Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

Directed by Irvin Kershner
Starring Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones
Rated R

“I'm completely out of control!”

I was nine when this much-hyped film came out in '78. I remember seeing the TV spots and correctly pegging it as 'grown-up stuff'. Well, now I'm pretty much 'grown-up', so I figured it was high-time I checked it out. Laura Mars is a “psychological thriller” about a controversial and very successful fashion photographer (Faye Dunaway, as the titular Mars) whose ultra-violent fashion mag spreads closely resemble a series of unsolved murders that occurred in NYC a couple years prior. Even worse, a new spate of murders – all models this time, and all of them friends/associates of Laura's – is underway, and Laura keeps having episodes wherein she catches POV glimpses of the murders.

Tommy Lee Jones co-stars as the detective on the case. He eventually falls in love with her, which muddies up the investigation considerably. Also, there's a good baker's dozen of potential killers/red herrings all around her, including Raul Julia as her rape-y ex-husband and various loony assistants and hangers-on, including creepout character actors Brad Dourif and Rene Auberjonois. Eventually, all the could-be killers get eye-stabbed to death, which brings us to the shock-twist ending. Of course, anyone who's ever seen a movie, ever, in their entire lives, will have already guessed the ending in the first five minutes. But hey, life's a journey, not a destination.

So, bad news first: Eyes of Laura Mars is pretty dull. Dunaway is pretty much sleep-walking through the whole thing, the surprise ending is hardly a surprise, and for an R-rated film, it's pretty tame. I mean, it's about an eyeball killer, and there's no eye-gore? Also, it mostly just looks and feels like an extra long episode of any generic cop show of the era. Jones could easily be replaced by Kojak or Ironside or Starsky and/or Hutch, and none would be the wiser.

There are, however, a few meager rewards for your time and effort: Laura's apocalyptic photo-shoots are pretty cool, there's some brief-but-tasty model nudity, Barbara Steisand's overwrought disco-dirge theme song is awesome (Babs was originally slated to play Laura, but backed out somewhere along the way), there's some random zaniness along the way (what's with the out-of-nowhere dwarf?), and there's some nicely gritty shots of pre-Disneyfied NYC. Also, John Carpenter wrote the script. That seems notable.

So, there you go. My nine-year old instincts were correct. The Eyes of Laura Mars is definitely for grown-ups. Boring grown-ups. If you're looking for primo Dunaway, stick with Bonnie and Clyde or Chinatown and leave this bloodless thriller on the shelf.

PS director Kershner followed this up with The Empire Strikes Back!

- Ken 

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