Adapting a play to the screen is often a tricky business. Dialogue that crackles across the stage may sound artificial and forced in a film, while rich characters somehow transform into unconvincing stereotypes. Playwright-turned-writer-director David Beaird struggles mightily to turn his theatrical trilogy into a compelling movie, but the results are fairly...read more
Adapting a play to the screen is often a tricky business. Dialogue that crackles across the stage may sound artificial and forced in a film, while rich characters somehow transform into unconvincing stereotypes. Playwright-turned-writer-director David Beaird struggles mightily to turn
his theatrical trilogy into a compelling movie, but the results are fairly risible.
SCORCHERS offers many traveling shots of the Louisiana bayou accompanied by flavorful zydeco music. One such sequence opens the film, as the camera comes upon a riverside shack where Thais (Faye Dunaway), the town whore, is locked in a carnal embrace with the Preacher (Anthony Geary, Luke of
"General Hospital" fame). The Preachers's absence at church delays the wedding of Splendid (Emily Lloyd) to Dolan (James Wilder) and the anxious father of the bride, Jumper (Leland Crooke), fumes about the delay.
Splendid frets about losing her virginity to Dolan, whom her father refers to as the "Human Hard-On," while Talbot (Jennifer Tilly) laments that her husband of six months never wants to have sex.
The missing minister finally shows up and marries the young couple. Everyone then gathers for a lavish reception, exept Talbot, who goes home in search of her aloof husband, growing increasingly agitated when she cannot find him. Shrieking, she grabs a pistol from a drawer, loads it and heads out
into the night.
Splendid, meanwhile, leads Dolan on a mad chase around the house, crying to her father for help. We next meet Howler (Denholm Elliot) dancing alone to classical music in a bar presided over by Bear (James Earl Jones). The gentle Englishman was once hailed as a great actor but, for reasons never
adequately explained, he has become the town drunk. Bear is short-tempered and chronically insecure but oddly devoted to Howler, for whom he stocks the jukebox with classical music.
Meanwhile neither Jumper nor "Moby Dick" is able to persuade Splendid to perform her wifely duties: the transition from virgin to wife is too sudden for her. In contrast, Talbot has become more aggressive: she deduces that her husband is with the town whore and goes lookin for Thais, who has
dropped by Bear's place to chat.
Splendid finally reveals the true source of her fears: her mother died giving birth to her and she fears a similar fate if she has sex. Meanwhile Talbot shoots out the windows at Bear's place, then stomps in and confronts her nemesis, who admits that her husband pays $100 for each visit. Thais
proceeds to vent her spleen about how no one cares about her own needs while she treats her customers lovingly, prompting Howler to praise her acting ability. Talbot then learns that her father--the Preacher--is another satisfied customer!
Jumper gets Splendid to engage in a psychodramatic exercise, which ends in tears of joy for all involved. At Bear's place, Talbot is advised not to act like a preacher's daughter between the sheets, and she trudges off home, where her husband lies sprawled across the bed. He awakens as Talbot
undresses and makes passionate love to her, despite her initial resistance. Splendid and Dolan are similarly entwined in the presumably happy conclusion. Meanwhile, at Bear's, Thais has left for the evening. The grumpy barkeep makes a selection on the jukebox and a piece by Mahler fills the air.
Having seen the light, he and Howler dance about slowly and happily.
In a desperate attempt to add some action to this tepid talkfest, Beaird has the camera careen about in a lunatic fashion. Talbot's first trip home is rendered with a shaky handheld camera accompanied by a thumping heartbeat on the soundtrack, inadvertently suggesting the ominous point-of-view
shot of a stalker in a slasher movie. Later, when Talbot appears at the wedding party with murder on her mind, everything shifts to portentous slow motion a la Brian De Palma. The incessant crosscutting between the various characters' storylines is inelegant at best--perhaps these three stories
were originally separate acts.
While one may forgive a neophyte filmmaker for lapses in craft and taste, Beaird bungles the direction of actors as well. The scenes of Splendid evading her husband are depicted in a vulgar slapstick manner. Nearly every scene is played far too broadly for the frail material. Good performers are
wasted or made to look silly, with James Earl Jones a particular embarrassment. Faye Dunaway looks terrific in a glamorous star turn but her Thais is an abstraction. Denholm Elliot seems to be on hand merely to provide a touch of class but his character's function is a mystery. Only Leland Crooke,
who originated the role of Jumper on stage, begins to suggest a believable character; even he, though, is undermined by his underwritten part. The emotional core of the film is the scene in which Splendid has an imaginary meeting with her dead mother. While the scene is affecting, the sentiments
are obvious and the ideas simple-minded.
One approaches this kind of film expecting to find the qualities of a good play: well-staged scenes, strong performances, literate writing and sharp observations about the human condition. Here however, the only rational female is the town whore, the threat of domestic violence is played for
laughs and part of the happy ending could be interpreted as a rape.
Seeing the names of the impressive cast listed on the box may warm the hearts of many unsuspecting video store browsers but viewers should avoid SCORCHERS unless they want to get burned. (Profanity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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