Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Reincarnation of Peter Proud

I chose to watch this film based on two reasons:

One:  that title.  I've always been a fan of wordy, lengthy titles and also of titles that have a person's full name in them. This has both.

Two:  this movie poster:
Holy smokes!  Look at that thing?  It's a naked muscle guy clutching his junk in apparent agony amongst a sea of psychedelic 70s reds and blues!  I don't have to explain it, just look at it up there!  It's electrifying!

So yeah, I watched The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), and while it's not as awesome as the above poster, it was still mildly intriguing and interesting. . . .sort of.

Here's the deal with this one:  Dr. Peter Proud (Michael Sarrazin) is having a series of reoccurring nightmares, the most intense of which is one where he is another man who gets murdered while swimming in a lake at night.  The nightmares, it seems, are not dreams at all, but in fact memories of a life previous lived (by a man named Jeff Curtis [Tony Stephano, whose only other screen credit is in Tron (1982)]).  Peter goes on a search for answers, which lead him to the previous man's wife Marcia (Margot Kidder) and daughter Ann (Jennifer O'Neill).  Peter starts to feel and develop an attraction to Ann, and she to him, but Marcia doesn't trust Peter and his presence has dredged up some old memories and secrets.

The Reincarnation of Peter Proud is one of those strange, slightly trippy, but serious and arty type of mystery-thrillers that was made during the 1970s.  This movie could be described as sordid, but it's also a well made film, with some strong visuals and good performances, but I gotta say, the main problem with the film is that nothing really happens.

I mean, stuff happens, but it's really nothing.  There is no real tension and there is very little rise in action over the course of the movie.  One portion of the story involves Peter driving around randomly in Massachusetts looking for landmarks that he recognizes from his dreams.  In another, he and Ann go to a square dance.  What I'm saying is that this isn't a thrill-ride suspense mystery and it is less of a slow-burn and more of a no-burn.  It exists mainly in a holding pattern of low-intrigue until the inevitable conclusion.

Peter's attraction and relationship with Ann is interesting because he is the reincarnation of her father and ewwwwwwwwww.  To be fair, Peter doesn't have all of Jeff's memories, just bits and pieces, and he does seem slightly conflicted about Ann, but it's not long before he's all in.  (ewwwwwwww)

The other seedy element in the film takes place in a bathtub scene where Marcia has a flashback to a sexual assault (committed by her husband, who it turns out, is a real jerk-ass) and it is ambiguous as to if she is enjoying the memory.  These two things (the reincarncest and the rape-fantasy) are the two most grindhousey elements in the movie, but they are handled with such seriousness that it feels less grindhouse and much more arthouse.

I, for one, could use a little more grindhouse, but hey, this is nice too.

The likable Michael Sarrazin comes off a little emotionally flat in this, with his self-obsessed pursuit of the truth in his memory/dreams getting in the way of any deeper characterization.  He's the most lively during the square dance, which takes place in a barn and may (or may not) be an homage to his role in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1968).

Margot Kidder puts in a pretty solid if not great performance as Marcia, even though she spends most of her screen time in barely convincing old age makeup (really, just a gray wig).  Haunted by guilt, older-Marcia is a sad sack who seems to always have a cigarette or a drink in her hand, or both.

Kidder was fresh off of Black Christmas (1974) when she made this and just a few short years following she would take two of her most identifiable roles in Superman (1978) and The Amityville Horror (1979), although my personal favorite Kidder performance is her dual roles in Brian De Palma's Sisters (1973).
This is an early-ish role for Jennifer O'Neill, who would also star in Lucio Fulci's The Psychic (1977) and David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981).  In Peter Proud she's the innocent character, unaware of Peter's memories or of her mother's past.  She's quite good; I like her.

The score is one of the best elements of the film, and that should be no surprise, as it comes from the great Jerry Goldsmith.  Mr. Goldsmith has done some of the most well known and iconic film scores of all time, including Planet of the Apes (1968), Patton (1971), Chinatown (1974), The Omen (1977, for which he won an Oscar), Alien (1979), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Poltergeist (1983), Gremlins (1984), and Total Recall (1990).  Most of Peter Proud has this nice, classical and melodramatic score, except for the dream sequences, which are accompanied by strange, piercing electronic synth sounds, probably the most unnerving element of the movie (the blaring sounds actually woke up my fiancé, who was sleeping in the other room, and she yelled at me to "turn it down."  True story).

Director J. Lee Thompson brings some class and style to this dramatic mystery, having previously helmed classics like The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Cape Fear (1962), not to mention the last two films in the Planet of the Apes series, Conquest of the... (1972) and Battle for the... (1973).  After Peter Proud, Thompson would direct the great slasher film Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and would also collaborate with Charles Bronson multiple times, including on The White Buffalo (1977), 10 to Midnight (1983), and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987).

Cinematographer Victor J. Kempler would get his start on John Cassavetes' Husbands (1970) and would also shoot the underseen crime flick The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973).  The same year as Peter Proud he would also film the great Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and while he has a few other genre film credits, like Eyes of Laura Mars and Magic (both 1978), Kempler would mainly work on a bunch of comedies, including classics like Oh, God! (1977), The Jerk (1979), Vacation (1983), Mr. Mom (1983), Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985), Clue (1985), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Tommy Boy (1995).  Guess the guy liked to laugh...

I wouldn't call The Reincarnation of Peter Proud an exciting movie (not by a long shot) but it manages in sidestepping the terrible movie-sin of being boring by containing some watchable elements and by being just weird enough to hold my interest until the end.  I dunno if this a testament to the film itself or just my personal tolerance for this kind of thing.  It's a toss up.

While I kind of dug it, I have to fully admit that this movie is not for everybody.  I guess I would most recommend it to fans of obscure 70s cinema and also to Margot Kidder fanatics.  Oh, and also to reincarnated-fathers-looking-to-hook-up-with-their-adult-daughters-while-trying-to-stay-classy-about-it.  If you're one of them, totally check this movie out.

One last thing:  the title of this movie is totally wrong.  Peter Proud isn't the one who gets reincarnated.  Jeff Curtis is the guy who is reincarnated as Peter Proud, so the title should be "The Reincarnation of Jeff Curtis", but since that's not as cool sounding, they shoulda switched the names of the two characters, make the dead guy Peter Proud.  Maybe they didn't understand how reincarnation works?
This woman isn't involved in the movie at all, she's just a random weirdo who approaches Peter when he's in an occult bookstore.  She tries to guess his sign.  She guesses wrong.  Random side characters in 70s movies are some of my favorite side characters..

There have been reports (going back to 2009) of a remake of this film going into development over at Paramount and Columbia Pictures with Andrew Kevin Walker and David Fincher, the team behind Seven (1995), attached to write and direct, respectively.  Not sure if anything will ever come of this almost-5-year-old announcement, but it would most likely be pretty interesting if Fincher did tackle this subject.

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