Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Overlooked Movies: Dead Calm

Charles Williams, one of my favorite Gold Medal writers, occasionally published in hardcover.  He also knew a thing or two about sailing, and Dead Calm is a hardback suspense novel that lets him show off that knowledge.  It's a good story, and Orson Welles planned to film it.  Like others of his projects, this one never got done.  It would've been interesting to see his take on it, but instead we get a version by Philip Noyce.  It's a dandy little movie, but it's not a lot like the book, aside from the basics of the situation.

What are the basics?  A man and his wife (Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman) are sailing far from the peaceful shore when they come across a boat that's sinking.  There's one man (Billy Zane) aboard, and he comes over to their boat to tell them that everyone on his boat has died of food poisoning.  Neill goes over to check, and Zane, being a bit of a nutter who's killed everyone else on the boat, sails away with Nicole.

After that, it's just one thing after another as Nicole tries to escape, Neill tries to keep the sinking boat he's on afloat, and Zane tries to keep Nicole from going back to rescue her husband.  There's an annoying dog (HUGE SPOILER ALERT: People sensitive to animal deaths should avoid this movie. END OF HUGE SPOILER ALERT) who causes problems, too.  There's a good bit of suspense, a good bit of stupidity on the parts of the characters, and (HUGE SPOILER ALERT) a villain who's not easy to kill (END OF HUGE SPOILER ALERT).  Kidman, Neill, and Zane are all very good, and there's some great ocean scenery.  If you haven't seen it, give it a try.


Anonymous said...

I also thought, "Why are you taking him on board? Don't you know it's Billy Zane? If you;re smart you'll let him drown."


Unknown said...

And go off and leave your wife on the boat with him? But it's a fun movie, anyway.

Anders E said...

If I'm not mistaken, Welles' version was a lot closer to the novel and Welles himself played one of the characters not appearing in this later one. His adaption was almost finished when the male lead actor suddenly passed away.

Unknown said...

Welles's title was THE DEEP. There's an interesting Wikipedia article about it.

Fred Blosser said...

When my younger daughter took a film course in college, I tried to talk her into writing a term paper about a "lost" Orson Welles movie based on THE SAILCLOTH SHROUD. I figured either 1) her professor would know that Welles had planned to film DEAD CALM and would get the joke, or 2) the professor wouldn't know about Welles and DEAD CALM, and would be impressed that Susan knew so much about Orson. I even had some fake but plausible citations lined up. She declined.

I'm thinking that I read that Welles filmed some footage of Laurence Harvey as a start for DEAD CALM, but didn't get any further.

Unknown said...

The Wikipedia article says the original negative is lost but that there are a couple of rough cuts. Welles worked on the movie for several years, until 1969, and Harvey died in the early '70s.