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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 pet Dobermans..

To flesh out TO KILL A CLOWN begins a little something like this…Timothy 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 dovures

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…well, 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.

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Stylistic early 70s credits put you in the mood To Kill A Clown

Chris Wayne
A great shot of Timothy, but this is only a credit sequence shot.

Alan Alda gets something a little special.

The lovely and pensive Blythe Danner is Lily.

This clown is Timothy, Heath Lambert.

A young and disturbed Major Evelyn Ritchie, Alan Alda.

The Frischers on holiday, who needs luggage, Timothy lofts the Samsonites into the ocean.

Timothy doing his educated ape pantomime or something. This is one scary batch of film.

A hungover Timothy peers out to what awaits.

Major Ritchie and a couple mutts ready themselves for "training" POW style.

What's up with that?

Timbo is a little upset with the Major.

Lily opts for a little bartering for freedom.

She listens intently to Ritchie's tales of woe.

She touches his face.

Then ultimately shows her ass.

And is shooed away. Major Ritchie has a war injury I bet.

Brains On Film 2003