Thursday, 25 October 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1987: Terry O'Quinn in The Stepfather

Terry O'Quinn did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, for portraying Jerry Blake or is it Henry Morrison or is it Bill Hodgkins, well maybe you should just call him the titular Stepfather.

The Stepfather is a pretty schlocky horror film, but there is a reason I'm writing about it.

That reason should be evident enough as we have an example of a talented then relatively unknown actor in Terry O'Quinn picking up a leading role in what is a film without any higher ambitions. O'Quinn though is perhaps operating on some alternate level seeking to give this film all he's worth, even if the film itself isn't worth a lot with its often ridiculous plot, stilted dialogue, and downright hilarious choices in terms of the use of score. O'Quinn's performance is well worth watching on every front. Now on one end there is the idea of creating a proper "monster" for the film and in this sense O'Quinn is brilliant. On the main surface we have his Jerry Blake the new family man seeking to ingratiate himself as a proper stepfather. O'Quinn plays this side with a father knows best sort of voice that is just wonderful with the artifice in just how "perfect" he makes it. O'Quinn's delivery is just primed with this level of sweetness as he woos his new wife Susan, and tries to make good with his skeptical stepdaughter Stephanie. O'Quinn's whole demeanor is just of this super guy in every way, a friend to everyone with his welcoming smile, and cheerful attitude that extends both to his family and all of his customers a realtor. O'Quinn makes Jerry just everything he should be as a great friend to all especially this new family of his.

Of course from the outset of the film we know this is a thin veneer as in the opening of the film where "Jerry" cleans himself up, and marches out of a home having massacred all within. O'Quinn is great in this wholly silent scene actually by how he performs the moment. As we see the man literally naked, but also metaphorically so as he builds up his new "stepfather" after disposing of the old. O'Quinn brings the appropriate intensity within his eyes fitting for a killer yet is especially chilling by the way he so methodically plays each moment of the scene. O'Quinn brings this devotion to his performance that is what actually delivers something far more eerie to the scene. He doesn't play it so callously as though it is nothing at all for the man to do this. O'Quinn rather makes it almost this ritual in the palatable emotional undercurrent of he brings to the transformation as he shows the man remaking himself. O'Quinn fully embodies this almost as this religious experience as he goes from this demented psychopath who "reforms" himself in this state of calm as he becomes a new man.

The film then gets into its plot which is rather dull and often repetitive. O'Quinn though is consistently compelling in the role of the family who occasionally descends into a madness when alone or killing someone. Again O'Quinn is fantastic in both sides and his portrayal of the mental breakdown scenes are particularly marvelous. They would be easy moments to go way over the top with but O'Quinn delivers towards these extremes without going too far. His performance rather matches the sheer mania of it all in his way of speaking the nonsense of a man who is essentially is of multiple minds going at once. He brings this force to the mania that is chilling, but never does he become ridiculous in this approach. O'Quinn tries, and does not wholly fail to bring some depth to the character through even when he's saddled with some rather awful lines. This is especially the case in the third act when he becomes the slasher killer, and is given some one liners like "Next time Jim, Call before you drop by" after literally dropping the man by killing him. O'Quinn deserves all the credit for not becoming altogether goofy even when saying goofy things. He speaks even those words with a real conviction, and sells them as the film desires even if it isn't best for what it seems like he trying to do with the rest of his performance. That being an attempt an actual examination of the demented psyche of the man. O'Quinn is excellent in these moments where he grants more than silliness to the central idea of this man longing for a family. In a moment where we see him watching another happy father, O'Quinn is genuinely moving in granting such an honest need in "Jerry's" eyes as he looks to the thing he wants most but cannot have. His conviction to this idea even comes through in the stupid finale in his final lines. O'Quinn's last line of "I love you" to the stepdaughter who has just stabbed in the heart, is again of one of earnest need rather than a glib statement. The film isn't anything more than you'd expect it to be, but Terry O'Quinn gives a terrific performance far beyond what you'd expect in such a film. And I will give credit to the general critical examination of the film at the time for recognizing his work even when most, properly, bemoaned the film. He seems to derive everything can from the role to a give far more complete portrait of this psychopath than the film devised or even desired.

