Monday, June 30, 2014

Deliciously loopy, THE FAN warns, "Think twice before sending a fan letter to Lauren Bacall."

As a youngster in 1979, I read a very suspenseful novel by playwright Bob Randall called THE FAN. It was a quite a snappy little read that was written, rather cleverly, in nothing but letters, memos, dairy pages, newspaper clippings, etc... which not only added to the fun but turned the whole affair into a mystery that swept the reader along as sort of a reluctant police detective. The novel ended with a bit of surprise for all concerned. (More on that later.)
 
From the KIRKUS REVIEW April 15th 1977
Write him two letters (fan letters), or maybe even three – Mr. Randall has written a whole novel of them, and it could be one of the catchiest items of the season. The letters here include the complaints that N.Y. apartment-dwelling actress Sally Ross gets from neighbors about nocturnal noise, and Sally's constant, chatty communiques to ex-husband Jake whom she really still loves (he married young Heidi in a moment of glandular distraction), and also the increasingly importunate writings of a fan, The Fan, someone called Douglas Breen, who works in a record store. Sally is 46 (Jake says she's being ""Gaborish'), and she has low moments when she feels that she looks like ""what's left in Grant's Tomb"" and needs cheering up from faithful secretary-friend Belle. But, to The Fan, Sally's an ""explosion of adorableness,"" and his communications become more and more insistent, even threatening. Then someone mugs and carves Belle up on a subway platform, and Sally is left quite unprotected. The police write memos to each other about the assailant that they can't identify. Is he perhaps the one who writes and writes and writes and is frightening Sally into a pill-hazed funk? Randall's collection of letterheads – half covert horror, half disarming humor – should sneak right up on you with all the ominous pleasures of reading someone else's mail.
 
In 1980 Paramount Pictures began work adapting THE FAN for the big screen starring a cast of Hollywood veterans. With Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Maureen Stapleton, Hector Elizondo and produced by Robert Stigwood, it was very clear that Paramount was not trying for a big-budget slasher picture. The atmospheric score was written by Brian DePalma favorite Pino Donaggio, while two new musical numbers (yes, musical numbers!) were composed by Marvin (A Chorus Line) Hamlisch and Tim (Chess, Evita) Rice.

SPOILER ALERT: At this time, it was also made clear that the script would retain the novel's original shocking ending where the deranged fan fakes his own death to flush the terrified star out of hiding and succeeds in killing her. (The aforementioned surprise.)

However, somewhere between the transfer from book to screenplay to local cinema, extraordinary circumstances, beyond the control of your average film studio, clearly got in the way. When in December of 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed by an obsessed fan, it was decided that the original ending to the story would be considered in poor taste, so a more upbeat, 'good triumphs over evil' ending was conceived - much to the detriment of the tale itself - turning the film into what the studio was probably trying to avoid in the first place; a very expensive 1980s formulaic slasher flick.

With her patented haughty glare, overconfident Lauren Bacall transparently thinks that she's outclassing the proceedings. An aging Hollywood glamour queen better known for her former show biz husbands and her digs in a landmark apartment building than for any of her creaky, Broadway musical "star vehicles," Bacall here is playing --- how did you know? -- precisely that. When servants sing "Happy Birthday," Bacall snaps, "As of today, I'm going to be forty-five forever." Secretary Maureen Stapleton mutters, "Forty-nine," and Bacall admits to "Fifty," but since none of these figures seem remotely plausible, it's all the stranger that young, hunky Michael Biehn sends mash notes that blather, "We'll be lovers soon and I have all the necessary equipment to make you very happy."

Stapleton writes back, admonishing Biehn's "tasteless pornography," making Biehn worry -- in voice-over, to us -- about Stapleton's "possessiveness," asking, "Has it ever occurred to you that she might have lesbian tendencies?" Bacall snarls at Stapleton, "We've had lots of weirdos. What about the guy who kept trying to jump into the taxi with me? Don't upset my fans." Stapleton (who has the upper hand because she can act) replies, "Did it ever occur to you that my job isn't exactly heaven? (meaning, presumably, costarring with Bacall) I'm a Secret Service escort, a butler, a nurse, a letter-writing machine, a floor mop . . . ten, twelve hours a day!" While we're mulling that one over -- "a floor mop"? -- Bacall simpers, "What would I do without you?"

Cue Biehn to start rampaging around with a razor, slicing up Stapleton, Bacall's maid, and even a featured dancer in Bacall's new show. Speaking of which, it should be noted that Bacall, while no singer, managed to score not one but two Tony Awards for her two musical stints on Broadway. But any clues as to why will not be found watching her sing and dance her way through THE FAN. Instead, your jaw will drop as one tough-to-top, insane routine follows another, with sparkling chorus boys praising -- in "you've never heard of 'em before, you've never heard of 'em since" tunes by Hamlisch and Rice -- the charms of the ageless Bacall. (The show is, of course, a triumph.)

Later, Biehn chases Bacall -- swathed in an evening gown -- through the empty theater. Finally he stands over her, razor in hand and Bacall snaps, "You're pathetic. Here's your chance to be like one of those hoodlums who kill their victims for nothing, a thief who murders little old ladies for a quarter. Don't you think the world's had enough of people like you? I've had it," and -- having apparently monologued him into submission -- she grabs the razor and kills Biehn, then exits the theater, heading for her opening night celebration. (
Wouldn't you?)
 
As an interesting side-note, THE FAN in its cinema, VHS, BETA, and Laser Disc incarnations includes the following voiceover line in a note left behind by Biehn to Bacall, just after the scene where he kills her maid: "Dearest Bitch, See how accessible you are? How would you like to be fucked with a meat cleaver?" For some idiotic reason, The last line was omitted from the DVD! Was this just a simple oversight or was it the powers at Paramount saying that even serial killers should be politically correct? Discuss.

6 comments:

  1. Ha! Great post and the movie is indeed a guilty pleasure...we have similar taste in film! Look forward to exploring all your posts when I have time! My most recent blogpost was also about The Fan: http://angelman.blogspot.com/2014/04/ms-bacall-youve-got-fan-mail.html

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  2. Thanks!
    I did see Bacall on Broadway in WOMAN OF THE YEAR and I have to say that I enjoyed it very much.
    I will definitely have to read your blog as well, Angelman66.

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  3. I'm searching for the book as well as for the movie. Foolish me, I had the book, a few years back and gave it away. Now I would LOVE to get another copy as well as the movie. If possible. The book was a find, in the way it was written.... as a series of letters.

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  4. I'm searching for the book as well as for the movie. Foolish me, I had the book, a few years back and gave it away. Now I would LOVE to get another copy as well as the movie. If possible. The book was a find, in the way it was written.... as a series of letters.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Joanna ~

      I had the paperback movie tie-in edition back when I first read it in (God help me) 1979. Sadly I let it go. I managed to find an excellent hardcover edition of the novel on Amazon and really enjoyed reading it all over again. A great guilty pleasure. Good luck!

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    2. You can also find the film reasonably priced at Amazon or (if you prefer a new copy) through Warner Archive.

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