Director: Simon Wincer
Script: Everett De Roch
Cast: Robert Powell, David Hemmings, Carmen Duncan, Broderick Crawford, Gus Mercurio, Alan Cassell, Mark Spain, Alyson Best
Running time: 88 minutes
Ambitious senator Nick Razt (David Hemmings) and his stay-at-home-wife, Sandra (Carman Duncan), have a son, Alex, who is very ill with Leukaemia. At his birthday party the boy is momentarily captivated by a kid’s clown, then seems to get worse. Later, that same evening, Sandra is putting the boy to bed, tears in her eyes, knowing that her son is dying. A strange Magpie appears at the window and materialises into a strangely dressed man (Robert Powell) who introduces himself as Gregory Wolfe, and says that he’s come to help their son, if they want him to. Nick scoffs at the man, but Sandra is desperate for any hope that her son might live to see his next birthday so is happy for Gregory to try.
Gregory, who appears to be a mixture of faith healer, magician and clown, lays his hands on Alex, and then disappears shortly thereafter. Over the coming days Alex’s health starts to improve and on his return Gregory starts to spend more and more time with the family until he’s living there, which aggravates the father no end since Sandra is clearly falling for the healer.
Throughout the film it becomes clear that Nick has got over his head with some local gangsters who had pulled their own ‘disappearing trick’ on Nick’s politician predecessor so that Nick could become their political pawn. On Nick’s behalf they investigate the strange Mr Wolfe and offer to eradicate him.
As things gets weirder and weirder it becomes more and more apparent that saving Alex wasn’t Gregory’s main priority when infiltrating the Razt household and, as battle lines are drawn, all hell breaks loose…
Harlequin is a one-of-a-kind film that could only have been made somewhere like Australia during the late seventies. Originally written as a vehicle for David Bowie to reprise his fish-out-of-water shtick, following his success in Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, Harlequin is a bizarre combination of drama, political intrigue and horror film, and is a movie that revels in its differences from mainstream cinema and casually flicks the Vs too!
Nicely shot, with plenty of nice little moments for cineastes and more general cinema goers to enjoy, Harlequin is full of top-class performances by an excellent cast at the top of their game, right from the curt and doubting David Hemmings, through to Carman Duncan as his put-upon trophy wife, right through to a magnificently oblique performance by former Jesus of Nazareth, Robert Powell.
A few elements niggled at me though. Firstly, the little boy’s voice was clearly dubbed which really devalued the poor kid’s decent performance as the dying son. Robert Powell’s wardrobe was a bit too over the top at times; one can certainly see that the wardrobe department had prepped for Bowie and got caught out with Powell! And lastly, the political shenanigans that were going on behind the scenes seemed a bit superfluous to the main narrative until towards the end when they suddenly starting meaning something, which I have to admit left me rather confused – not difficult, I know!
Seen by some as a weird mixture of Rasputin and All the King’s Men, Harlequin is well worth taking for a spin, especially if you enjoy off-the-wall filmic experiences with interesting and unusual backdrops.
88 Films are distributing Harlequin on Blu-Ray. As per usual, 88 Films has done a great job with the transfer and there are plenty of special features including:
A booklet featuring an interesting essay on Ozploitation cinema by genre scribe Dr Calum Waddell;
Destruction from Down Under (15.33 mins) – The ubiquitous film journalist and writer Kim Newman discuss Australian cinema during the seventies and eighties and name checks a plethora of interesting films including the likes of Patrick, Long Weekend, Razorback, Wake in Fright, Man from Hong Kong, Stone, Road Games and even Walkabout, which he says really opened up the outback to filmmakers.
Archive interview with Robert Powell and David Hemmings (5.41 mins) – A double interview done for Australian TV in front of some god-awful wallpaper! We learn that the film was shot in Perth and was shot in reverse, with the early scenes being shot last, after the boy’s hair had been cut to cancer patient levels.
Audio commentary with director Simon Wincer and producer Tony Ginnane, who inform us that it was a 34 day shoot and that the budget was just under $1 million. It’s also revealed that Powell learned and performed all the magic tricks himself!
Mark Harley interviews Simon Wincer and Anthony Ginnane (50 mins) – an interesting and revealing interview where it’s confirmed that David Hemmings was an alcoholic, and a bit of a womaniser, and that the special effects were all done in camera. The film became quite a big hit in South America due to post Jesus-Powell’s involvement. One gets the impression that Ginnane really doesn’t like the rather stuck-up Australian Film Commission since they have rather stifled his career over the years.
Everett De Roche (Screenwriter) (42 mins) – Apparently the now deceased writer didn’t like the title of the film but, on a more positive note, was responsible for writing some of the best Ozploitation films that came out of the country during the seventies and early eighties.
Gus Mercurio talks (44 mins) – The actor, who plays Mr Bergier in the film, chats about the shoot, and, in particular, praises the two male leads’ acting chops.
Trailer (1.38 mins) – The tagline screams: ‘Is he a demon from another world?’