Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Wrath of God (1972)

The Wrath of God (1972)

Little did I know, until Walter Satterthwait pointed it out to me, that Jack Higgins' The Wrath of God (see below for the related post) was made into a movie with Robert Mitchum and Rita Hayworth (her last movie). Judging by the descriptions in the reader comments, the movie is nothing at all like the novel. Some comments even imply that the movie is a parody, and a number of the mention the humor. If there's humor, it's not in the book. And Frank Langella supposedly chews the scenery. I don't doubt it. One character in the book was clearly a direct steal from Sidney Greenstreet from The Maltese Falcon. Victor Buono plays that character in the movie, which seems like great casting to me. I'd kind of like to see the movie.


Ed Gorman said...

Per your comment on Jack Higgins. If I had to teach a class in how to construct and write a crime novel I would teach Higgins' A Prayer For The Dying (God only knows what the otherwise brilliant director of the movie adaptation thought he was filming). I've probably read it a dozen times and it never lets me down. It's one of the books I keep right on my desk. When I begin to feel the ole storyline begin to wane or take those interminable sideroads only I seem able to discover--I pick up Higgins and he's puts me on the the storytelling path again. But he lost me after that. I didn't even much like The Eagle Has Landed and all those interminable novels about the Mick mercenary (Sean Dillon?) that followed--most of which begin with him stepping out of a shadowy doorway. The Wrath of God is an exemplary adventure novel as were most of his (under several names) before Eagle. And then he went Bestseller on us. As for Mitchum in the film you mention--he once got into a row with Robert Aldrich just before their picture together started roling. Mitchcum stayed drunk for the entire shoot and phoned it in just to piss off Aldrich. And if you've read any biography of Aldrich, this broke his heart because he was such a big Mitchum fan. I had the feeling about Mithcum in the picture you discuss tonight--Mitchum was at his worst--dozy, sullen, even a bit uncertain at times. Poor Rita Hayworth had an excuse for a weak performance. I'm pretty sure that soon after the shoot wrapped she was diagnosed with Altzheimer's.

Tonight Carol and I watched Triffault's Confidentially Yours, which is based on a nice little Gold Medal noir by Charles Williams. I seem to remember Triffault in the French movie press saying that he intended this as his homage to both Hithcock and Monogram films. Triffault was one of the original auterists--i.e., people who actually saw most Monogram pictures.

Despite Stephen Holden's rave in the NY Times, this just didn't work for us. Carol went back to writing at the movie's mid point. I stuck with it but it never really grabbed me. The woman, while not exactly beautiful, is so fresh and vital you can't stop watching her. In all, it seems more Woolrichian than anything, ridiculous plot twists, so many coincidences even the Seinfeld writers would blush, and snappy but plotty dilogue. There are moments when it comes alive--the best bit is when in the middle of desperately trying to give her theory on who the killer is--the woman is interrupted by the hero who says, "Please stop playing with your earring. You're driving me nuts!" I've never seen a scene interrupted that way--a very real intrusion into a tightly configured expository scene. We got a hell of a good laugh out of it. It was his last picture before dying of brain cancer. He was one of my five favroit directors. I almost feel guilty for not liking it more.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment Ed, and I'm really happy to see that I'm not the only one who admires Higgins. I think A PRAYER FOR THE DYING is one of the best of his best books, no question. And in fact I forgot one of Higgins' pen names in an earlier post: Martin Fallon. Which also happens to be the name of the main character in A PRAYER FOR THE DYING. Back in those days there was always a priest in Higgins' books, or that's the way it seemed to me. The conflict between faith and belief was an interesting subtext in them, as it certainly is in THE WRATH OF GOD.

When they made the movie of the latter, the bank robber/priest played by Mitchum seems to have become the main character (I haven't see the movie, but judging from the IMDb material, he was the star and the lead). That might have emphasized the theme, but it radically changes the story.