Sunday, June 27, 2010

Movie: The Killer Inside Me (1976)

After seeing the new adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel, I decided to check out the earlier film version. This in spite of its less-than-stellar reputation among the hardboiled cognoscenti. That’s the level of service you can expect around here.

The story, at least in terms of incident, is very much the same. Deputy sheriff Lou Ford seems like a right guy but he ain’t. Things go bad and get steadily worse. Folks die.

But this is an actual adaptation, for better or worse. The action has been shifted from Texas to a Montana mining town. The burg is nicely captured in the film, populated as it is by familiar ‘50s faces like Charles McGraw and Keenan Wynn. The biggest change is in terms of Lou Ford’s backstory, which has been simplified to the crudest Freudian terms.

That puts additional pressure on Stacy Keach, who comes through in spades. His Lou Ford is still deeply nuts, but there’s more of a sense of Lou fighting desperately to keep the lid on his psychosis. His collapse is all the more frightening because his mask of sanity never completely slips off. Susan Tyrrell, so good with Keach in Fat City, gives a great performance as Joyce, the prostitute whose desirability and greed are tinged with and intensified by laziness and anger.

Director Burt Kennedy was responsible for one of my favorite neglected noirs, The Money Trap. He deploys some elements here that have dated badly – there are too many pointless ‘70s zooms, and the soundtrack is truly lousy – but overall the film holds up. It’s less faithful to Thompson than the newer film, but more cohesive. That there are two such different approaches more than three decades apart is a testament to the power of the novel. And really, that’s where you ought to start.