It's not enough I guess, that George Bloomfield
is responsible for directing episodes of television's 2 most important
shows; SCTV and FRAGGLE ROCK? The poor guy never gets any Interweb
play. After I spotted a somewhat less than positive review of
his flawed but fine character study TO KILL A CLOWN in Shock Cinema,
I had to seek it out. As I finished reading the review, I hit
Ebay and there was a good old Media release (don't you wish you
have their whole damned catalog), starting bid, 98 cents, I swiftly
plopped down $1.25 and 5 days later it was all mine. Money well
spent, I might add, even if I never watched the thing, the box
was beautiful. There's loveable smart-ass Alan Alda, bedecked
in an all khaki work uniform, he's resting somewhat rigidly with
2 canes supporting him, along with his 2 oversized Dobermans,
while a few feet in front of him lies the beautiful Lily Frischer,
better known to you as Gwyneth Paltrow's mom, Blythe Danner. The
box has an ominous, cold and eerie effect on me as does its contents.
A tale of a loose nut Vietnam vet and a hippie couple who end
up on the losing end of some deadly brain games with him and his
To flesh out TO KILL A CLOWN begins a little something like this
and Lily Frischer have hit a bumpy patch in their romantic lives.
In order to rekindle some of that romance that has seeped from
their 4 year marriage and to try a simpler way of living, Timothy
has rented a beautiful seaside house. The house is isolated except
for the residence right next to it, that is occupied by the landlord,
Army veteran Major Evelyn Ritchie. Major Ritchie is crippled from
a war injury and wears those old school heavy knee braces attached
to his boots. He gets along well with a pair of canes. Did I mention
his name is Evelyn?
There is quite a bit of internal turmoil amongst the Frischers,
Tim, a cherubic faced, artist-type, he's seen painting and smoking
dope before Lily arrives at the house. His personality is also
that of the juvenile class clown, he greets Lily with a goofy
hat and dumb accent and for some reason he pitches her luggage
in the nearby sea. Lily needs a grown-up is the message this film
begins with, a stable, more linear mate. Timothy on the other
hand needs for Lily to loosen up. Lily is a compact; raspy voiced
little number who just needs to go with flow, baby. The couple
play some scary role-playing game where Tim is the traveling French
stranger and Lily is the teenage girl of the house who offers
him water, the traveler wants a little more and when the two finally
are overcome in their little passion play, Lily rebuffs, not wanting
to "do that." Timothy, of course, is pissed.
When Major Ritchie arrives the couple ask him tons of questions
about the garbage, the boat dock, etc. Major Ritchie appears slightly
annoyed by their repetitive "anything to please" chattering."
But he seems like a nice enough chap. Albeit from Lily's eyes,
a sad, lonesome, man who could have better, if it wasn't for his
affliction. Of course, this means, that Timothy wants to spend
some time with Lily, this poor bastard is trying desperately to
see her tans lines and, of course, she's doing the civil thing,
inviting him over for small talk, wine and city food.
You can see Major Ritchie's infatuation with every hoarse throated
syllable that leaves Lily's lips, the three talk about their lives,
interests etc. initially, somewhat uncomfortably. But it's no
long before the Major is all grins and giggles, inviting himself
over and the Frischers to his pad, as well. The Major's dogs are
very, very smart, they guard the area and the Major explains,
"There are some dogs with a vocabulary of 100 to 200 words.
For some reason Rice and Charlie, the dogs, don't understand the
phrase "like the chubby faced hippie," it isn't in their
vocabulary and every time Tim wanders off alone it seems he has
a dog's nose up his ass. When the Major wanders up to an open
window during one of Timothy's weird performance pieces, Lily
fawns all over him, pissing Tim off, he storms out for a drive,
only to find Rice and Charlie ready to munch on some hippie h'ors
One evening the 3 of them are getting tanked and there seems
to be a verbal sparring match going on between the Conservative
Major Ritchie and the dope-smoking artist Timothy. Lily, goes
on and on about what a great mime Timothy used to be. He's a very
accomplished clown who did a rather ironic ape gimmick that just
wowed groups of other stoned hippies world-wide. She begins to
coax Timothy into performing for the Major; Timothy is almost
passed out on his feet but agrees, slipping off into another room
to prepare. Timothy bounds back in with his pie-face covered in
shaving cream and begins to do his mime gimmick, which goes nowhere,
everyone grimaces. Lily didn't mean THAT gimmick she meant the
other one, blah, blah and the conversation switches to the talk
of discipline and prison and the military. Major Ritchie believes
that Tim couldn't make it in prison; he doesn't have any discipline,
discipline that the military could give him. Tim thinks he could
do what ever it took to survive. The Major issues an early morning
challenge to Tim, he's to meet the Major at dawn to begin giving
Tim some discipline.
