Twilight Time // 1977 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 3rd, 2013
A violent passion held them together...a passion for violence ripped them apart.
Despite its all-star cast, especially given the time, it's surprising that The Disappearance was never remembered very broadly. It's not a product of time, either. This British and Canadian coproduction, despite starring some of the bigger character actors of the day, got basically no play upon its release. It wasn't shown theatrically in the States until four years later and then it went into the weeds of obscurity. That is, until now, because Twilight Time has released Stuart Cooper's (Little Malcolm) deeply imperfect but fascinating film to a supremely interesting Blu-ray.
Jay Mallory (Donald Sutherland, Don't Look Now) is top level contract killer, the best of the best, but since his wife, Celandine (Francine Racette, Alien Thunder), disappeared, he hasn't had the desire to carry out any of his jobs. A mysterious special contract comes in though, and he's been specially requested to carry it out. By travelling to England, where his target resides, Mallory also finds clues to the location of his wife.
Note: While the Blu-ray contains both the 91-minute release cut and the 101-minute director's cut, it is the shorter version that has been remastered and will be the focus of this review.
Whether my description of the plot is truly accurate is probably up for some interpretation. It would take some serious breaking down of scenes for me to really have confidence in my interpretation, because the scenes appear to have been thrown into a bucket, randomly pulled out, and edited in next to each other. That, of course, is not actually the case. It is considerably more deliberate than that, but it's still pretty confusing.
The story, based on a book by Derek Marlowe, is told using flashbacks and present day scenes interchangeably, revealing slowly that Celandine didn't really disappear as much as leave him, which she has threatened to do before. The hit takes a similarly convoluted turn as his target is slowly revealed. Or it could be that we see the hit in one of the opening scenes; it's kind of hard to tell.
The serpentine plotting can be really frustrating at times, especially considering how uncomplicated it turns out to be once it's all laid out in front of us. It might make one wonder, then, if it's really worth it. I can see people coming away hating the movie for it, but I quite liked it, especially for having never heard of it before.
Part of it is that there's a smorgasbord of popular '70s character actors. Mallory's journey takes him from Montreal to London and, on the way, running into the likes of David Hemmings (Deep Red), John Hurt (Alien), David Warner (The Omen), Virginia McKenna (Born Free), and Christopher Plummer (Dreamscape). That's a lot of talent, and they're all really good, but since few of their characters interact with anybody but Sutherland in isolated scenes, none of them really have a lot to do. The performances are great top to bottom, except for Racette. She's terribly wooden and, unfortunately, has the second most screen time, but doesn't bring the movie down too badly.
As far as the spy stuff goes, there's a lot more brooding and arguing then there is any real top secret action. It's more Le Carre than Ian Fleming, which I'm fine with, but it does have an overwhelmingly cold vibe to it that may rub some the wrong way. When Mallory does go on the hunt, Cooper does a good job in his direction. These scenes have an understated style and a quiet tension that works really well. It is, though, very possible that just as the suspense reaches its height, he cuts away to some kind of tea-drinking scene or something. That's the nature of the movie. Some may very well believe it to have been the wrong choice, but even if it doesn't work as well as it could, it's an interesting idea.
Twilight Time delivers an excellent Blu-ray disc for The Disappearance, especially for those who are interested in the editing side of film storytelling. But first, the technical stuff. The 1.85:1/1080p transfer is top notch, especially considering the movie's age and total obscurity. The colors are a little bit soft throughout and detail in the darker scenes waver at times. The rest of the time, though, it looks just fine, with a solid, natural grain structure and no real damage from the original material. The DTS Master Audio sound track is good, as well, though pretty limited in scope. Dialog is consistently crisp and clean. There's a little bit of punch when guns fire and Robert Farnon's original score sounds very nice, but the dynamic range is pretty limited.
What really makes the disc is the slate of features, though. They aren't broad, but as an exercise in the power of editing, this disc is about as good as it gets. Farnon's score gets its own track, which is an addition I always appreciate. Next, a ten minute interview with Stuart Cooper is extremely interesting, as he discusses how he his acting connections got him involved in the project and how despicably the movie was treated after he was finished.
We can see what he means in other extras, which starts with the director's cut of the film. In this case, it didn't just mean that a few deleted scenes were replaced in the film; this is a completely separate edit. Although they aren't fundamentally different films, there are many obvious differences in tone and storytelling right from the outset. Overall, Cooper's cut delivers more of Mallory's backstory, but is even less linear, while the featured cut is probably, overall, a tighter film. I'd say to take your pick, but keep in mind that Cooper's cut is in standard definition and has been cropped for television. Finally, the first fifteen minutes of a third edit is included, this one for the U.S. theatrical release in 1981. Again, this opening shows even more strongly how editing affects storytelling. It's fascinating to see how different the three really are.
The Disappearance is a deeply frustrating viewing experience, but it's really too interesting to pass on. Fans of the character actors will want to have a look at them in some obscure espionage roles and editing nerds will absolutely want to get their hands on the Blu-ray disc. I anticipate a fair portion of viewers will reject the movie based on the storytelling style. I can't necessarily blame them for that, but I had fun with it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Cuts
* Isolated Score