Film Review: Mister 880 (dir by Edmund Goulding)


First released in 1950, Mister 880 is a wonderful surprise.

The film opens like a typical 50s crime drama.  We’re told that counterfeiting is a serious crime and that the dedicated agents of the Secret Service are working very hard to try to wipe out the scourge of fake money. We’re also told that Mister 880 is based on a true story and that it was produced with the full cooperation of the U.S. Treasury Department.  As a result, modern viewers will probably be expecting Mister 880 to be a work of pro-government propaganda, where wholesome treasury agents track down and stop soulless thieves.  Instead, Mister 880 turns out to be a wonderfully charming portrait of a criminal who doesn’t mean to cause anyone any harm.

Burt Lancaster stars as Steve Buchanan, a Treasury agent who is well-known for never letting a case go.  He’s developed a personal obsession with tracking down a counterfeiter who, for the last ten years, has been passing phony one dollar bills around a certain New York neighborhood.  The Treasury Department has named him Mister 880.  Mister 880 is definitely an amateur.  The money that he prints is sloppy.  At the same time, he also only prints one dollar bills and it appears that he only does so on occasion.  Just as no one can figure out his identity, everyone is also baffled by his motivation.  If he was looking to get rich through printing his own money, he would surely print more than just  a bunch of sloppy one dollar bills.

Investigating the neighborhood that he believes to be Mister 880’s base of operations, Buchanan meets and falls in love with Ann Winslow (Dorothy McGuire).  He also happens to meet Ann’s neighbor, Skipper Miller (Edmund Gwenn).  Skipper is an elderly man, a Navy veteran who lives with a dog and who says that he is financially supported by a rich cousin who nobody has ever met.  Skipper is a junk dealer and he’s a genuinely nice man.  Everyone in the neighborhood, including Ann, loves Skipper.  Buchanan soon comes to like the old eccentric as well.

Of course, as you’ve probably already guessed, Skipper is the counterfeiter.  He is Mister 880.  He doesn’t mean to cause any harm, of course.  He only prints money when he absolutely needs to and he always makes sure to not use too much of it.  He doesn’t want to steal from anyone.  He’s just an elderly man who wants to live out his days in peace and who doesn’t want to be a bother to anyone.

When Buchanan discovers the truth about Skipper, he’s faced with a dilemma.  Skipper is hardly a master criminal but Buchanan has sworn an oath and he has a job to do.  Not making things any simpler is that Skipper doesn’t deny what he’s done and he also says that he’ll plead guilty to his crime because …. well, he is guilty.  Skipper’s not a liar, despite the fake money.  Both Buchanan and Ann know that Skipper won’t survive spending years behind bars.  What do you do with a man who has broken the law but who, at heart, is not really a criminal?  Can a crime be forgiven just because the man who committed it is really, really likable?

Mister 880 is a sweet-natured comedy, one that doesn’t necessarily argue that Skipper’s crime should have been forgiven but which, at the same time, does make the case that not all law-breakers are created equal.  Gwenn, who is best-known for playing Santa Claus in the original Miracle on 34th Street, gives a wonderful performance as Skipper.  It’s hard not to love Skipper.  It’s not just that Skipper doesn’t make any excuses for being a counterfeiter.  And it’s not just that Skipper is an eccentric who loves his dog and has his own unique way of looking at the world.  It’s that Skipper is just a genuinely kind man.  He’s someone who would rather go to prison than be too much of a burden to the people who he cares about.  He’s the sweetest criminal you could ever hope to meet.

Gwenn was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for his work in this film.  Not nominated but equally strong were Burt Lancaster and Dorothy McGuire.  Even though they don’t get any big, show-stopping moments like Gwenn does, both Lancaster and McGuire bring their characters to wonderful life and both do a great job of capturing their own mixed feelings about what should be done about Skipper.  Lancaster, in particular, is convincing as the by-the-book agent who is torn between his professional obligations and his feelings for both Ann and Skipper.

Mister 880 is one of my favorite movies, a wonderfully and unexpectedly good-hearted film about a real-life criminal who wasn’t the bad of a guy.  Emerich Juenetter, the real-life counterfeiter who served as the model for Skipper, reportedly made more money from the release of this film than he ever did over the course of his counterfeiting career.  After watching Mister 880, it’s hard not to feel that he earned every cent of it.

Film Review: Coma (dir by Michael Crichton)


Michael Crichton’s 1978 film, Coma, tells the story of strange things happening at a Boston hospital.

