Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford is the sort of lawman most towns wish they had - calm, intelligent and resourceful. Refusing to carry a gun, he employs reason and his own strength of character to enforce the law in the small mining community of Central City, Montana. He's been dating one of the teachers at the local school, and has the respect and friendship even of the people he arrests. He is also slowly losing his mind, and a chance encounter with a prostitute (Susan Tyrell) unencumbered by morals, who finds herself attracted to the darkness underneath Ford's restrained exterior, sets into motion a classic ever-escalating chain of violence, betrayal and murder.
Having never read the source novel by hard-boiled crime icon Jim Thompson (an unfortunate lapse I intend to remedy), I cannot register if this movie is a faithful adaptation; I can, however, say that it is very deliberately paced, almost too much so; even after Ford's downward spiral begins, the movie's tempo never truly quickens. There are scenes which seem to aspire to Hitchcock, without Hitchcock's sureness or panache; the result, unfortunately, is a film sadly redolent of vanilla, with even Ford's occasional outbreaks of psychosis not breaking the monotony.
Stacy Keach plays Lou Ford well, a mixture of likable folksiness and dead-faced anomie, seeming far more human than a similar turn in The Ninth Configuration. Susan Tyrell is outstanding as the opportunistic whore Joyce. The rest of the familiar faces in the cast, however - Keenan Wynn, Don Stroud and Pepe Serna - seem to have been instructed to overact at every possible turn.
Whatever else you may say about Simitar, they have the loudest logo sequence, overpowering even the Image logo on a decibel level. Too bad the rest of the disc doesn't evidence the same effort.
A cursory glance at the movie shows nice video quality and true skin tones. But lengthier viewing - say, actually watching the movie? - reveals a wealth of artifacts and pixelation, especially in the dark scenes. Press the pause button and watch a moving image resolve into a still frame composed of many blocks and smudges, looking for all the world like an oil painting with exceptionally broad strokes. This is especially dastardly when one considers that the film print itself seems to be in great shape, with little speckling or splicing apparent.
Admittedly, this disc is almost two years old, and the state of DVD authoring and compression has advanced noticeably - but when even the standard copyright notice at the top of the disc is afflicted with video noise, you know you're in for a rough ride.
The interactive menus rate as some of the shoddiest I've yet seen. If you use the two large arrows to maneuver, you could find yourself endlessly trapped in the Stacy Keach biography (that said, it is a pretty good bio). You can also access one of eight chapter headings - that's one for every 12 minutes of film - represented simply by a framegrab, no titles. "Film Facts" represents running time and ratings information - stuff you could find on the Internet Movie Database, and more easily, to boot.
It's always nice to see a hard-to-find film given a new life in the DVD field, but it's disheartening to see it this shabbily treated. My advice to avoid this pressing, unless you must see this movie. Then try to rent it - even at this low price point - and you should still have a bullet handy. You're going to be gritting your teeth a lot.
Dr. Freex, 5/15/00