27 April 2015

Ross Macdonald's Monster Thriller Horror Theatre

A follow-up to last week's post on The Three Roads by Kenneth Millar (a/k/a Ross Macdonald), here I offer speculation and scattered thoughts on an adaptation I've never seen:

Straight to video, but without enough momentum to make it to DVD. I'm guessing I've missed my opportunity to see Deadly Companion. True, there are used VHS copies for sale out there, but who can be bothered? Besides, I can't figure out how to connect our old VCR to the Samsung.

Deadly Companion was a tax shelter film. "Based on the novel 'The 3 Roads' [sic] by Ross MacDonald [sic]", it was offered up by the same Toronto production company that gave us Nothing Personal, a romcom starring Donald Sutherland/Suzanne Somers.

Screenwriter Thomas Hedley (Flashdance) appears to have taken a good number of liberties with his source material. Here's John Candy as John, a character not found in the novel.

And here's John doing lines of coke.

Fellow SCTV cast members Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and Dave Thomas also feature, but it's Candy who shares top billing in the 1994 VHS release.

He gets less than two minutes screen time.

I feel particularly bad for the late Michael Sarrazin – cast as Michael Taylor (Bret Taylor in the novel), he's owed top billing. This earlier video package, issued under the original title, seems a tad more fair:

The adaptation brings things into the 'eighties by having Taylor shed his Second World War naval uniform for a journalist's trench coat. Here he's traumatized not by a Japanese kamikazes, but by Middle Eastern terrorists in aviator sunglasses.

Like the Taylor of The Three Roads, Michael must also deal with the murder of his young wife Lorraine. She's given life here – fleetingly – by Pita Oliver, an actress best remembered for having survived Prom Night.

Of course, she's not so lucky here.

Pita Oliver is billed twenty-fifth in the film's IMDb listing. This too seems unfair; after all, the solution to her character's murder is key to Macdonald's plot. The Three Roads positions Larry Hopkins (Anthony Perkins) as prime suspect, but I'm not sure about Deadly Companion. Here we see an encounter between Taylor and Hopkins.

In what I take to be a later scene, the two are involved in a dust-up.

Taylor also takes on Dellassandro (Al Waxman). Same camera angle.

Waxman's character doesn't feature in the book, nor do any of the five played by the SCTV cast. Fourth-billed Howard Duff portrays some guy named Lester Harlen. He's not in the book either.

The film has Hopkins shooting Harlen though a doorway…

…allowing Perkins to do his thing.

Leonard Maltin's review runs two sentences: "Confusing, annoying thriller with mentally tortured photojournalist Sarrazin attempting to track down his wife's murderer. Sarrizan is his usual bland self; Clark is wasted." The few souls bothering to weigh in at IMDb appear to agree:
This murder/mystery makes little sense.
– sgt619-1
The film simply does not make sense even after seeing it twice
– cfc_can
In "Double Negative Developing" (The Globe & Mail, 10 February 1979), critic Jay Scott suggests chaos on the set. He quotes actress Susan Clark on the script:
"This is one of the things that's in progress, so it's a big question mark. The three writers [Hedley, Janis Allen, Charles Dennis] seem to be coming from three different places. We have improvised; the locations have stayed the same and so has the intent of the individual scenes but…"
The ellipses are Clark's… Or are they Scott's?

The Globe & Mail, 10 February 1979
I was hundreds of kilometres away in high school when all this was going on, and yet I realize, all these decades later, that I'm just one degree of separation from several of the key players in this drama.

Who can be bothered.

Forget it, Jake, it's Hogtown.

The Globe & Mail, 2 May 1979
A bonus:

Related posts:


  1. But, hey, tax officials and such, look at all the Canadian conteent! I assume it's not on YouTube, either?

    1. Nothing on Youtube except the trailer, Todd. That said, head over to JohnCandy.com and you'll see a clip of the late actor's performance.

  2. And, sir, that's MONSTER CHILLER HORROR THEATER! (well, it should've been Theater, since half the time they were pretending SCTV was a US station and/or network.)

    1. When they weren't under assault by those Russkies at CCCP1.

  3. "Manson International" certainly has a bad resonance in the States...