Friday, November 15, 2019

THE FAN (1981) Blu-ray Review

The Fan (1981) d. Edward Bianchi (USA)

Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) adores classic Hollywood and Broadway star Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall). He writes her personal letters, sends tokens of affection, and prides himself on being above all the shallow “fan club” adulation. Douglas has a deep, abiding connection to Sally and is comfortable in the knowledge that one day she will share his life, loving him with the same fervent ardor that he feels for her. The problem is… Sally doesn’t even know he exists, since his increasingly impassioned letters are received and responded to by her loyal assistant Belle (Maureen Stapleton), who tries to deter the misguided suitor’s attempts, only to find herself drawn into his web of madness.

Producer Robert Stigwood, hot off the successes of Saturday Night Fever and Grease, decided to stick his toe into the psycho-killer pool with this adaptation of Bob Randall’s novel about an obsessed fan, ramping it up with additional scenes of graphic bloodshed to compete with Friday the 13th and its various imitators. This decision eventually created “artistic differences” between the film’s original director, Warus Hussein (The Possession of Joel Delaney), whereupon commercial director Edward Bianchi, best known for his energetic Dr. Pepper campaigns, was given the reins, much to the chagrin of the temperamental star.

By all accounts, Bacall proved increasingly difficult during a production which required her to not only wear her aging starlet cards on her sleeve, but also to perform several musical numbers for the Broadway musical integral to the plot, despite the fact that she was neither a singer nor a dancer. She also objected vehemently to the scenes of graphic bloodshed slowly working their way into the piece and made no secret of her discontent with members of the press.

Additionally, the film’s release coincided with the recent murder of John Lennon, himself the victim of an obsessed fan, and Paramount’s marketing executives’ decision to ghoulishly exploit the connection was viewed in poor taste. The film was, perhaps unfairly, seen as cashing in on tragedy and suffering (there had also been recent assassination attempts on President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II around the same time), and critics were not kind.

Nearly 40 years later, the film holds up slightly better than one might expect, considering its initial chilly reception. Thanks to the visuals stylings of Bianchi and cinematographer Dick Bush (who cut his teeth on British genre efforts like When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Twins of Evil, and Blood on Satan’s Claw before becoming Ken Russell’s go-to shooter on Tommy, The Lair of the White Worm, and Crimes of Passion), there are numerous striking images and Oscar-winning editor Alan Heim (All That Jazz, Network) keeps the action flowing swiftly, beautifully underscored by Pino Donaggio (Crawlspace, Dressed to Kill).

Biehn, who would soon become a major star with The Terminator and Aliens, does well in his first major motion picture, especially considering the role has nearly no onscreen dialogue. We mostly get into Breen’s head via his letters to Sally, heard in voiceover, while watching an array of emotions wash over Biehn’s face. We see him in his dead-end job as a record store salesman and having a brief argument with his intrusive sister Kauilani Lee (Cujo), but mostly we co-exist in his rich fantasy world as he imagines winning the attentions of his beloved, and we see the pain he suffers whenever that fantasy is interrupted.

Bacall, despite her personal feelings toward the project, delivers the goods as a once-towering force attempting to remain relevant in an ageist and sexist profession, her naturally flinty persona which had served her so well throughout her early career on full display, along with the vulnerability of attempting to adapt in a changing world. Where she is on less sturdy ground is in the aforementioned musical numbers (written by Marvin Hamlisch, no less), though she puts on a brave face and soldiers on like the old pro she is.

The rest of the high-profile cast includes Stapleton (who was to win Best Supporting Actress for Reds the same year), James Garner, Hector Elizondo (between his American Gigolo and Young Doctors in Love gigs), and a very young Dana Delaney as Biehn’s co-worker.

Though not as much sudsy melodramatic fun as the similarly oriented The Seduction (also recently released to Blu-ray by Shout! Factory), The Fan has several memorable moments (both positive and negative) and is worth examining as an interesting middle ground between success and failure.


NEW Audio commentary with filmmaker David DeCoteau and film historian David Del Valle, moderated by Scream Factory marketing director Jeff Nelson

NEW “Number One Fan” with Michael Biehn (26 min)

NEW “Fan Service” with director Edward Bianchi (38 min)

NEW “Fanning the Flames” with editor Alan Heim (18 min)

Theatrical Trailer

TV Spots

Still Gallery

Goofs: During Bianchi’s interview featurette, Maureen Stapleton is mistakenly identified onscreen as "Maureen O’Sullivan." Whoops.

"Hey, you weren't in The Quiet Man!!!"

The Fan is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:

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