Written PostDays of De Palma (Part 2): The Fury (1978)

Days of De Palma (Part 2): The Fury (1978)

My journey back through the films of Brian De Palma continues!  Click here for my thoughts on Carrie.

Two years after Carrie, Mr. De Palma directed The Fury, another story of telekinetic teenagers.  But while the initial description of the film does sound a bit like more of the same, The Fury is actually quite different from Carrie in terms of tone and execution.

Carrie was focused on the telekinetic teenager in question.  It was very much a coming-of-age story (albeit a very bizarre, horrific one!)  But The Fury is more of an espionage story.  And while we do follow the telekinetic girl Gillian (Amy Irving) throughout the story, I felt the main character — and the heart of the film — was the adult character, Peter.  In the film’s opening, Peter’s son, Robin (who we learn has telekinetic abilities) is kidnapped by mysterious men who try to kill Peter (and, indeed, Robin believes they succeed).  Throughout the rest of the story, we follow Peter in his increasingly desperate attempts to locate his son.

Peter is played by Kirk Douglas, and he’s terrific in the film.  We don’t learn a lot about Peter’s background, but he clearly has experience and training in the military.  The script doesn’t give Peter too much character — the story is far more concerned with the plot mechanics of twists and double-crosses, rather than character development — but Mr. Douglas’ performance fills in all the blanks we need.  He plays Peter’s friendly charm and charisma, as well as the tough-as-nails, willing-to-do-whatever-it-takes side of him.  He’s a ton of fun to watch, and frankly whenever the film cut away from Peter’s story I was impatient for it to get back to him.

That’s not to criticize Amy Irving (returning from Carrie), who is lovely and endearing as Gillian.  In the movie’s early-going, Gillian discovers that she possesses unusual gifts.  She eventually winds up checking into the Paragon Clinic, a boarding house devoted to young people with special abilities (shades of Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters!).  The clinic’s director (Charles Durning) seems friendly, but it is soon revealed that he has connections to the shady operative (John Cassavetes) who arranged for Robin’s kidnapping.

I enjoyed watching this non-super-hero take on kids with special powers unfold, and I enjoyed how the script and (by John Farris, adapting his novel) and Mr. De Palma’s direction treated the story seriously, without camp.  As I wrote above, The Fury is structured like a spy/suspense film, and I think that was a very successful choice.  (This distinction is made clear right from the film’s opening, an energetically staged assault on an Israeli beach designed to mask the effort to kidnap young Robin.)

The momentum does start to lag, though, in the film’s second hour, and the story-threads don’t all wind up fitting together quite a smoothly as I had hoped.  Ultimately I found it unclear as to just what the mysterious mastermind, played by John Cassavetes, was hoping to accomplish.  I assume he was hoping to turn Robin into some sort of weapon, by manipulating the development of his powers.  But his approach to doing so (which mostly seemed to consist of getting the young lad under the sexual thrall of a female doctor on his team) seems quite haphazard.  I was similarly confused by Dr. McKeever (Charles Durning’s character) and the Paragon Clinic.  The Doc seems friendly, and unhappy when Cassavetes’ character tries to take control of his patients.  But if he’s not grooming psychic kids for that agent, then just what was the purpose of the Clinic to begin with?

I was also a bit disappointed by the film’s climax.  Peter and Gillian finally encounter Robin and it turns out that all the mucking about in his head has caused him to lose control and turn into an incredibly dangerous telekinetic maniac.  (“Tetsuooooooo!!!”)  This should be really tragic, but since we haven’t gotten to know Robin at all in the film (and he seemed a bit bratty and annoying, even at the beginning) it falls somewhat flat.  Ideally the shock and horror of what has happened to his son would be played by Kirk Douglas’ character, but after following him throughout the entire film Peter is disappointingly sidelined about two seconds into the final showdown.  Instead, things turn into a super-power verses super-power showdown between Robin and Gillian.  That makes narrative sense, on paper, but emotionally I was disappointed that the focus of the film’s ending wasn’t on Peter and his relationship with his son.

Mr. De Palma’s direction is strong but not showy.  There’s an extended slow-motion sequence about two-thirds of the way through the film (a shoot-out outside the Paragon Clinc that turns tragic) that at first was neat but then, as the minutes ticked by, I thought wound up being rather over-the-top.  Over-all, Mr. De Palma keeps things contained and moving along at a brisk pace.

What else can I mention?  It’s fun seeing a young Dennis Franz in what will prove to be the first of many appearances in Brain De Palma’s movies.  Here, Mr. Franz plays a hapless police officer who gets involved in a car chase in which Peter is fleeing from the agents who are pursuing him.  It’s a fun sequence, and Mr. Franz is entertainingly  New Yorkish.

I wouldn’t say that The Fury is a great film by any means.  But I enjoyed it, and it seems to represent several strong steps forward for Mr. De Palma after Carrie. Next Up: Dressed to Kill from 1980…

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