Sunday, November 13, 2011
Empty Beach (1985)
DB here. Reg returns with what he calls an Unsolicited Review. Solicited or not I'm happy to have yet another review from our correspondent from Australia.
Peter Corriss is an Australian university professor who writes Chandlerian detective novels as a side-line. This 1985 effort marks the only attempt so far to turn his books into film.
The first thing to say about this film is that the cinematography is gorgeous and Sydney has never looked better and the art director's emphasis on the colours blue and white serves the sun-drenched daylight scenes very well, and the brightness is actually a very clever idea for a film which is obviously working every film noir trope in the book.
The plot kicks off with Corriss' unashamed Phillip Marlowe analog hero, Cliff Hardy, being hired by Marion Singer, a widow all in white. Her much older, property-developer and businessman husband went out for a day's sailing two years earlier and disappeared at sea. Now she has received an anonymous note saying that the writer has seen him back in Sydney and he's in rough shape. If you know Chandler, it won't surprise you that Hardy discovers that Singer had some very dodgy business interests and a lot of people who wanted him dead, and if you know film noir, you already know who the real villain of the movie is.
And what follows is a war between the script and the art director.
Bryan Brown actually makes a good fist of the Marlowesque Hardy, but almost without exception, (John Wood manages to hold his own as the put-upon police detective-sergeant,) every other acting performance in this film is atrocious. Special mention should go to Ray Barrett who should consider himself lucky that the set-designers weren't using lead-based paint. because his scenery-chewing villainy would surely have given him a lethal dose.
And the plot quickly becomes so byzantine that having watched it about twenty times, I still don't know how the sub-plot involving Leon, the homeless guy connects in.
But it is sumptuous to watch and Brown gets to deliver one of the best introduction lines in cinematic history: "The name's Cliff, you should drop over some time.
The Empty Beach is a deeply flawed movie, but most of those flaws are due to over-ambition.
Here is the video for the theme song which tends to emphasise the noir aspects which I felt didn't work rather than the cinematography which did: