to black on a truly bizarre note that doesn't seem to know the difference between "open-ended ambiguity" and "opening a whole new can of worms." The ending of the film wants to be a shocking twist, but it's handled very poorly and comes off as botched and clumsy.

There's still a lot to like in the mostly enjoyable THE NAKED FACE. Though Gould, Carney, Hedison, and Anne Archer (as one of Stevens' patients), turn in solid performances, they have little to do (the rest of the cast is rounded out by Chicago-based actors, including John Kapelos and former Northwestern University theater professor Ron Parady in prominent supporting roles, which begs the question: where's Ron Dean?). Perhaps everyone was just deferring and leaving the scenery for Steiger to gorge himself on. Shouting throughout like a Windy City Chief Gillespie and sporting a terrible toupee, Steiger turns in one of his great bellicose asshole performances in THE NAKED FACE. Moore may have been trying to show some range here with a sincere, serious performance, but Steiger just goes Full Throttle Rod, and while it could easily be construed as self-indulgent overacting, it's a performance that works considering the all-consuming bitterness of the character he's playing. It's hardly the most out-of-control he ever was in a film, and it still pales in comparison to his legendary "You wanna fuck me?!" outburst to Danny Aiello in the otherwise insignificant THE JANUARY MAN (1989), but still, the incomparable Steiger is on fire in THE NAKED FACE.

THE NAKED FACE wasn't the breakaway from Bond that Moore anticipated. Cannon sat on it for over a year before dumping it in a handful of theaters--mostly in the Chicago market--for a one-week run on January 25, 1985. There were reports of disagreements between Forbes and Golan, particularly when Moore's mother became gravely ill during production and Forbes rearranged the shooting schedule to allow the star to take a week off to visit her in London without consulting Golan about it first. A furious Golan reportedly slashed the budget and shortened the shooting schedule, forcing Forbes to make rushed compromises that may be an indication of why the film seems so clumsily-structured in its second half (among other things in the unsatisfying finale, it feels like there should be one more scene between Moore's and Steiger's characters). Whatever the reason--and the clashing with filmmakers and the shelving of relatively prestigious fare out of spite sounds more like Harvey Weinstein than Menahem Golan--THE NAKED FACE was one of several high-end, big-name Cannon projects from 1985 that were buried and quickly forgotten as Golan & Globus turned their attention to the money generated by guys like Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and Michael Dudikoff. It was also Forbes' last big-screen directing effort. He went on to make the 1990 Showtime miniseries THE ENDLESS GAME, based on his own 1985 spy novel, and he co-wrote Richard Attenborough's CHAPLIN (1992) before retiring from movies. Forbes died in 2013 at the age of 86.

Sir Roger Moore in a publicity photo
for his 2014 memoir One Lucky Bastard
Now 87, Sir Roger Moore has acted sparingly in the years following his 1985 retirement from the world of 007, instead focusing on charity work and his tireless humanitarian efforts (he was knighted in 2003 for his work with UNICEF). Cannon's proposed remake of the classic GUNGA DIN, announced in 1988 with Ben Kingsley in the title role and Moore, Michael Caine, and Sean Connery as British soldiers, obviously never happened, though Moore would star with Caine in the straight-to-video comedy BULLSEYE! (1991) for Golan's short-lived, post-Cannon outfit 21st Century Film Corporation. He played the villain in the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle THE QUEST (1996) and had campy turns opposite the Spice Girls in SPICE WORLD (1998) and as a flamboyant passenger on a gay cruise ship, aggressively hitting on Horatio Sanz ("Would you like a bite of my sausage?") in the Cuba Gooding Jr. atrocity BOAT TRIP (2003). He's done some voice work in a few animated films, usually spoofing his 007 image (2010's CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE had Moore voicing debonair feline spy Tab Lazenby in a joke almost certainly over the heads of the film's intended audience), and in 2006, recorded essential DVD audio commentaries for all seven of his Bond outings. He's written a personal history of the James Bond films (2012's Bond on Bond: The Ultimate Book on 50 Years of Bond Movies), and penned two enormously entertaining memoirs (2008's My Word is My Bond and 2014's One Lucky Bastard), and even if he isn't busy on the big screen, he shows no signs of slowing down.  Kino Lorber recently released THE NAKED FACE on Blu-ray, and it's a shame they didn't get Moore to contribute a commentary. As his books and his work on the 007 DVDs demonstrate, he's grown into one of the cinema's great raconteurs. Let's face it: Roger Moore was never going to win an Academy Award. He's rarely busted his ass as an actor and most of his non-007 career choices seemed dictated by where the films were being shot and how nice of a working vacation they'd provide. But Moore has always been the kind of charismatic guy who could get away with that. He's never pretended to be a great actor, but he's a class act and many of those critical of his more lighthearted interpretation of 007 have rightfully come around to appreciating him as a living legend in his emeritus years.

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