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by Patrick McGilligan
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
"If I Didn't Care"
The first sign of a weak or outright bad script will usually show up in a muddled opening. It's fair to say that co-writers and directors Benjamin and Orson Cummings's noir murder story starts with wandering aim and gets its sights lined up only slightly. But before I go into the shortfalls of the writing, let me point out that the brothers do know a thing or two about shooting a movie. Between a capable cast and quite good production values for a low budgeter, one has to wonder what they might be able to do with a well-crafted script.
The title song, a 50's hit, backs up a flash-forward prologue in which two guys drive a Lincoln Continental from that period to an unknown destination after having loaded a shotgun. The sound of it being fired off-screen leads to black.
Intended to get our attention with a period noir evocation, some minutes go by in trying to figure out whom the people and situation are that follow. You ultimately get that we're watching a love triangle unfold.
Davis Meyers (Bill Sage), a slacker deal maker in Real Estate, and Janice Meyers (Noelle Beck), a sharp, successful lawyer, are in a marriage that isn't being helped by the fact that he's pretty much living the good life in a designer home in Southampton off her income and wealth. Davis is prone to taking advantage of what his good looks bring to his essentially lazy life preferences (mid-day naps on the couch, walking the dog on the beach) and he's not against having a fling with Hadley Templeton (Susie Misner), a colleague in a property turnover "opportunity." "Hey, wanna invest in a sure thing?"
The fly in the ointment of his greasy semblance of manhood is Hadley's obsession for him and, for a while, she convinces him of the need to off his mate, inherit her wealth, and have her, Hadley, as a less intimidating women than the bitch he's inconveniently married to. She's even willing to buy a .45, learn how to use it, and do the deed.
Police detective Linus (Roy Scheider) enters the plotline when he and Davis meet on the beach, walking their respective dogs, and striking up a conversation. But that's just a setup for the cop spoiling a very imperfectly executed crime by holding an unshakeable conviction that his new friend and neighbor Davis' is somehow connected to the first dead body and the worse crime that follows. He dogs Davis like an unwanted pet.
If you looked at only a section of this film, you might assume it to be a capable noir mystery, stemming in part from some assured acting, at times adequate dialogue, and directing know-how. The signs of story-telling neophytes show up, however, in the over-simplicity and superficial veneer of the characters. What seems most apparent is that the Cummingses never really knew their characters and thought putting types before the camera would be sufficient. The problem with that approach is that the product of it merely suggests the noirish, perhaps Hitchcokian models of the genre which they don't yet have the creative chops to emulate.
It is significant, however, that they were astute in putting a capable low-cost ensemble together, most importantly Bill Sage who's in almost every frame. Stalwart though his performance is, he can't mortar all the plot holes. The screen capability that he shows does merit a nod of admiration for holding up a very shaky house in search of a foundation.
Despite hanging on to the noir idea with a repeat of the title song and a really fine blues number under titles, "Double Indemnity" it's not. Thankfully, it's a mere 80 minutes, but the end comes none too soon. To tarry longer would have been cinematic suicide.
~~ Jules Brenner