Seemingly healthy patients are having complications during routine surgery, complications that leave them brain dead.  Dr. Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold) thinks that there’s something bigger going on than just routine medical complications.  First, her best friend (Lois Chiles) falls into a coma while undergoing an abortion.  Then, Tom Selleck falls into a coma while having knee surgery.  Dr. Wheeler investigates and discovers that all of the patients were operated on in the same operating room and that all of them were shipped to a mysterious facility after their surgery.

Yep, it sounds like a conspiracy.  However, no one is willing to listen to Dr. Wheeler.  Not her boyfriend (Michael Douglas).  Not Dr. George (Rip Torn), the chief anetheisologist.  Not Dr. George Harris (Richard Widmark), the chief of surgery.  Dr. Wheeler thinks that it’s all a conspiracy!

And, of course, it is.  As the old saying goes, the only thing that a conspiracy needs to succeed is for people to be remarkably stupid and almost everyone in Coma is remarkably stupid.  Admittedly, some of them are in on the conspiracy but it’s still rather odd how many people apparently don’t see anything strange about healthy people going into a comas and then being shipped to a mystery facility.

Coma is probably best known for the scene where Susan manages to sneak into the mystery facility and she finds herself in a room full of suspended bodies.  Visually, it’s an impressive scene.  It’s truly creepy and it also captures the detached sterility that most people hate about medical facilities.  At the same time, it’s also the only visually striking moment in the entire film.  Every other scene in Coma feels flat.  Whenever I’ve watched this film, I’m always a little bit shocked whenever anyone curses because Coma looks more like an old made-for-TV film than anything you would ever expect to see in a theater.

My point is that Coma is a remarkably boring film.  It has a potentially interesting story but my God, is this movie ever a slog.  It’s pretty easy to guess what’s going on at the institute so there’s not a whole lot of suspense to watching Susan try to figure it all out.  When the truth is revealed, it’s not exactly a shocking moment.  For that matter, you’ll also be able to guess which doctor is actually going to turn out to be the villain.  There’s really no surprises to be found.

Coma was the second feature film to be directed by Michael Crichton.  With the exception of the scenes in the institute, the visual flair that Crichton showed in Westworld is nowhere to be found in Coma.  The film moves at a tortuously slow place.  A part of me suspects that, as a doctor, Crichton related so much to the film’s characters that he didn’t realize how dull they would be for those us who don’t look at a character like Rip Torn’s Dr. George and automatically think, “He’s just like that arrogant bastard I worked under during my residency!”  Call it the Scrubs syndrome.

For some reason, Coma is a film that people often recommend to me.  I don’t know why.  Trying to sit through it nearly put me in a coma.

Film Review: Go For It! (dir by Carmen Marron)


Released in 2011, Go For It! is one of those films that can be summed up by its title.

“Go for it!”  That’s what the world is saying to Carmen Salgado (Aimee Garcia).  “Go for it!”  Stop accepting that you’re never going to get anywhere in life.  Don’t just settle for working in a grocery store with your best friend, Gina (Gina Rodriguez).  Don’t just live at home with your bickering family.  Don’t just dance in underground clubs.  Go for it!  Get a new job.  Move in with Jared (Derrick Denicola).  Drop out of community college.  AUDITION FOR DANCE SCHOOL!  Go for it!

I’m not going to talk too much about the plot of this film because it’s not necessary.  You already know everything that’s going to happen in Go For It!  If you’ve ever seen any film about a young dancer pursuing her dreams and trying to find the courage to audition for dance school, you know exactly what’s going to happen in Go For It!  The plot is just as generic as the name.

Myself, I always wonder if anyone has ever made a movie called Give Up!  You want a better job?  Give up!  You want a rich boyfriend?  Give up!  You want to go to dance school?  Give up!  You want to grab your dreams?  GIVE UP!  I don’t think it’s ever been done but, to be honest, would anyone want to see a movie called Give Up!?  I mean, seriously — it might sound like a funny or subversive idea but I think the joke would get old after the first 20 minutes or so.  Watching people give up is not fun and that’s the appeal of a movie like Go For It!  There’s no cynicism to be found in Go For It!  