Come dawn, Major Ritchie and the dogs are ready to roll, but
Timothy is still in bed with a swollen head. The Major rousts
him out of bed and down to the beach where their day of "training"
will begin. "Let's move it Frischer!" the Major bellows.
Timothy has to fight the giggles, but Major Ritchie is not fucking
around. He orders Tim to clean up the garbage around the house.
Well, not really garbage but a pile of rocks. And Tim is on to
the Sisyphean chore of moving a pile of rocks over to form a new
pile of rocks. The Major goes into the house and begins to take
every single item in the house that he can possibility use to
discipline or torture; belts, knives, spatulas, all part of the
prison camp game, Major Ritchie explains to Lily. She follows
him around the house saying things like "this is so funny,"
and "you think Timothy is having fun?"
The mind games, continue, the Major has the Frischer's car towed,
he has Rice and Charlie guarding the house so they can't go outside
and he has Timothy still pulling his useless duties. Lily reduces
herself to seducing the Major in the nude begging him to let them
go. This just pisses him off more and leads him into a diatribe
all up on Timothy, the likes I've never heard. The theme: Buttoning
every single button on Timothy's shirt, every single button. It
seems that before buttons there were wild savage beasts roaming
this country. For thousands of years, they did, until buttons
finally saved this fucking Country; the United States was founded
on buttons. And in Major Ritchie's eyes, Timothy doesn't deserve
buttons, he doesn't deserve to live. Fucking buttons.
The Major has finally come completely off of his spool and the
rest of the film becomes an escalated game of cat and mouse as
the Frischers want to leave, and the Major wants them
I'm not really sure what he wants. The Frischer's get tough, but
the Major is tough and Rice and Charlie do his bidding for him.
The ending is a rather downbeat unnecessary surprise, which makes
this film that much more mandatory.
TO KILL A CLOWN's clown, Heath Lambert, who has made a rather
sparse career out of acting since his role, handles Timothy ably.
His Timothy captures the bright eyed exuberance of the time period,
he doesn't take life too seriously, he has a gorgeous wife in
Lily; he's a free spirit a very typical young man for the year
1972. The polar opposite of Alan Alda's Major Ritchie, a bitter
Vietnam vet, wise beyond his years who is saddled with some father
issues. Alda, of course will always be Hawkeye Pierce from television's
M*A*S*H, but before gaining notoriety on television, he had roles
in some rather dark outré cinema like THE MEHPISTO WALTZ,
which I highly recommend, it's plot involves Satanists and soul
switching. He also was a central character in THE MOONSHINE WAR,
based the novel by Elmore Leonard. Alda became saddled post-M*A*S*H
as a sensitive male lead in quite a few horrid, light romantic
dramedy turds that really stifled his creativity as an actor,
I have to admit a fondness for SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR though.
Lily, Blythe Danner, is beautiful. It's hard to believe that
she's almost 30 here. Her character wants a little more than Timothy's
giving, she also loves the oaf and is willing, maybe a little
too willing to do what ever it takes to help the two of them get
out of their rather sticky captive situation. Danner's early career
was full of Theater successes; she received a Tony in 1970. Standout
film project include FUTUREWORLD, THE GREAT SANTINI and the PBS
ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE series. Of course, her greatest
accomplishment to most of you idiots is what sprang forth from
her loins, Gwyneth Platrow.
TO KILL A CLOWN MAKES makes use of still frames, and music highlights
effectively although now the technique seems rather dated. Academy
Award winning cinematographer Walter Lassally lensed the film.
