Sunday, November 4, 2012
They Called Her One-Armed Faye
A couple of years ago, Faye Dunaway went to Wales to make a modestly-budgeted horror film called "Flick" (2008). In this very stylized and stylish film, Dunaway plays Lt. McKenzie, a persistent and perceptive police detective from Memphis, Tennessee assigned to work in a Welsh village on a police exchange program. She investigates a series of murders committed by the recently revived corpse of a troubled Teddy Boy teen named Johnny who drowned in a car accident after being involved in a violent altercation at a dance back in 1960. The revived, zombified Johnny is empowered whenever he hears period-era rockabilly music being broadcasted by a pirate radio station in town. Johnny seeks revenge against the now-elderly youths who had picked on him at that dance nearly 48 years earlier. In the process, he hopes to be reunited with Sally (Julia Foster), the girl of his dreams who is now unhappily married to the brute who was his rival for Sally's affections back in the day. Dunaway, working in conjunction with a local area police detective (played by Mark Benton) races against time to prevent Johnny from carrying out his vendetta and finding Sally.
"Flick" remains a little-known movie in the United States. It was never released theatrically, but is available on DVD in America. It is hard to understand why the movie hasn't found a wider audience, because there is much to enjoy about it. Writer/Director David Howard embues the movie with colorful, striking images and camera angles that evoke a strong sense of 1950s nostalgia. There are interesting bridging sequences where action is depicted on-screen by vividly detailed comic book panel images. A wistful sense of regret permeates the film, as characters such as Johnny and Sally and all of their allies and enemies from 1960 find their fates sealed in an existence they created for themselves at the dancehall over 48 years before. 1960s British starlet Julia Foster is touching as Sally, a woman married to a man who neglects and mistreats her and their daughter, while still the object of desire of Johnny, a zombie who still cares about her decades later. Foster, who appeared in "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" (1962), "Alfie" (1966), and "Half a Sixpence" (1968), made a welcome return to the cinema after having taken time off from her career to raise a family. One of the most unique and effective features of the film are Johnny's POV shots when he confronts characters from the past. From his vantage point, he still sees them in their youthful personas rather than their middle-aged selves as they are now. It helps underscore how these characters remain haunted by their pasts.
What prevents the movie from becoming too heavy-handed and downbeat is Faye Dunaway's delightful performance as Lt. McKenzie. Even though she no longer receives the high-profile film offers that she still richly deserves, Dunaway remains an interesting and prolific actress in independent productions and made-for-TV movies. Lt. McKenzie is, without a doubt, the best part she has had in years. Unlike other mature actresses cast in horror films later in their careers, Dunaway has neither a thankless nor unflattering role in "Flick." McKenzie is a quirky and offbeat character, exemplified by her prosthetic right arm, but Dunaway makes sure never to allow that to turn McKenzie into a grotesque. The prosthetic right arm merely reflects McKenzie's tenacious nature and ability to overcome all obstacles, while at the same time indicates, like Johnny and Sally, McKenzie still lives with the long-term effects of the events from her youth. Dunaway brings heart and humor to "Flick" with her vibrant presence. She maintains just the right level of enthusiasm and never allows the character to veer into camp. In her skillful hands, McKenzie is wise, witty, brave, heroic, compassionate, romantic. The role allows her to tap into her seldom-acknowledged ability to skillfully portray warm, sympathetic and vulnerable characters.
Dunaway has great chemistry with Mark Benton, who plays the Welsh police detective assigned as her partner. Dunaway draws upon her real-life Southern roots and speaks with a Southern accent that reflects earthy practicality and intelligence. She contrasts beautifully with Benton's burly Welsh charm. I would love to see Dunaway and Benton revive these characters for a police procedural TV series. My favorite scene in the movie is where Dunaway and Benton come upon an Southwestern American-themed diner in the Welsh village. While they dine, Benton asks Dunaway what happened to her arm. Dunaway responds with a touching monologue about losing her arm in a childhood accident and the subsequent ostracism she endured from her classmates...a story that parallels the ostracism Johnny faced from the other kids in his village. She recounts a fanciful story of how Elvis Presley took the one-armed girl to the Prom, an event that gave Lt. McKenzie a strong sense of self-confidence that has stood her well in her law enforcement career. Dunaway and Benton subsequently slow-dance to the jukebox, and we suddenly realize that this unlikely pair are perfectly matched with each other. It's one of the most romantic moments in Dunaway's career.