Actually, to be honest, the film could have used a little cynicism.  As it is, it’s so predictable that it’s kind difficult to get involved in the story.  Aimee Garcia gives a likable performance as Carmen and some of the dance scenes are fun to watch but the lack of surprises makes it hard to really get invested in her story.  It’s like if I tell you that I was trying to drive to your house but I had to stop at a red light.  I mean, yes, for that moment, I was no longer heading towards your house.  My journey to my destination hit a snag.  But you know that the light eventually turned green so it’s not like there’s a whole lot of surprises or drama in that story.

Gina Rodriguez only has a supporting role in this film but she does most of the dramatic heavy-lifting.  She has an abusive boyfriend and Rodriguez does a good job with the role.  Her character’s story could have made for a compelling film but, unfortunately, the film’s only interested in using her as a motivation for Carmen to try to do something with her life.  In the end, it feels an interesting character and plot was wasted.

When Go For It! was first released, some posters encouraged viewers to “Follow your own beat,” which is a good message even if it’s also the message of almost every film made nowadays.  Another poster said — and I kid you not — “You don’t have to be the best.”  To me, that’s a terrible message.  You don’t have to be the best?  Then why even try?  You might as well just tell people to give up.

Valdez is Coming (1971, directed by Edwin Sherin)


Based on a western short story from the great Elmore Leonard, Valdez is Coming takes place in a small town on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.  Wealthy Frank Tanner (Jon Cypher, who later played Chief Fletcher Daniels on Hill Street Blues) claims that he’s spotted the man who murdered a friend of his.  Tanner and his gunmen have the man and his wife pinned down in a cabin.  The man is African-American while his wife is Native American and Tanner’s use of racial slurs quickly confirms that there’s more to his animosity towards the couple than just a desire to see justice done for his dead friend.

Because the sheriff is out of town, Mexican constable Bob Valdez (Burt Lancaster) is summoned to the scene of the stand-off.  Saying that he needs to see proof that the man is who Tanner claims he is, Valdez goes down to the cabin and manages to calm the man and his wife down.  However, one of Tanner’s gunmen, R.L. Davis (Richard Jordan), opens fire on the cabin while Valdez is talking.  Thinking that he’s been betrayed, the man opens fire on Valdez and Valdez is forced to kill the man in self-defense.

Feeling guilty about the man’s death (and also suspecting that the man was innocent of the crimes for which Tanner accused him), Valdez starts a collection for the dead man’s widow.  When he asks Tanner to donate $100, Tanner responds by having Valdez tied to a wooden cross (symbolism alert!) and sent into the desert.  Valdez nearly dies before he’s set free by a conscience-stricken Davis.

Still determined to get justice for the man that he killed, Valdez sets out after Tanner and his men.  Valdez kidnaps Tanner’s young bride, Gay Erin (Susan Clark), and lets Tanner know that he can either pay the $100 or he can die like a coward.

An American attempt to capture the feel of a Spaghetti western, Valdez is Coming has an interesting plot.  I liked the fact that, even after nearly being crucified, Valdez was still more concerned with making Tanner pay his fair share and getting justice for the people Tanner had hurt than with getting any sort of personal revenge.  The supporting characters also have more depth than is typical for a film like this.  Gay Erin is not as innocent as she first appears to be and R.L. Davis may work for Tanner but he’s still has enough personal integrity not to leave Valdez to die in the desert.

Unfortunately, the movie itself is slow and ponderous.  A big problem is that Burt Lancaster is miscast as Bob Valdez.  Valdez is a Mexican constable who has served in the U.S. Calvary.  Because he’s Mexican, the man in the shed is willing to briefly trust him.  Tanner continually underestimates and refuses to negotiate with Valdez because Valdez is a quiet and reserved Mexican.  Almost everything that happens in the film is in some way connected to Tanner’s refusal to negotiate with Valdez because Vadez is a Mexican.  Burt Lancaster is in absolutely no way Mexican and the unfortunate decision to have him wear brownface makeup only serves as a reminder of how miscast he is in the lead role.  The movie also concludes with the type of ambiguous ending that was very popular in the 70s but which is frustrating to watch today.  After 90 minutes of Valdez demanding that Tanner either die like a coward or pay $100, it’s frustrating that the film leaves it as an open question as to what eventually happened.

Valdez is Coming had the potential to be a western classic but it was done in by miscasting and questionable directing.  It’ll best be appreciated by western completists.

Film Review: Are These Our Children? (dir by Wesley Ruggles)


This 1931 film, Are These Our Children?, tells the story of Eddie Brand (played by Eric Linden).

