Monday, October 24, 2022

#2,847. The Fan (1981)


Despite being its top-billed star, Lauren Bacall wasn’t too keen on 1981’s The Fan. “The Fan was much more graphic and violent than when I read the script”, Bacall told People Magazine in June of 1981, adding “The movie I wanted to make had more to do with what happens to the life of the woman – and less blood and gore”. Her co-star, James Garner, was even harsher in his critique, saying that, aside from working with Bacall (which he enjoyed), this 1981 thriller was one of the worst pictures he ever made.

The critics were no kinder to The Fan. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune called the movie “nothing more than a cruel shock show”, while The Los Angeles Times deemed it a “terror-filled but hollow effort”.

Were they all watching the same movie I just saw? The Fan is not a disappointment, not a cruel shock show, and certainly not a bad movie. It is a tense, well-paced thriller with solid performances from its veteran cast and one hell of a creepy turn by Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens), playing a stalker whose obsession with a famous actress leads to violence and even murder.

Sally Ross (Bacall), star of stage and screen, has a legion of adoring fans, though one in particular has taken his admiration for her to a new and frightening level. Record store employee Douglas Breen (Biehn) writes to Sally almost every day, declaring first his respect, then his undying love.

Sally’s longtime secretary Belle (Maureen Stapleton) intercepts many of Douglas’s letters and answers them on Sally’s behalf, but that doesn’t make Douglas very happy. He believes that Sally is the love of his life, and won’t let anyone, especially a secretary, stand in the way of what he feels could be a beautiful romance. Though unconcerned at first, Sally soon realizes just how dangerous Douglas can be, and turns to her ex-husband, movie star Jake Berman (Garner) for support.

The police, led by Inspector Raphael Andrews (Hector Elizondo), are doing everything in their power to keep Sally safe, but with nobody quite sure where Douglas is, or when he may strike again, Sally, in the midst of rehearsing a new Broadway musical, has to stay on her toes.

One of the things I really liked about The Fan was how it handled Douglas’s growing infatuation; much like Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro’s character in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Leonard acts as the film’s narrator, reciting aloud the letters he writes to Sally on a regular basis. At first, these correspondences seem harmless enough; he says he wants to make sure that she is always safe, and tells Sally that he is her biggest fan. But when Sally doesn’t reply to his letters personally, Douglas first blames Belle (who he thinks is deliberately trying to keep them from Sally) before finally turning his anger towards Sally herself, for not seeing how perfect the two of them would be together.

As with Travis in Taxi Driver, we recognize early on, before everyone else in this movie, that Douglas is a very disturbed young man. Bacall, Garner, Stapleton and the others are excellent as well, but it’s Biehn’s strong portrayal of a man whose grip on reality is loosening by the minute that makes The Fan such a chilling motion picture.

Even the Golden Raspberry awards joined in on bashing The Fan, nominating it for Worst Original Song (for "Hearts and Diamonds", one of several tunes that Sally performs during her Broadway musical), but don’t let that sway you. The Fan is, indeed, quite violent (growing more so as the movie progresses), but it is also a tense motion picture that, thanks to Michael Biehn, is a lot better than its reputation would lead you to believe.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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