Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Jacqueline Bisset's California Gothic, or Thoughts on The Mephisto Waltz

A full year before MASH would change his life and typecast him as a smartass doctor, Alan Alda showcased his naturally amiable and preppy screen presence in The Mephisto Waltz (1971), a dark occult thriller about body-swapping pianists.  Call it a Satanic Freaky Friday (which would have been a great title for this post), where Alan Alda portrays Myles Clarkson, a music critic with the right hands who interviews Curd Jürgens, Karl Stromberg from You Only Live Once (1977), as Duncan Ely, a dying classical pianist, mad genius and satanic practitioner who admires Alan Alda’s octave spread. 
The movie is carried in large part by British actor Winifred Jacqueline Fraser Bisset, better known as Jacqueline Bisset (Did somebody mention screen presence?), who portrays Paula, Myles’ suspicious wife, who doubts their new friend’s generosity because you know, he worships the Dark Lord.  You know Jacqueline Bisset from her performances in Bullitt (1968) and The Deep (1977), though she has worked consistently since the 60's and has an impressive IMDb page of over 90 credits.
A horror movie with no makeup or special effects, the movie is an old-school drama told with camera editing, performance and an eerily atmospheric soundtrack by veteran Hollywood composer Jerry Goldsmith.  Equal Parts Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and House of the Devil (2009), complete with a swinging 70’s New Year’s Eve party that degenerates into a Shining/Eyes Wide Shut orgy.

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