24 comments:

Razor said...

Louis: Sounds like O'Quinn was close to a 5?

Emi Grant said...

Louis: Which would be your Top 5 tracks from Steve Jobs' score and your thoughts on them?

Charles H said...

I assume a better film would've got him a 5

Robert MacFarlane said...

Louis: Can I get more complete thoughts on the theatrical version of Little Shop of Horror's ending versus the Director's Cut?

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: If you've seen any episodes of Lost, could I have your thoughts on Terry O'Quinn's work.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Could you rank Ingmar Bergman's films.

Luke Higham said...

Including Scenes From A Marriage and The Magic Flute, If you've re-watched it recently.

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Doug Liman as a director?

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Oh and do you think either him, Iñárritu (think Birdman) or Craig Gillespie (think I, Tonya) would be a great fit as director for a 2010s The Right Stuff?

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the production design of Dodsworth and On the Waterfront.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: If Steve Martin could go up for Planes, Trains and Automobiles, will you do a double review alongside his work in Roxanne.

Anonymous said...

Louis: your thoughts on the ‘I’m the Trashman’ scene from Its Always Philly.

Louis Morgan said...

Razor:

Yes, with slightly better material he'd probably be an easy five.

Emi Grant:

1. Revenge
2. Russian Roulette
3. The Circus of Machines
4. The Nature of People
5. Remember

By the way hearing the pieces again, I'll admit I failed to properly notice how good the score was.

Robert:

The happy vs the "bad" ending of Little Shop of Horrors actually raises quite a few issues that can be discussed. I prefer the happy ending for the film that Frank Oz made. Now the extended "bad" ending is a stunning sequence visually speaking, I ponder if it might have won the Visual Effects Oscar if that had been included, though I do think it is overlong still with "Don't Feed the Plants" being a particularly repetitive song better for a curtain call than for something to close out a film. This goes into the differences between the stage and screen, where the viewer are more tied directly to the characters, and with all of our main characters eaten at that point the ending then seems excessive in its lengths since those we've sympathized with are dead. It also is more troubling since it is more literal in film since we don't get the cast members to bow after they've been eaten. Here they are just dead.

It is also this extreme dark turn that doesn't match Oz's lighter touch to the material on the whole. It's a dark comedy, but very much a playful dark comedy musical. The extremely somber feeding Audrey scene in particular doesn't cohere with the rest of the film at all. This also comes into the casting of Rick Moranis, and his performance in general. Moranis is just a naturally endearing performer, and he makes Seymour extremely likable when the character was intended as a more pathetic sort on stage. This again can be argued as a flaw however perhaps you need someone likable for the cinematic form. The film after all, in my view, works with Moranis as this playful musical comedy even if the Faustian allusions are limited because of it.

Now the happy ending isn't some sort of cinematic masterwork, but I do think it better served the material as adapted by Oz. Could there have been some version that perfectly captured the darker themes therefore allowed the alternate ending, I'd yes, but I thoroughly Oz's take which needed a ending more fitting to that approach than the end of the world.

Tahmeed:

I haven't seen any episodes of lost.

Uh probably not.

Anonymous:

Dodsworth's production design isn't anything too notable, but certainly good. It has some fairly impressive matte paintings for the time is probably is most notable element. The sets are all well realized in being straight forward while finding the right balance in being realistic without being boring. It isn't something that I'd say stands out about the film, but it is fine work.

On the Waterfront's production design is pretty limited given its heavy use of on location work, though that does involve some production work. The design that is apparent is minimalist, though effective in terms of realizing the bare bones environment of the characters. It isn't something that you really notice about the film, but it is well done when evident.

Louis Morgan said...

