Comfortable and Furious

The Amusingly Bonkers: Part 4

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

De Niro followed his Godfather Part II Oscar win with Taxi Driver. Hoffman came up with Tootsie after Kramer vs. Kramer. That’s the way to do it. Faye Dunaway, however, took a slightly less stellar path after her victorious turn in Network. She chose the trashy, red herring-filled Eyes, a box-office hit that mixed horror and thriller elements with unadulterated nonsense. Perhaps it was also the first time she gave off a whiff of ham.

The story: Uh-oh, we’ve moved sideways from Staying Alive’s dancing horseshit to the equally pretentious world of fashion. Here come shots of constantly fussing makeup artists, racks of clothes, cheek kisses, po-faced posturing accompanied by disco beats, and models having their lovely hair blown about by wind machines. Oh, what fun! I wish I was a model! Anyhow, things take a turn for the worse for this bunch of hugely talented individuals when their famous and controversial photographer is suddenly plagued by Vaseline-smeared visions of a killer offing folk by gouging out their eyes with an icepick. Surprisingly, the murder of models is illegal and the police are forced to investigate.

The characters

Laura Mars (Dunaway): Meet our glamorous heroine, so chic she occasionally covers every strand of hair on her head with what appears to be a soft bicycle helmet. At other times she favors a deerstalker cape that makes her look like Sherlock Holmes sans pipe. Photography is her passion and she takes it super seriously, undeterred by the almighty stir it causes. Hated by feminists and conservative art critics, she fuses violence, sex and death in her pictures. Well, the posed stuff, anyway. In lighter moods she’ll snap an excited Alsatian half-standing on a nude woman lying by the side of a swimming pool or a bikinied woman wrestling a stuffed bear. Hence, it’s easy to understand Laura’s dismay when a series of traumatic visions gets in the way of this sterling contribution to society. Workhorse that she is, Laura then rechannels her energy whenever a vision strikes by widening her alluring eyes. Cripes, she does that a lot.

Lieutenant Jon Neville (Tommy Lee Jones): A dedicated cop that fancies himself as an amateur art critic. After seeing one of Laura’s upside-down pictures of a half naked lady sprawled on an untidy bed he tells her: “It’s really tragic this is the kind of junk passing for art these days.” With such an abrasive first meeting, it’s obvious they’re going to click.

Tommy Ludlow (Brad Dourif): Sporting a dodgy Sideshow Bob hairdo and an unflattering, itchy-looking beard, the shifty Ludlow is Laura’s increasingly bewildered chauffeur. When asked by the cops why he’s carrying a flick-knife, he replies ‘to cut rope and shit.’ Good explanation, sir. That’s clearly an essential component of any driving job.

Michael Reisler (Raul Julia): Laura’s former hubby, he’s now banging one of her colleagues. Oh yeah, he’s also an alcoholic, borderline suicidal leech trying to write a novel while remaining deeply envious of Laura’s success. It’s difficult not to notice his contempt when describing her as an ‘instant star in the world of chic’, making ‘chic’ sound exactly like shit. Why on Earth would the cops suspect this guy?

Donald Phelps (Rene Auberjonois): Laura’s faithful agent. An upbeat homo, he might as well have the words knife fodder tattooed on his face. To help Laura escape the protective attention of the cops (and to ensure he gets killed), he clutches a handbag and walks down the street in high heels, skirt and hat impersonating her.

Lulu (Darlanne Fluegel): One of Laura’s scantily dressed, airhead models. At the glitzy premiere of Laura’s latest exhibition she tells a TV reporter: “I think Laura is saying with her work: OK, America, OK, world, you are violent. You are pushing all this murder on us so here it comes right back at you. And we’ll use murder to sell deodorant so you’ll just get bored with murder.” Yes, thank you, dear, the door’s over there.

Billy (John E. Allen): A well-dressed dwarf. Initially you think he’s Laura’s friend as he smiles at her during the premiere and she says his name. Then he consoles her by holding her hand while she’s told about the first killing. I dunno, perhaps it’s trendy in fashion circles to have a pet dwarf. We next spot him wandering around alone at the funeral of two murdered models. Then he stands statue-like ignored by everyone, including the director. In total this Billy No Mates gets one forlorn, barely audible line: “Laura.” Of course, at this point in film history, dwarves are usually portrayed as evil or funny.

Clearly, he’s not comic relief so…? But no, he’s not the killer, probably because it’s tricky to stab people in the eyes when you’re only three feet tall. However, he is a mold breaker by simply being so irrelevant. It’s such a weird, pointless cameo that I suspect Allen afterwards disappeared into the real-life world of porn or drank himself to death. In fact, a slightly less dignified fate was in store when he hooked up with Ozzy Osbourne and ended up getting executed on stage every night during the Diary of a Madman tour.

Why it’s bonkers: Laura’s psychic quirk doesn’t affect events in any way whatsoever. She’s an observer, turning her ability into nothing more than a gimmick. Unlike The Dead Zone, she can’t prevent the murders, alter the killer’s behavior or influence future events. Drop it and you’ve got the same film. Plus, why has she developed this ability so late in life? And why is she linked to this particular whackjob?

There are intriguing ideas at the heart of John Carpenter’s severely doctored screenplay involving the relationship between art, celebrity and the dark side of life, especially Laura’s unconscious ability to mimic actual murder scenes through her photo shoots. However, despite supplying a professional gloss, director Irvin Kershner (a step away from Empire Strikes Back) makes a hokey hash of it. There’s no depth whatsoever, typified by Laura explaining her violence-inspired art. “What I’m trying to do is give an account of the times in which I’m living,” she says before waffling on about murder. “I can’t stop it but I can show it. I can make people look at it.” 

Sounds good in theory, eh? 

But when we see this apparently edgy work everything she does is staged, fake and safe. Just look at the scene where she plonks a couple of burning cars on top of each other in the middle of the city while fur-clad models in high heels open their coats to reveal saucy underwear and have a mock catfight. “Girls, I love it,” she calls out. Well, I don’t, Ms Mars. For a start, there’s no blouse ripping and none of the totty end up naked and rolling around the pavement.

Despite its myriad faults, including Dunaway choosing such a passive role at the peak of her career and an obviously rewritten, nonsensical resolution to change the killer’s identity, there’s still a lot to enjoy about this lurid, giallo-lite mess, especially the New York locations and Barbra Streisand’s fab theme tune.






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