Friday, August 19, 2016

Man On A Swing

I like the matter-of-fact approach that director Frank Perry (MOMMIE DEAREST) takes with police chief Lee Tucker’s (Cliff Robertson) murder investigation of a young woman in 1974's MAN ON A SWING.

Perry filmed MAN ON A SWING in an actual small New England city on what appear to be practical sets (the police station is in a dingy basement). He uses long lenses to show his actors in realistic landscapes crowded with extras to emphasize the grounded environment in which the mystery is set.

It also helps the audience put Franklin Wells (Joel Grey) into the proper perspective. Tucker doesn’t investigate many murders, and this one is tricky. Margaret Dawson (Dianne Hull) vanished after buying groceries at a busy shopping center. A day later, she turned up in the center’s parking lot on the floor of her Volkswagen. She had been strangled, but not raped, with a single drop of blood on her bosom.

After encountering a few dead ends, including Maggie’s former boyfriend played by future Buck Rogers Gil Gerard, Tucker receives a phone call from Wells, who claims to be clairvoyant. Wells knows things about the murder that nobody else could have, such as the prescription sunglasses that Tucker found in her purse. He’s also a strange guy who falls into trances (or so he says), fidgets, bounces around the room, and occasionally displays a sharp temper.

Maybe he’s the killer.

David Zelag Goodman (STRAW DOGS) based his screenplay on an actual 1968 case, which was chronicled in THE GIRL ON THE VOLKSWAGEN FLOOR by William Clark, the Ohio journalist who covered it. Barbara Ann Butler’s real-life murder was never officially solved. That conclusion just wouldn’t do for a Paramount drama, so Perry gives us a killer. He also knows how to ratchet up the suspense when he needs to, and MAN ON A SWING is damn creepy in spots.

While Grey (CABARET) has the showier part, to say the least, it’s Robertson (CHARLY) who has the more important job of making us believe that Wells could possibly be psychic. His Lee Tucker is patient, calm, tolerant, but not naive.


Bill O said...

There were contemporary reports of real animosity between Robertson and Grey. In those days such info was still usually kept from the public.

Grant said...

I've only seen it twice, quite some time ago, but I remember the coolness between the two characters being very convincing. So maybe there's something to those stories.