Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Man on a Swing

Frank Perry | 1974 | 110 mins | USA

Director Frank Perry followed up '72's awesome Play It As It Lays with this strange thriller, loosely based on a true story. Originally, the chilling real-life tale was written up as the non-fiction book "The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor" (a considerably more sensible title - even after watching the entire film and seeing the 'man' on the 'swing' mentioned in the title and visible on the poster, I have no idea why the film was called that - Frank Perry's own esoteric reasons, no doubt). The few changes that were made in the adaptation to film didn't help the story much, but screenwriters have their own mysterious motives, I suppose.

A small town police chief (Cliff Robertson) is investigating the murder of a young woman found on the floor of her VW Bug, in the parking lot of a mall. There are few leads and even fewer clues, until a strange man (Joel Grey) claiming to be a clairvoyant comes to the cops offering help. His spastic trances, intense visions and eerily accurate details about the crime provide help at first, but ultimately make him the chief's prime suspect.

In the original story, the man investigating the crime and delving into the mysterious realm of the occult is a reporter, which actually makes a lot more sense than making the guy a police chief, who would hardly be able to take off from his job for days at a time to go chat with occultist professors about ESP. Still, in spite of the inconsistencies and loose ends that never quite get tied up in the story, Man on a Swing is a compelling and creepy thriller.

The film's appeal is owed almost entirely to Joel Grey's over the top, terrifyingly bizarre performance as the spindly little psychic in the white suit. His near-epileptic fits and feverish pronouncements keep you guessing until the end, exactly as the tag line on the poster predicts:



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