Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Movie: The Carey Treatment (1972)

Michael Crichton wrote novels to put himself through Harvard Med. Because really, what else did he have to do? I’m sure he also had a paper route. This not-on-DVD adaptation of Crichton’s Edgar Award winner A Case of Need, published under the pseudonym Jeffery Hudson, aired on TCM. The draw for me was the fact that it was directed by Peter Gunn guru Blake Edwards.

James Coburn plays a rock star pathologist recently arrived in Boston. When his friend (character actor James Hong in what may be the most solid part he’s ever had) is charged with killing the daughter of the chief of surgery during an abortion, Coburn launches his own investigation. It’s CSI: House in the swinging ‘70s, with a jazz score by Roy Budd (Get Carter). Director Edwards was not happy with the final version; neither were the screenwriters who took their names off the movie. Crichton’s plot still works when the movie remembers it, but there are too many suede jacketed “let’s just be, baby” scenes. Which, to be fair, do add to the overall entertainment value. For that matter, so does a kinky massage interrogation between Coburn and former Beyond The Valley of the Dolls star/future Turner & Hooch screenwriter Michael Blodgett.

Coburn can be a strange presence, as Steve Lewis observed last week. I wouldn’t go as far as Steve, but I do see his point. Coburn often manages to come across as simultaneously cool yet insubstantial. When I watch one of his movies I’m reminded of the line from The Limey when Peter Fonda is told he’s not so much a person as a vibe. That’s true in spades here. But sometimes a vibe is all you need.