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Days of De Palma (Part 6): Body Double (1984)

Wow.  Coming off the one-two punch of Blow Out (click here for my review) and Scarface (click here for my review), two Brain De Palma films that I quite enjoyed, comes 1984’s Body Double. This is a terrible movie, and by far the worst of the six De Palma films I have watched so far.

Craig Wasson plays Jake Scully, a down-on-his luck actor who just can’t seem to catch a break.  He gets fired from the movie he’s working on, then catches his girlfriend sleeping with another guy.  Things start to look up, though, when a fellow actor tells Jake that he can stay in the swank house in which he’s been house-sitting.  The house’s best feature?  The sexy housewife next-door, who likes to do an erotic dance in her lingerie, in plain view of the window, every night at the same time.  After several nights watching her, Jake becomes somewhat obsessed, eventually spending an afternoon following the woman all around the city.  His infatuation turns to frantic concern, though, when he starts to suspect that someone else has been following her, and is out to do her harm.

Body Double is basically an R-rated retelling of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. That actually sounds like it could be a decently entertaining idea, but I found Body Double to be a complete bore from start to finish.

The film’s biggest problem is that Craig Wasson is a totally uninteresting milquetoast character.  Part of that is the fault of the script, which wastes no chance to portray Jake as a total loser.  But Mr. Wasson’s performance is just terrible.  There’s a scene, early on, after he discovers his girlfriend having sex with another guy, when Jake heads to a bar to have a drink.  He starts drinking heavily and barking at the bartender.  The implication is that Jake has hit the bottle before, and I guess we’re supposed to think that this is a darker guy, with more internal demons, than we’ve heretofore suspected.  But Jake’s sudden turn into grumpy drunkenness, rather than giving extra layers to the character, just comes of as laughably ridiculous.  It’s like a kid pretending to be a tough guy.

Things don’t get better from there, and whether I was watching Jake floundering through the weirdest acting class I’ve ever seen or making puppy-dog eyes at the beautiful woman next-door, I was totally disconnected from the character.

Body Double is supposed to be an erotic thriller, but as with all of Mr. De Palma’s films I found the sex and nudity to be totally over-done to the point of silliness.  I could imagine the film containing some creepy/sexy scenes of a guy spying on a beautiful woman.  But when Jake (and we, the audience) watch the beautiful woman next-door, we aren’t given an honest moment of vulnerability.  No, instead we see the woman do this crazy, over-the-top erotic dance in which she dances and prances and rubs her hands all over her scantily-clad body, all right in front of an open window.  Later on, about halfway through the film, when Jake finally meets the woman, Gloria, the two share a brief (and totally unbelievable, but whatever) make-out session.  Here again, what could have been an honest moment (in this case, of brief, tender connection between two obviously very-broken individuals) turns into something out of soft-core porn, in which Gloria writhes erotically and exposes her chest.  Sigh.

I haven’t even gotten to any of the film’s REALLY crazy stuff, like the musical number on the set of a porn film.  (Could I make that up???)

The movie’s one saving grace is the appearance of a young Melanie Griffith, late in the story, as a porn actress who Jake befriends.  She doesn’t really have anything to do in the film (I thought the story would lead to Jake teaming up with her to investigate the murder, but that doesn’t really happen), but she brings more charisma and energy to her performance than any of the other actors.  I wish the film had focused more on her character, rather than the one-dimensional Gloria and Jake.  Oh well.  We do at least get to see Dennis Franz, back for yet another go (he seems to be more Mr. De Palma’s muse than Nancy Allen!!) as a low-life movie director.

Though Body Double is filled with sex and nudity, I kept waiting for a Brian De Palma signature breast-exposing shower scene to happen.  When the film ended, I thought to myself, “Wow!  No shower scene!”  But as the credits roll, guess what plays behind them?  That’s right, true believers — a breast-exposing shower scene!!  I am not making this up.

One could start thinking, I suppose, that Body Double is meant to be an ironic comment on Hollywood and the film industry.  One might wonder whether the film’s title is based on Mr. De Palma’s experiences using a body double for Angie Dickinson’s nude scenes in Dressed to Kill. One might even be tempted to allow the film’s Hitchcock-rooted plot to elevate the story, in one’s mind, to a level of more serious contemplation.  But don’t be fooled.  This is schlock of the highest order, the type of B-movie that Blow Out’s Jack Terry would have worked on.  Give this one a pass, my friends.

Days of De Palma: Part 1 — Carrie (1976); Part 2 — The Fury (1978); Part 3 — Dressed to Kill (1980); Part 4 — Blow Out (1981); Part 5 — Scarface (1983).

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