Bryan:

Liman is a director I might say is in search of style. In that I wouldn't say he is workmanlike rather sort of a "wannabe"(though I doubt he looks at himself this way) William Wyler type director. In that he tries to bring some style towards whatever material he's working with. This has resulted in, from what I've seen, a terrific action film (Edge of Tomorrow), a middling drama (Fair Game), an enjoyable relationship comedy (Swingers), and a film I like far more than most in American Made. Each though there is a level of technical precision, and an attempt to find I'd say a muted voice to benefit the material. In that something like American Made has style, in its pseudo eighties doc aesthetic, that isn't wholly successful but it's there. Liman's someone I wouldn't write off on any project, but nor is a he a guarantee of success.

Out of those I'd say Inarritu for the technical mastery alone, he also in my view has shown his ability to maneuver tones with Birdman if the needs call for it. Something very much needed for the Right Stuff, which Philip Kaufman handled brilliantly. Although I'll admit Gillespie managed something rather impressive there in terms of tones with I, Tonya, I don't think he'd be able to pull off what is needed for the grander elements of the story in The Right Stuff.

Luke:

1. The Seventh Seal
2. Scenes From a Marriage
3. Wild Strawberries
4. Shame
5. Persona
6. The Magic Flute
7. Hour of the Wolf
8. Through a Glass Darkly
9. The Virgin Spring
10. The Silence
11. Face to Face
12. Prison
13. The Touch

Anonymous:

One of DeVito's finest moments on the show. I love the old school wrestling gimmick, though made a bit more grotesque of course, but my favorite part is probably the classic tights. The whole idea is hilariously ridiculous if so perfectly simple. That is of course just the introduction, the true trashman moment though is great in the moment of extreme violent dejection going towards such glorious satisfaction with that marvelous slow raise of the fists in victory by DeVito.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Louis: I agree more or less. Also, have you seen the Roger Corman version from 1960? It’s rather enjoyable.

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Whilst we're on the topic, do you think the following actors would be a great fit for some of the roles? And your choice for director?

Gus Grissom- Jon Bernthal
Gordon Cooper- Chris Pine
John Glenn- Ben Foster
Alan Shepard- Barry Pepper
Wally Schirra- James Marsden
Chuck Yeager- Jon Hamm
Glennis Yeager- Elizabeth Banks
The FBI recruiters- Adam Driver and Joe Lo Truglio

Stumped on the rest

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Thoughts on The Magic Flute and ratings and thoughts on the cast.

Calvin Law said...

It seems like a weird choice but I actually think Ryan Gosling would also be a perfect Chuck Yeager (though Hamm is a good choice).

Bryan L. said...

Calvin: I could possibly see that as well, since he could provide that lowkey charm in the earlier scenes and deliver in his quieter, retrospective scenes later on. I also thought of Joel Edgerton but I don't think he has that "American pilot" look.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Is Perkins Lead or Supporting for Les Miserables.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the costume design of Chinatown.

Louis Morgan said...

Robert:

I've seen parts of it, including Nicholson's bit, and it seemed so from what I saw.

Bryan:

Yes to all of your choices.

Luke:

The Magic Flute is one of the best opera adaptations I've seen, although I haven't seen to many. It's visually stunning work from him though, that brings Mozart's wonderful opera to life beautifully so. It technically is particularly joyous and straight forward work for Bergman, but in a good way. The performances are limited which is really standard in a way for operas in general that emphasize the music's performance in a particular way. Not to disregard the work, but there is a reason there is the term "operatic". That is the emphasizing of the big emotions. They are all well performed in that sense. Bergman captures a real power in faces and the like here, and I'd put it down as one of his great accomplishments as a director.

I'd say supporting.

Anonymous:

Chinatown's costuming is gorgeous and properly neo-noir in a very specific way. Obviously is just of period so to speak, but does so brilliantly with its touches in the little eccentricities of Jake's suits that are just a touch more flamboyant than something Bogart would have worn. On the other hand everyone of Dunaway's costumes is stunning in one way or another whether it be her more glamours work or even her "drab" mourning attire. What she wears evokes effortless character which is what again so often defines great costuming.

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