Urban Cinefile
"I really liked the cowboys when they were camping and do the cooking with all the beans. I really went out to buy beans after I saw those movies "  -- Jackie Chan
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday June 19, 2018 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



At an old gothic-style castle in the Pacific North West, the U.S. military has established an experimental mental health facility to care for psychologically disturbed servicemen returned from Vietnam. However, the staff think that only half the inmates are disturbed, while the other half are simplylooking for a Section 8 ticket home. When the military send in Colonel Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach), a marine psychiatrist, to take command of the facility, he takes a new approach to treating the patients. He has conversations with the rambling and delusional patients, like Capt Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), and indulges their every whim. To everyone's surprise Kane starts getting results, reaching the men in a way that no clipboard and pill-toting staffer had managed before. Is Kane merely an unorthodox genius, or just another lunatic who's taken over the asylum?

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Rudolf Valentino hated cabbage. I'm quoting, of course, a throwaway line from one of the opening scenes in this extraordinary film that is made with all the rumpled chaos of genius. Or madness. It treads a thin line between outrageous farce and black comedy, but with a resolution that shifts it dramatically into something else; spiritual hypothesis, perhaps, or anti war fury. It's a corker. Unable to categorise it, the Academy ignored the film, but it won awards from the Acadmey of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror, as well as Mystfest and was nominated Best Film at the Golden Globes, in which Wilson was nominated for Best Supporting Actror, and William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist) won the Best Screenplay award.

It's a screenplay that you have to trust: it begins with such unrelenting speed and so unwilling to let the audience ease into it that it's like being scooped up by a speeding locomotive and taken for a crazy express ride through a dark tunnel full of smoke.

"I believe in the devil because the prick keeps doing commercials," says one of the inmates, straight faced. Another line I really like, from Capt Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), comes out of a complaint about a doctor who prescribes "a suicide pill with a mild laxative side effect."

But then Stacey Keach turns up, delivering an almost expressionless Kane who talks in a melancholy monotone that is in total contrast to the hysterics around him. In this post Vietnam setting, Kane's brother - or is it is his secret past - is famous for atrocities in the war. But we soon get the feeling that atonement and redemption are at work in his psyche, while his 'treatment' of the crazies in his care is tantamount to self-help psychiatry. It stumps the doctor boss, Colonel Richard Fell (Ed Flanders), but amuses us. Blatty has a cameo as one of the inmates who welcomes Kane while pretending to be the chief medico, having stolen the stethoscope from Fell; he directs Kane to his quarters by suggesting he follow the yellow brick road...

There are several striking scenes and many memorable images, not least the gothic castle that is the tableau for the opening sequence, the lunar crucifix, and the scene where Wilson's Cutshaw interrogates the stuffed and mounted head of a wild boar in Fell's office. There is a payoff, and even though there isn't a predictable moment in the entire film, its components somehow fit.

And when the ultimate psychological payoff is revealed, it is done with simplicity and without fanfare. The scene, involving a knife that is dropped from Kane's bloodied hand, had been cut from one or more of the various versions of this film that surfaced since 1980. This, I am reasonably sure, is the cut that is Blatty's most favoured and most complete.

The film is notable for its sustained mood, its superb cinematography, its bravura writing, acting and direction - and for its unique vision.

January 20, 2005

Email this article

(US, 1980)

CAST: Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Neville Brand, George DiCenzo, Moses Gunn, Robert Loggia, Joe Spinell, Alejandro Rey

DIRECTOR: William Peter Blatty

SCRIPT: William Peter Blatty


EDITOR: Tony de Zarraga

MUSIC: Barry De Vorzon

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

PRESENTATION: widescreen



DVD RELEASE: January 19, 2005

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018