Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – W (1974)

by RICHARD WINTERS

For all you trivia buffs out there, Oliver Stone was not the first person to make a film with the twenty-third letter of the alphabet as its title (although Stone’s letter technically has a period after it). The first one was released in 1974 and starred British super-model Twiggy. She had just made a splash in Ken Russell’s brilliant musical The Boy Friend and this film was supposed to send her to superstardom by proving that she could act by placing her in a completely different genre. Unfortunately for her it never happened.

The film is a thriller and the tagline read “W…suspense beyond words.” It is a story about a woman who has remarried, but is still being stalked by her psycho ex-husband (Dirk Benedict). His name is William and at all of the scenes of his murders, or “accidents,” he scrawls the letter “W,” hence the film’s title.

At the time, the critics came down hard on Twiggy’s performance, but I kind of liked it. She comes off as very innocuous and vulnerable and in this kind of role it works. Her husband was played by Michael Witney, who at the time was her real-life husband. He was eighteen years older than her, but the age difference is not apparent. You can tell that the two are genuinely fond of each other, and that chemistry helps. Yet they have no real on-screen presence and too much of the time is spent with only them in the scene, which hurts the film.

Critics and viewers at the time enjoyed Eugene Roche’s performance in a supporting role as a detective. His gritty, matter-of-fact approach is refreshing and gives him some distinction over the other characters who are very transparent. Unfortunately the character gets phased out rather quickly and this is too bad because it is the type of persona that could have really carried the film.

However, where this film really fails is that way too much time is given to extraneous dialogue that is not interesting and does not propel the plot along. The scenes are also excruciatingly slow and in great need of quicker cuts and edits. I would have liked to have seen cutaways showing Twiggy’s character’s relationship with her ex-husband and how that all started, but it is never shown. She doesn’t even end up talking about it until well over an hour into the film and then it is only done briefly.

This is also one of the few thrillers that I have ever seen that has no creepy or pounding music score. In fact the music is very soft and melodic like something you would hear in an elevator. There is also extended footage of the married couple going sailing, walking hand in hand in a park, and spending time at their lavish beach house, making the film seem more like a dreamy romance movie. Some scary imagery or just a few shocks is badly needed. There is one nightmare sequence that has a little potential, but it lasts less than ten seconds and that just isn’t enough.

The film also has a lot of loopholes that completely throw you out of the story. One is the fact that as they are becoming increasingly terrorized by the ex-husband they decide not to go to the police, but instead call on the services of a private detective, who has ulterior motives and just ends up making things worse. There is also a scene where the killer cuts off two of his fingers and attaches them to the victim’s burned body so when the police identify the body using the fingerprints they think it is the killer. However, I wasn’t exactly sure how he pulled this off. Certainly he wouldn’t have the skill or time to actually graft the fingers onto the body and even if he did you would still think that the police would notice that the victim had too many fingers.

The biggest head-scratcher of them all has got to be the fact that the prison in which the ex-husband resides gives daily tours to the public. Now I have toured a prison myself in Boise, Idaho, but that was only after the prison had been closed and the prisoners shipped off to another facility. Here the visitors can get right up next to the prisoners and observe them without any guards or other protection. The person leading them around is not armed and dresses and acts like a tour guide to some museum. I would think one of the prisoners could easily obtain a homemade knife of some kind, grab one of these visitors, and use them as a shield to break out. Of course in this film that doesn’t happen, but in real life I think it would, which just makes you wonder what the filmmakers were on when they made this.

I guess my only interest in watching this film to begin with was seeing Dirk Benedict playing the psychotic. He is probably best known for playing the character of Face in the ‘80s TV show “The A-Team.” Not that he is a real great actor or anything, but he has had a career where he usually plays the nice guy, so I was interested in seeing him as the bad guy. Unfortunately he doesn’t appear until the final ten minutes and these scenes are very strained and probably the most boring of the whole film. His character is also poorly fleshed out with no reason given for his erratic, crazy behavior, thus turning him into a cliche.

I came into this film expecting very little and I went away not even getting that much. Being an avid collector of lost films can be fun because every now and then you come across a real gem, but that was definitely not the case here.

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Possibly Related Posts: (Commentary Track generated)

Fracture is another marriage-gone-wrong thriller that received a negative review for its plot holes and mixed acting from a Commentary Track reviewer.

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