Saturday 31 July 2021

Wives and killers… The Comeback (1978)


For wives should always be lovers too 

Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you

I'm warning you…

Jack Jones eternally sexist hit Wives and Lovers – delicious tune from Burt Bacharach, dodgy words from Hal David – takes on a whole new level of meaning in this atmospheric thriller. Jones, though famously one of Frank Sinatra’s favourite singers – my Mother’s too – can act almost as well as he can sing as you’d expect from the son of Allan Jones and Irene Hervey. Neither of his folks ever faced a Peter Walker film though and there’s a certain fish out of water feel to one of the director’s most mainstream efforts.

The Comeback still has Walker’s trademark unease to which Jones’ confident presence adds a lot, his laid-back charm counter pointing the bloody killings in his smart ultra-modern dockside warehouse flat along with a contrapuntal love story featuring the excellent Pamela Stephenson – maybe this was one of the experiences that put her in mind of an eventual second career as a psychologist? As with so much of Walker’s work, there’s a subtext in the film which is perhaps a meditation on the nature of fame and obsession, two things that are inextricably linked and yet which affect the subject and their devotees in different ways.

Jack Jones back to the day job

Jones plays Nick Cooper a formerly successful singer songwriter who retired from the industry after marrying Gail (Holly Palance – daughter of Jack), a wife who perhaps took the advice of Hal David’s above lyrics too seriously by insisting her give it all up for her. Six years later they’re going their separate ways and as Nick gathers himself to return to the studio, Gail is popping back to their flat to collect a few of her favourite things. Gail’s passage to the flat is through dingy disused warehouses and shady spaces, that are in stark contrast to the polished modernism of the apartment and it’s a journey a number of characters make throughout the course of the film, almost like the darkest of choruses…

Having collected what she wants, we notice that someone is watching Gail and, as she descends the stairs she is hacked to death by a masked assailant with a scythe… a shocking act made all the more brutal, as blood splashes on the polished surfaces of the seemingly safe controlled living space. It’s unreal… and Walker works to make us doubt it even happened as the rest of the story begins.

Holly Palance goes back to the old house

We find Nick meeting with his manager, Webster Jones (David Doyle of Bosley fame) who is every inch the cynical impresario, pushing for product and yet who’s feelings for his client may run deeper than just his bankability. His assistant Linda Everett (Stephenson) has an altogether more considered approach and she soon takes a more affectionate view of the singer as he makes his tentative steps back to making music.

Webster has rented a big country house to help Nick focus on his return, the owners are out of the country but their retainers remain to look after him, Mr and Mrs B played by Bill Owen, a world away from Compo, and Walker ’ regular, the marvellous Sheila Keith. The Two Bs are very particular people and very peculiar too but that’s the British serving classes for you.

So, the scene is set and, strange dreams start to visit Nick and even as he wakes he finds it hard to shift the disturbance, especially when he sees horrific visions of Gail… is this a reflection of his internal conflict over composing again or is there some deeper connection at work?

Practically perfect Pamela

Things revert to normal during the days and yet the unease continues… Nick’s old fixer Harry Cunningham (Peter Turner) turns up offering to help clear his flat and ends up taking Gail along, the journey to the flat is repeated through the dock rooms, and a different kind of tension is added as Harry makes inappropriate and creepy comments to Gail. Walker  is laying a trail of suspects as well as disturbing viewer ease.

Even Gail is tainted by the revelation that she’d had a brief fling with Webster… is she just playing Nick to get him in the right state of mind to record. Meanwhile, Webster has his own secret life that might link him to darker deeds… and Nick’s dreams get more and more intense; no one has found Gail’s body and yet he sees it real enough in the manor house in a waking nightmare.

Total class from Sheila Keith and Bill Owen

Dusty Verdict: The Comeback is a fun watch and it’s always interesting seeing Walker play with atmosphere and expectation. You may not jump out of your seat but you will edge towards it at certain points and it’s not a comfortable film.

The performances are all good especially Jones and the old pros Owen and Keith deliver! There’s also a cameo from Penny Irving (who was well featured in Walker’s altogether darker House of Whipcord) as a wannabe pop singer and Jack drives a Lotus Elan so there's two of my favourite things from the Seventies! "Diddy" David Hamilton also makes an appearance on the wireless... there's no shortage of "period" in this film.

The Comeback is available on Blu-ray in The Pete Walker Collection which come with Whipcord, Die Screaming Marianne and Schizo, all required viewing from this skilful and still under-rated film maker.



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