Eddie was a good kid, a teenager who never had any trouble with the law and who, at one time, seemed to have a bright future ahead of him.  He came from a fine family.  They may not have been rich but they were respected around the neighborhood in New York where they lived.  It even looked like Eddie could have gone to city college and gotten a job with the parks department or something else like that.  A good job, with a pension!  Instead, Eddie Brand ended up on death row.  How did it happen?

Well, according to this film, it all begins with a high school speech contest.  All Eddie has to do is recite the Constitution from memory and …. well, I’m not really sure what Eddie is going to get out of it, beyond being known as the kid in the neighborhood who has memorized the entire Constitution.  Unfortunately, the speech contest doesn’t go as Eddie was hoping.  He forgets a few amendments and he loses his chance to be a high school big shot.  Having experienced the taste of failure for the first time in his life, Eddie decides to become a drunk.

No, seriously, that’s what happens.  Eddie starts out as a fine and upstanding citizen and then, one failed recitation later, he’s a loud-mouthed drunk who spends all of his time listening to jazz and hanging out with a bunch of other juvenile delinquents.  Of course, since this film is from the early 1930s, these are the best-dressed juvenile delinquents around.  Everyone wears a suit and a hat.  In fact, they seem to be trying to imitate the gangsters that they’ve seen in the movies.  Eddie, in particular, seems to think that he’s James Cagney.  ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN!?

One night, Eddie and the gang drop by a local store.  Though the owner may be a friend of Eddie’s family, that still doesn’t stop the drunk Eddie from impulsively shooting him.  When it appears that Eddie might get away with the murder, he and his friends start to get careless.  Eddie talks too much.  Eventually, they’re all arrested and put on trial.

Being put on trial for murder does nothing to straighten Eddie out.  He’s just as cocky as ever.  He even acts as his own counsel.  Interestingly enough, Eddie becomes a bit of celebrity.  The reporters love talking to him and the courtroom is full of Eddie Brand groupies.  And yet, everyone knows that Eddie is going to screw up eventually…..

Made during the pre-code era, Are These Our Children? is a social problem film that was supposed to leave audiences wondering what was wrong with those young kids, with their suits and their rat-a-tat dialogue.  Seen today, it’s an undeniably creaky and rather slow-moving affair.  Rather than being a victim of booze and bad friends, Eddie just comes across as being an idiot.  Director Wesley Ruggles uses a weird spiral effect to signify the passage of time and we also get one of those classic newspaper headline montages.  (“MURDER STILL UNSOLVED!” one reads.)  That said, the film does get a bit more interesting once Eddie is put on trial and he becomes a bit of a tabloid celebrity.  The film’s theme about how the media exploits crime and misery is just as relevant today as it was in 1931 and the scene in which the reporters instruct Eddie’s girlfriends on how to pose for their cameras is enjoyably cynical.

In the end, things don’t go well for Eddie.  The lesson here?  Don’t allow your children to join the Speech and Debate Club.  Only misery will follow!

Seriously …. ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN!?

Lifetime Film Review: Kidnapped By A Classmate (dir by Ben Meyerson)


One thing that you can be sure about when you watch a Lifetime film is that even the poorest people in the film will still live in a huge house with a big front yard.

For instance, in Kidnapped By A Classmate, Hunter (Lucas Adams) is so desperate for money that he’s forced into a life of petty crime, mugging delivery men and murdering drug dealers.  And yet, he lives in a really big and really nice house.  I’m pretty sure I counted at least three stories and both the back and the front yards are absolutely huge.  I mean, I’ve been told that my house is pretty nice but it’s nothing compared to where Hunter lives.

Still, Hunter needs money and he comes up with the bright idea of burglarizing a smaller house during the middle of the day.  Unfortunately, Brooke (Paige Searcy) happens to be home when Hunter breaks in and, as a result, she ends up getting kidnapped and held for ransom.  Making things even more awkward is the fact that Brooke goes to the same high school as Hunter’s younger brother, Corey (Pedro Correa).  Corey was hoping to go on a date with Brooke but now she’s bound and gagged in his living room so this relationship is definitely not getting off to a good start.  Also providing involuntary help with the kidnapping is Corey’s best friend, Eric (Rahul Aburri).  Eric just wanted a ride home but now he’s kind of trapped in the middle of a felony.