Lassally has a resume also long as my
anyway, he also did
duty on the great A TASTE OF HONEY and the BOF mentioned RUN STRANGER
RUN. Music is handled to some extent by famous & infamous
R&B organist Georgie Fame. Georgie and his band the Flames
had a number on hit in the UK in 1964, the song Yeh, Yeh.
This film is far from perfect, you end up seeing so much potential
in Alda's character's degradation, you are almost begging for
a rape or torture or maiming or something. But his abuse is of
the cerebral kind, which is still fairly effective although again
you want more, there should have been a throwaway character that
the Major could fuck over to bring home his sick message. George
Bloomfield's direction is very taut; he has the luxury of a small
cast and a nice locale. His pacing is nice as well; his juxtaposition
of brightly lit seascapes with Major Ritchie's dark mental abuse
is quite effective. TO KILL A CLOWN may leave the gore hound begging
for more dynamic brutality but the Major's mind fuck makes for
a fun early 70s Vietnam vet gone crazy thriller. If there's one
genre worth exploring deeper is that of the sick-minded Veteran,
don't worry, we're working on it.
|"put your shirt
on and button it!
|Timothy almost begs
the viewer to belt him one.
|A bizarre, lowkey
ending makes this one a keeper.
Gestapo Black Exploitation?
From Tobacco Row It's Good!
Squad Join Today!
Meateater Do Not Touch!
Stranger Run Run Opie!
House On Hwy 5 Sheesh!
Locked Doors It's Dirty!
Massacre Some Like It.
Pussy It had to be done
Alley It is Rock.
Woman Truck. Woman.
Freak A Classic for You!
Geek Bigfoot Porn
School Ghosthustlers Wow!
Island You Must See!
Not that kinda Cock!
Alienator Feeling Alienated?
Island Vanity and the Beast
Spree Tim Ritter's $0 budget wonder
Prof. Tread still can't sleep.
Tramp She is sumpin' else.
Footmen Tire You...? Heavy religiosity!
Knievel Evel of Course!
Killing Of A Chinese Bookie! Smart Guy.
Pink Angels Gayness, and Bikes
Burning The 80's, ahhh the 80's.
- The Winged Serpant! Larry Cohen rules!
For Your Life! WARNING Racist content
Tall Buford Pusser in the Hizouse!
Camp Internet Geeks Unite!
Losers Ya Loser!
of the Mutilated Bro. George gets busy.
Me An Angel Gal Biker and more.
Grim Reaper Reap on.
One of William Girdler's triumphs.
At Dawn A Modern Classic.
Boy Carradine, Dress, Dourif!
Hollywood Rape-Slaughter Rare expose'.
Savage Weekend. Take
Dead and Buried.
A Should-be Classic.
Summer In Barefoot County. PeeUww!
Night Train To
Terror Choo Choo!
Drink Your Blood Glug, glug!
Russ Meyer and breasts!
Stop Women Honnnk HonnnnK!
Deadly Darling! Pigs!
the Germ Fighter! Clean up!
Doesn't Cathy Eat Breakfast? Why?!
County Express! Glug, Glug!
The Night God Screamed!
White Dog Racists
City Slickers get offed!
Times Five Sean MacGregor's Titantic!
at the Red Wolf Inn Burp!
Eyes See It
Greatest Sinner One of the best!
Baby! Goo Goo!
Camp Nightmare Viva the Revolution!
of the Beast Creatures Booga!
Play Dead Incest craziness!
of Death Vacation madness!
Come, Evil Go! Bye, Bye Sinners!
Strutters Get Black Sucker!
Pretty Eddie Deep South Craziness!
Golem Jewish Folklore or what?
NYC Apartment Blues
To Kill A Clown
Alan Alda Vietnam Vet!
Spook Who Sat Next To The Door Booya!
Woke Up Early The Day I Died Mr. Ed Wood.
Mutilation Man Andy Copp goes arty on us!
People Across The Lake Good TV!
Woman Hunt Load Up Gents.
Are The Damned Dammit!
Farm TV movie Classic!