Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dominique is Dull: "Dominique is Dead" (1979)

Scanning the combined talents of director Michael Anderson and an Academy Award familiar cast, you would think "Dominique is Dead" would end up being a little more entertaining and a little less predictable.

David (Cliff Robertson) and his wife Dominique (Jean Simmons) reside in a giant English mansion ripe with tension. Dominique has trouble getting around thanks to an "accidental fall" down the stairs, and her memory seems to be lapsing as well. She fires her chauffeur, and steals a friend's broach, but does not recall the events. She and her stock broker husband have separate bedrooms, and after Dominique sees a hanging corpse that conveniently disappears, she is certain her husband is trying to drive her insane.

A new chauffeur, Tony (Simon Ward), is hired, and out of desperation Dominique goes to him for help. New to the job, Tony rebuffs Dominique, and she promptly hangs herself in the conservatory. The funeral is a sad affair, and Dominique's last wishes are to be buried with a favorite bracelet and then have her last will and testament read on her wedding anniversary (which happens to fall on Halloween).

David doesn't seem too broken up about Dominique's death. Before her body is even cold, however, he starts hearing Dominique's piano playing itself. A mysterious woman dressed in black orders tombstones for David and Dominique's grave, with a cryptic "SOON" written where David's death date would be carved. David sees a woman who looks like Dominique from his office window, and eventually bribes Tony to dig up Dominique's grave. What he finds sheds little light on the mystery.

I read that this film was taken from Anderson and edited without his approval. If this is true, it would explain some of the flaws. For a horror film, there is not much here to horrify. An occasional jump-scare moment and good sound effects editing are all we get. Most of the suspense consists of a cast member seeing something otherworldly, turning away or running for help, and then returning and not able to find the original apparition. This happens constantly and makes up the bulk of the film. It was unfortunate that Ward and Agutter (as David's half-sister) were cast in this. Two name actors in seemingly innocuous supporting roles only raise the viewer's suspicion that there is more to their characters- and the viewer would be right.

The screenplay, based on a short story, is padded and predictable. We have two different trips to the cemetery to see Allen's vandalized headstone. We get more than one scene of Allen "seeing" Dominique out his window. Two different "dig the casket up" scenes. The viewer will experience deja vu about situations that occurred minutes before!

Anderson's direction is rather dry, save an occasional tracking shot. The performances are good across the board, although someone should have told Robertson that his moustache, hat, and trench coat in the cemetery scenes make him look like Inspector Clouseau. Moody is wasted as the doctor.

"Dominique is Dead" is in the public domain, meaning there are plenty of lousy-quality copies out there for you to choose from. Then again, all the restoration and commentary in the world couldn't help, unless Anderson has a director's cut stashed somewhere. Dominique is done. (* *) out of five stars.