Corey assures Eric that everything will be okay and that Brooke will be freed once Hunter gets his money.  “Like the Lindbergh baby!” Corey says before Eric calls him out for not paying attention in history class.  Eric has a point, of course.  Obviously, everyone wants to help out their siblings but it’s smart to draw the line somewhere.

Paige’s mother, Shannon (Andrea Bogert), arrives home too late to save her daughter from being kidnapped.  When Hunter subsequently demands that Shannon and her new husband pay a ransom, Shannon decides to save Brooke on her own.  Helping Shannon out is Jade (Chloe Ray Warmoth), a streetkid who knows all about “tattoo gangs.”

Anyway, there’s a lot of drama in Kidnapped By My Classmate.  A lot of that is due to Hunter being not only crazy but kind of stupid as well.  Not only is he in debt but he can’t even pull off a proper kidnapping.  Unfortunately, since Hunter’s a bit crazy, chances are that he’ll kill Brooke once it becomes obvious that he’s not going to get what he wants.  It’s an interesting idea, to be honest.  Hunter isn’t dangerous because he’s a master criminal.  He’s dangerous because he’s so incompetent.  (In fact, you could probably say the same thing about Bruno Hauptmann, the Lindbergh baby kidnapper….)

Kidnapped By A Classmate was, in many ways, a standard Lifetime kidnapping film.  Daughters are always getting kidnapped on Lifetime and it usually falls on mom to save them.  Kidnapped By A Classmate is a bit different because Brooke isn’t kidnapped because she refused to listen to her mom’s advice.  Instead, Brooke just happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.  In this film, the problem child is Jade, who has a terrible attitude but gets to redeem herself by helping Shannon look for her daughter.  Andrea Bogert and Paige Searcy are believable as mother and daughter and Chloe Ray Warmoth does a good job with his frequently sarcastic dialogue.  The film really is stolen by Rahul Aburri, who plays one of the most unluckiest people you’ll ever seen in a film like this.  One minute, you need a ride home.  The next minute, you’re taking part in a felony.  It’s a mad world.

 

Lifetime Film Review: Psycho Sister-In-Law (dir by Jake Helgren)


When one of your in-laws is a psycho, it’s going to lead to some tense family gatherings.  There’s just no way to get around it.  Have you seen those Vrylar commercials where people are screaming at random strangers or the mother is locked away in the kitchen and sobbing all the way through her daughter’s birthday party?  Well, that’s nothing compared to what it’s like to have a murderer drop by a wedding, a reunion, or even a funeral.

From the start of Psycho Sister-in-Law, we know that Zara Downes (Lydia Hearst) is not the ideal in-law.  This is largely due to the seeing Zara murder a woman in Las Vegas.  Now, admittedly, the woman that Zara murdered was kind of mean and she was keeping Zara from finding success as an actress but it’s 2020 and there are other ways to deal with an annoying co-worker.  Murder is never the answer!

Zara, of course, claims that she has had a difficult life.  Her father was very rich man but Zara grew up without him.  Instead, he gave most of his attention and affection to his son, Nick (Brando Eaton) and his fiancée, Callie (Diora Baird).  That’s largely due to the fact that Zara was the result of an affair that he had while married to Nick’s mother.  Still, when Mr. Downes dies, Zara is invited to the reading of the will.

When the will is read, Zara is annoyed to discover that she’s inherited less than both Callie and Nick.  So, Zara sets out to ingratiate herself with Nick and his pregnant wife, Haley (Andrea Bowen).  Zara also goes out of her way to try to upset Callie. When Nick says that he’s considering giving their father’s mansion to Callie, Zara puts her evil plans into overdrive.

And really, who can blame her?  It’s a really nice house!  I mean, I know I say that about almost every Lifetime film but Psycho Sister-In-Law really does feature one of the nicest mansions that I’ve ever seen.  Obviously, I don’t want to compare myself to Zara because she does kill a few people over the course of the movie but still, I’m not totally sure that I wouldn’t go a little bit crazy over that house myself.

Most Lifetime films do require a certain suspension of disbelief.  That’s something that we’ve all come to accept about the Lifetime genre and I’m certainly not going to complain about it.  The fact that people in these movies often make stupid mistakes is one of the things that make them so entertaining.  (And before we get too judgmental regarding fictional characters, who among us hasn’t made a stupid mistake or two?)  That said, Psycho Sister-In-Law really stretches that suspension of disbelief to its breaking point.  I mean, it’s nice that Haley wants everyone to get along but, at some point, you really do have to be willing to put your foot down and say, “Hey, if you’re obviously plotting on killing everyone in the house, you’re going to have to leave.”  Zara’s villainy was so obvious that you really did have to wonder if Haley and Nick were just being intentionally blind to it.

