Film Review: Foul Play (1978)

in #aaalast month


From 1970s onwards many film makers tried to become Hitchcock after Hitchcock, with Brian De Palma arguably being the most successful in those efforts. De Palma, however, lacked the humour, one of the main ingredients of Hitchock’s formula. That was the main emphasis of the works of another aspiring Hitchcockian, Gordon Higgins in his 1978 directorial debut Foul Play.

Protagonist, played by Goldie Hawn, is Gloria Mundy, recently divorced San Francisco librarian who is advised by friends to try some new romantic adventures. Soon afterwards on the road she picks up charming and mysterious Bob “Scotty” Scott (played by Bruce Solomon) who gives her pack of cigarettes with hidden microfilm and ask her to meet him later in cinema theatre. What she thinks to be a date turns into nightmare when “Scotty” comes late only to die from apparent stabbing and even worse nightmare when his body mysteriously disappears. Nightmare continues with Gloria being attacked in her apartment resulting in another body that disappears. Gloria tries to report those frightening incidents to police who are naturally sceptical, including Lt. Tony Carlson (played by Chevy Chase) who is nevertheless attracted to beautiful librarian. Frightening incidents continue just as Pope Pius XIII (played by Cyril Magnin) is about to visit the city and Carlson gradually comes to conclusion that Gloria inadvertently discovered details about assassination plot.

Foul Play was smashing success at the box office and confirmed Goldie Hawn as big star and one of Hollywood’s best comediennes. Its success owes a lot to Hawn’s great talent and charm, as well as hyperactive style of acting which is in great contrast to laid-back Chevy Chase in his first film starring role. Two of them nevertheless have great chemistry together while their comical interplay is worthy of the best screwball comedies of Classic Hollywood. Critics and cinephiles were, on the other hand, more interested in Hitchcockian elements, which Higgins (who also wrote screenplay) delivered through clever use of San Francisco as location, use of MacGufin and concepts of “ordinary man in extraordinary situation” (in this case a woman). Apart from numerous homages to Vertigo and other classics, including the ending scene that clearly references The Man Who Knew Too Much, Higgins uses somewhat silly and unrefined plot for many jokes and 1970s references to left wing radicalism, martial arts, San Francisco’s booming sex industry and radical feminism, the latter embodied in character of Gloria’s friend Stella (played by Marilyn Sokol) which provides the best line of dialogue in the film. Foul Play features many talented character actors playing bizarre and colourful side characters, but the most memorable is English comedian Dudley Moore in the role of man who took achievements of Sexual Revolution with too much enthusiasm. Scene that takes place in his grotesquely decorated and equipped bachelor pad is very funny, but almost ruined by Higgins’ unpolished direction and bad sense of timing. This becomes apparent in the latter stages of the film, during which humour and Hitchcockian homages play second violin to uninspiring car chases and shootouts. Foul Play, despite being overlong, delivers goods to viewers who want nothing but efficient and unpretentious entertainment from Hollywood.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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Critic: AA