Deadly Rivals (1972)
Ditto for me.
Amanda By Night:
Joan Hackett was this kind of esoteric creature who seemed to be more of a personality than an actress. By that I mean, she’s a damn fine performer, but it seemed that it was really Joan coming through in all of her movies. She was quirky and strangely beautiful and in her short life, she left behind one of the most interesting filmographies to date. The movie I remember her best in was the TV Movie Five Desperate Women where she played the sullen ex-college girl lying to her friends about how well her life was going. On this trip, she befriends a dog who is murdered. In a rage of despair, Joan screams “He was a good little doggie and he liked me!” It was the kind of line that most actors could never pull off, but Joan was having fun and so was I.
The Spring/December relationship works well in Deadly Rivals, as they are mother and son, but with a strange erotic twist. Jacoby is Jamie, the brilliant ten year old filmmaker who took over the role of man of the house when his father was killed in a plane crash. He doesn’t seem to mind his mother dating until one day she meets Peter, someone she actually likes (Robert Klein who is just great). That’s when it hits the fan. Since Jamie is far more mature than his ten year old body would have you believe, Peter has sort of taken on the child role for Christine (Hackett) and maybe it’s that he’s pretty lousy in bed that Joan can accept this lot in life. Jamie however is wracked with jealousy, and even goes so far as to have a wanton affair with his babysitter. The scene where he loses his virginity is about as darkly chilling as they get. Jamie might have the thought process of an adult but his sexuality is all mixed up in grade-school confusion. Finally, Jamie decides to get rid of Peter once and for all and boy, does it end in tragedy!
Deadly Rivals is that kind of one of a kind movie that could only have been produced in the 70s. It’s gritty and dark yet sweet and romantic. Robert Klein is a revelation. I was used to his hackneyed comedic stylings and was extremely impressed with his quixotic presentation of the world. I never thought I’d say this but, gulp, Robert Klein is sexy. Whew! That feels better…
It’s pretty obvious that nobody knew how to accurately market this curio, which is why the cover looks like a B-Grade horror film. As you probably already know, I adore B level genre films, but this movie, much like Simon, King of the Witches, transcends, and even defies categorization. In some ways, it reminded me of Ted Post’s classic shocker The Baby, although it’s not nearly as perverse. Still, there’s such a mad streak of tar-black humor that you can’t help but sit their jaw-dropped at some of the proceedings.
The writer and director, Krishna Shah’s career seems equally as enigmatic, having made Deadly Rivals his directorial debut. He went on to other films such as The River Niger and Hard Rock Zombies (!). He’s even credited as a producer on Sleepaway Camp 4! This film may well be his most personal, and with the gentrification of New York City since this movie, it also feels like a love letter to the way it used to be.
Deadly Rivals, like so many other curious films of the 70s has practically disappeared into vhs moratorium hell, but is well worth picking up if you can find it.
That opening scene of skiing serves as a high point for it’s young protagonist Jamie (played by Scott Jacoby) as it’s his happiest memory. Jamie, a very sophisticated and intelligent young man, and his equally sophisticated mother Christine (the almost unearthly beautiful Joan Hackett) make quite a life for themselves in the big apple. It’s just the two of them and both are seemingly content with that. Soon Christine meets a man (Robert Klein) who sweeps her off the streets of Manhattan and into his makeshift tour bus and things change dramatically for the twosome. The already burgeoning Oedipal complex takes a dark turn as Jamie struggles with his own blossoming sexuality and the implications of having a new father after a long absence of one threaten to destroy the sanctity the two have created.
What happens can simply be described in words as a Greek tragedy, but what lies within is something very unique. Rivals, a generic title in a movie that is anything but, is a movie very much of it’s time. Released independently in 1972, it’s a film that dares keep it’s audience at bay as it juxtaposes rhythms and builds character development in unexpected places. Its jazzy score while viewed by most as cloying and annoying, serves as a metaphor for the seemingly shapeless pieces that are put together every day in this melting pot of a city to form something artful and challenging. It leaves you at unease for a reason. New York bred director Larry Cohen often used jazzy scores for a similar purpose. The picture sometimes moves at strange paces and it’s overall freewheeling style makes you feel like anything can happen, and at points anything just does. You’re shocked and then you are lulled back into it’s complex web of emotions, most of the time presented in a matter-of-fact way.
The performances by all 3 leads are completely different and interesting. Especially child actor Scott Jacoby as he uses his inherit smarts to play a character who’s too-wise-for-his-own-age and doesn’t come off as overly cutesy or false. You believe him every step of the way and he often really does seem more intelligent than most. As with any given abundance, it’s often misused and ultimately Jamie still hasn’t learned the most basic of all lessons we get to learn as we grow up...We’re all accountable for our actions and we must be careful with how we carry them out as the stakes get higher as the years go on. Joan Hackett and Robert Klein deliver solid performances as the mix-matched couple and you buy into their romance even as it’s expedited in the film.
As a fatherless child growing up in New York City I obviously felt a real kinship with the film and I liked that it went to such dark places as it served as a real catharsis. I may have not been as unhappy as Jamie and I would have never dreamt to go to such lengths to regain my happy moments in the snow, but I could say that I was really challenged by the ideas of how relationships can effect one another so deeply and be out of the pure love for another. Rivals is a movie that cannot be duplicated as it wants you to feel those real extreme emotions and the loneliness that comes with living with them. The final shot of one character trying desperately to connect with another from a long distance through a window pane sent a shiver up my spine. I never expecting to feel so much from a movie as random as this one is..