That said, the melodrama is certainly embraced and the house is really nice.  There’s a neat and unexpected twist towards the end of the movie and Lydia Hearst appears to be having a blast playing her murderous role.  It’s a fun movie, even if Nick and Haley’s naiveté will have you rolling your eyes until you’re dizzy.

Lifetime Film Review: The Killer In the Guest House (dir by Tony Dean Smith)


There’s an old saying.  If it seems too good to be true, it’ll probably end up trying to murder you.  I think that’s how it goes.

For instance, it may seem like a good idea to make some extra money by renting out your guest house.  And sure, it might seem like a good idea to pick the first handsome pilot who steps through the front door.  And it might seem like it’s a good thing that he’s tall and sexy and in shape and that he likes to take his shirt off whenever he’s doing the gardening.  And that first time that he defends your honor against your sleazy ex, you may be thinking to yourself, “This guy is perfect!”

Actually, Mark James (Marcus Rosner) would be perfect if not for the fact that, along with being charming and handsome, he’s also a total sociopath who has control issues and a habit of installing hidden cameras all over the place.  When Gina (Chelsea Hobbs) lets Mark move in, it seems like a perfect idea but soon, people are disappearing and Mark is failing to respect her personal space.  Gina is a struggling photographer who is still looking for her first big break and Mark has the looks of a model but is having a model paying you rent really worth having a dead body buried in your garden?  That’s a question that everyone must answer for themselves.

I’ve seen a lot of killer houseguest films on Lifetime.  Actually, even though Lifetime is known for being the “killer husband” network, you’re actually more likely to get murdered by a houseguest than by your husband.  Or, at least, that appears to be the case in the world of Lifetime cinema.  The best Lifetime films are the ones that connect with a real-life fear, like your mother marrying a con artist or your daughter refusing to listen to you when you tell her that the boy across the street with the shady past is up to no good.  The Killer In The Guest House gets at one of my main fears, which is that you’ll invite someone into your house and then they’ll just start hanging around.  Unfortunately, most unwanted houseguests don’t look as good as Marcus Rosner.

Anyway, you can probably guess what happens once Mark moves in with Gina.  It’s all obsession, lies, and murder.  As I’ve said countless times on this very site, we love Lifetime movies because they’re predictable.  They’re like trashy paperbacks that you read whenever you’ve got some time to kill.  The fun is being able to say, “I knew that was going to happen!”  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any surprises to be found in The Killer In The Guest House, of course.  Mark has a lot of difficulty killing one of his victims and the film does a good job of playing up Mark’s exasperation as the victim just keeps coming back to life.  It shouldn’t be funny but it kind of is and I think it’s meant to be.  It’s not easy being a charming sociopath.

Marcus Rosner and Chelsea Hobbs both do a good job in the lead roles.  My favorite performance came from Matthew Kevin Anderson, as the hilariously sleazy Levon.  Whoever put together Levon’s wardrobe deserves an Emmy.

I guess the main lesson to be learned from Killer in the Guest House is that we should be careful we let move in to our home.  But seriously, when a guy says that he loves to garden and that he flies a plane for a living …. I mean, who can resist?

Lifetime Film Review: Twisted Twin (dir by Jeff Hare)


I always love a good killer twin movie and Twisted Twin is one of the best that I’ve ever seen.

The twins in question are Tess Houston and Sammy Crain, both played by Lauren Swickard (or Lorynn York as she was credited at the time this film was produced).  They were separated at birth and, until recently, neither knew about the other.  Tess grew up in a nice, middle-class household and became responsible and trustworthy.  Sammy grew up in a wealthy household and …. well, she’s totally evil and insane.  I guess you can’t have a good twin without a bad counterpart.

(For the record, I’ve known a few twins and most of them were absolutely charming ….. except for the Ashvins, who we won’t talk about.)

When Tess leaves for her college orientation weekend, she’s shocked to meet Sammy.  Sammy says that it’s just a coincidence that they both ended up on campus at the same time but we know that Sammy has actually been stalking Tess for a while.  Sammy and Tess quickly bond.  Soon, Tess is sleeping over at Sammy’s mansion and Sammy is taking Tess’s Spanish exam for her.  Sound great, right?

Except….

