My brother was kind enough to loan me his Blu-ray copy of this film which we used to watch quite often when we were children. It’s one of those films that we had on VHS growing up that would somehow always end up in the machine. I haven’t seen it for about twenty years or so.
I remember the image of Caravaggio’s Medusa over the titles and how it fascinated me in a morbid sort of way. I always loved how creepy the film was, a supernatural detective story with a fantastic, biting performance from Richard Burton as John Morlar at its heart. Having said that, he’s not in it all that much. The main protagonist is Inspector Brunel, a French detective played by one of the most beloved character actors of French cinema, Italian born Lino Ventura. I never realised until watching it just now that his partner, Duff, is Michale Byrne, who will forever live in my memory as the “This is how we say goodbye in Germany.” guy from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He’s wonderful in this too.
Ventura plays very well alongside Byrne and Lee Remick as Morlar’s psychiatrist. I’ve only ever seen Lee Remick in this and The Omen, I think; two films of the same period with a very similar feel about them. The Medusa Touch has none of the same following but it is driven by Richard Burton’s performance and well worth a look if you haven’t seen it. There are also a host of wonderful cameos and supporting performances from numerous British character actors including Michael Hordern, Derek Jacobi, Gordon Jackson, Harry Andrews and Jeremy Brett.
The story plays out very much like an episode of Columbo if you added a supernatural horror element to it. The detective spends most of his time talking to the (attempted) murderer building up the picture. This is interspersed with some wonderful dialogue from Richard Burton in his scenes. His character is a man who suspects that he has telekinetic powers and can ‘create catastrophe’. There are so many great lines in the film for him to get his teeth into, provided by the author of the 1973 novel upon which the film is based, Peter Van Greenaway. The writing in the film is brilliant and Morlar’s contributions have lived with me since I was a child. Richard Burton has the kind of voice and delivery that makes it all the better. This is one of my favourite speeches of his from the film.
There are so many others. He only worked for three weeks on the film, his contributions done hurriedly so he could go off and film The Wild Geese with Roger Moore and Richard Harris. According to IMDb, the film’s director, Jack Gold, initially preferred Nicol Williamson for the role rather than Burton.
In any case, I enjoyed rewatching it this evening and it certainly holds up very well as a story alongside others of the period. My love for the film is not shared by all – Roger Ebert described it as the worst film of 1978 (did he miss Jaws 2?).
Thanks for reading. Give this film a look if you’ve never seen it. Let me know what you think in the comments.
Thanks for reading,