Cinemax Friday: Night Fire (1994, directed by Mike Sedan)

Night Fire is yet another 90s neo-noir starring Shannon Tweed.

In this one, Tweed plays Lydia.  Lydia is a work-obsessed millionaire who is unhappily married to Barry (John Laughlin).  Lydia and Barry’s sex life has come to a halt.  Lydia wants romance.  Barry wants to tie her up in bed and run a knife over her body.  Even though they have retreated to an isolated ranch house to try to fix their marriage, Lydia simply cannot bring herself to leave her work behind.

One day, while Barry is attempting to drown Lydia in the hot top, two drifters suddenly show up and claim that they’re having car trouble.  Cal (Martin Hewitt) and Gwen (Rochelle Swanson) are wild and uninhibited and everything that Lydia is not.  Lydia is uncomfortable with the idea of them staying at the house while Barry just wants to watch the two of them have sex.  Eventually, the expected mate swapping does occur but there’s a twist.  Barry hired Cal and Gwen to show up at the ranch and help him turn on his wife.  But it turns out that Barry has another, more sinister motive for wanting Cal and Gwen to spend the weekend.

Night Fire is typical of the type of films that used to show up on late night Cinemax.  The plot is mostly just an excuse to get everyone naked and most viewers will be able to see the big twist coming from a mile away.  From the very first scene, it’s obvious that Barry is not to be trusted.

On the plus side, Night Fire features one of Shannon Tweed’s best performances.  Tweed, who has always been a better actress than most critics give her credit for being, gives a smart and believable performance as Lydia.  The script often forces Lydia to do things that fly in the face of logic and it seems to take her forever to figure out that there’s something strange going on.  Lydia would probably seem unbearably daft if she wasn’t played by Shannon Tweed, who is capable of keeping the audience on her side even when she’s playing a role that, on paper, shouldn’t make any sense.  Tweed is smart enough not to play Lydia as being frigid but instead as someone who is just frustrated that her immature husband has invited two complete strangers to spend the weekend with them.  Rochelle Swanson and Martin Hewitt are impressive as the two drifters while John Laughlin is sabotaged by dialogue that reveals him to be untrustworthy from the first minute that he shows up.

Night Fire may not be perfect but it should keep fans of 90s-era Shannon Tweed happy.



Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (dir by Henry Hathaway)

The 1935 adventure film, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, is a film that probably could not be made today.

Of course, that’s true of a lot of films from the 30s.  In some cases, that’s a good thing and, in some cases, that’s a bad thing.  The Lives of Bengal Lancer is an entertainingly old-fashioned adventure story but it’s also a shameless celebration of the British Empire.  The fact that it was made in Los Angeles and featured all-American Gary Cooper in the lead role doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s pretty much a celebration of British colonialism.

Gary Cooper plays Lt. Alan MacGregor, a Scottish-Canadian who serves in British Calvary.  He’s a member of the Lancers and is currently serving in India, which, at the time that this movie was set (and made), was still under British control.  When the film begins, MacGregor is greeting the new arrivals.  Among those arrivals are Lt. John Fosythe (Franchot Tone) and Lt. Donald Stone (Richard Cromwell).  Lt. Forsythe is an experienced officer who has been sent to India as a replacement for another officer who managed to get himself killed while out on a patrol.  Meanwhile, Lt. Donald Stone is a newly commissioned officer who is desperate to win the approval of his father (and McGregor’s superior), Col. Tom Stone (Guy Standing).  Unfortunately, Donald quickly discovers that winning the approval of his father isn’t going to be easy.  Col. Stone, after all, has a lot to deal with.

For instance, there’s Mohammed Khan (Douglas Dumbrille).  Kahn is a local prince and he boasts that he has got an Oxford education.  He pretends to be an ally of the British but instead, he is plotting a revolution.  The first step in that revolution is to intercept a convoy of British weapons but how can Kahn discover the convoy’s route?  Maybe he could kidnap a lancer who is close to the unit’s commanding officer?  With the help of a Russian femme fatale named Tania (Kathleen Burke), Khan is able to capture Donald.  When MacGregor and Forsythe defy the colonel’s orders and attempt to rescue Donald on their own, they end up getting captured as well!

“We have ways to make men talk!” Khan declares and soon, the three men are having their fingernails ripped out and the skin underneath burned with fiery bamboo.  It’s a shocking act of sadism, one that caught me by surprise in 2020.  I can only imagine how audiences in 1935 reacted to Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone being so graphically tortured on the big screen.  Though the men swear that they will not reveal the location of the convoy, how much torture can they take before they break?

As I said at the start of this review, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer is an old-fashioned film and, with its depiction of savage rebels and heroic colonizers, it would probably cause a riot if it were released today.  However, if you can set aside the whole pro-imperialist theme of the film, this is a fairly entertaining film.  It gets off to a slow start and, to modern eyes, some of the acting is bit creaky but Gary Cooper is, not surprisingly, well-cast as the film’s hero and he’s ably supported by Tone and Cromwell.  Douglas Dumbrille and Kathleen Burke are entertainingly campy villains and the film’s final battle is well-done.

A box office success, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer was nominated for Best Picture but it lost to an even bigger hit (and a film that was a bit more critical of the British Empire), Mutiny on the Bounty.