Well, it turns out that there are two dead bodies in Sammy’s house.  Someone murdered Sammy’s adoptive parents and, when the police arrive, Tess is there and the cleaning crew swears that Tess is actually Sammy.  Because Tess actually has been pretending to be Sammy, the police are skeptical when Tess explains that she’s actually Tess.  Meanwhile, Sammy has gone off with Tess’s adoptive mother, Patricia (Jennifer Taylor), and is now having to pretend to be Tess.

So, I absolutely loved this film, largely because it just totally went for it.  There was no worrying about being subtle.  There was no concern about trying to make us believe that the film was meant to be a serious examination of what it’s like to be either a twin or adopted.  Instead, Twisted Twin fully embraced the melodrama and just went totally insane.  Listen, you have to love a film like that.

But, I know what you’re saying.  “Lisa, Lifetime has aired a lot of films about killer twins.  What sets this one apart?”

Well, first off, you’ve got some nerve questioning my opinion.  That said, the thing makes Twisted Twin one of the best killer twin movies ever made is Lauren Swickard’s wonderfully demented performance as Sammy and Tess.  Swickard does a remarkably good job of playing both these roles and it’s a lot of fun watching both Sammy and Tess struggling, at various times, to play each other.  I especially liked it when Sammy suddenly found herself having to make coffee for her mom, despite not knowing where anything was in the kitchen or how Patricia even takes her coffee.  It’s a fun little comedic moment.

It’s an enjoyable Lifetime movie.  It made me wonder what I would do if I ever discovered I had a twin.  I’d probably ask her to live far away from me, to be honest.  I’m not that good at sharing.  Plus, I’ve seen enough Lifetime movies to know that suddenly discovered twins are always bad news.

Lifetime Film Review: Sleeping With Danger (dir by David Weaver)


I have to admit that when I first saw that Lifetime was going to be airing a film called Sleeping With Danger, a lot of really stupid jokes came to mind.

I mean, it’s true that the title was also the title of the Ann Rule story that served as the basis of the film’s plot but still, Sleeping With Danger just has such a Lifetime-y ring to it.  If you were making up a fake Lifetime movie, you’d probably give it a title like Sleeping With Danger.  And then you’d spend a while coming up with silly tag lines.

Sleeping with Danger means a morning of regret!”

“Mother, may I sleep with danger?”  (Wait, a minute, that one’s for real….)

I also found myself imagining the MyPillow guy shooting a commercial specifically for the movie.  “If you’re sleeping with danger, you’ve got to have support for your neck and back.  MyPillow is made right here in my home state of Minnesota, where we sleep with danger every winter….”

Then I watched the movie and, to be honest, I ended up feeling a little bit guilty.  Yes, the title might sound a bit campy but the film itself is actually very serious.  It’s probably one of the most serious films that I’ve ever seen on Lifetime.  Of course, it probably helps that it’s based on a true story and not a particularly happy one at that.

Elisabeth Rohm plays Grace Tanner, a directionless, 38 year-old flight attendant who thinks that she’s found love when she meets Dr. Paul Carter (Antonio Cupo), a charming and handsome nutritionist.  Grace and Paul have a whirlwind courtship, which soon leads to them living in a cabin out in the wilderness.  Needless to say, it is never a good thing, in a Lifetime movie (or in real life), when you end up isolated in a wilderness cabin.

Paul, it turns out, has a possessive streak and a rather shady history.  (One should note that this story takes place in the 90s, a.k.a. the time before Google.)  Grace comes across a restraining order.  She comes across evidence that Paul has been in trouble with the police before.  When she tries to question Paul about it, he hits her.  Even after Grace leaves him and goes to a shelter, she continues to deny that she’s in an abusive relationship.  No, she says, she and Paul are just having troubles.

Inevitably, Grace goes back to Paul.  Paul, for his part, always has an excuse to explain away his abusive behavior.  They settle into cycle, one that finds Grace a virtual prisoner.  Eventually, it all leads to murder….

It’s a pretty grim movie but it’s well-made and, even more importantly, it’s a realistic portrait of an abusive relationship.  Like so many victims, Grace is fooled into thinking that Paul is going to change or that it’s even her fault.  Sleeping With Danger shows all of the ways that someone like Paul will manipulate and hurt those around him.  Antonio Cupo and Elisabeth Rohm both give believable performances in the lead roles.  The film may be grim and a bit of a downer but it’s message makes it worth seeing.