Harlequin Review

This review is a shortened and revised version of the one I wrote in October 2008. That review was for the Synapse DVD release, which was under the US title of Dark Forces.

Nick Rast (David Hemmings) is an up-and-coming Senator being groomed for the role of deputy governor. Bit Nick and his wife Sandra (Carmen Duncan) are facing tragedy: their nine-year-old son Alex (Mark Spain) has leukaemia and doctors have given up on him. Enter the mysterious Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell), a faith healer who seems to have cured Alex. The Rasts take Wolfe into their home, but Nick soon becomes suspicious of Wolfe's hold over his wife and son...

Harlequin originated with screenwriter Everett de Roche, who had the idea of updating the Rasputin story to the present day (though religious overtones were toned down). The producer was Antony I. Ginnane, for whom director Simon Wincer had made his big-screen debut with Snapshot in 1979. Although Harlequin was shot in Western Australia, in and around Perth, it goes out of its way to hide its origins. It's set in America, has mainly British and American actors in principal roles (including Broderick Crawford in one of his last films) with some of the Australian supporting cast dubbed. Phone ringtones are American, though cars still drive on the right and the number plates are Western Australian.

Simon Wincer has continued to work to this day, with some notable films mixed in with a lot of anonymous, if workmanlike, product. With the help of a first-class DP (Gary Hansen, whose early death in 1982 in a helicopter crash was a great loss to the industry), he does a good job with Harlequin. They pull off some genuinely unsettling sequences, aided no end by Robert Powell's spooky charisma in the leading role. Brian May's score plays a big contribution.

There are some logical problems in the storyline, particularly why Rast's security man Bergier (Gus Mercurio) doesn't report the incident when Wolfe holds Alex over a cliff – except that there would be no story if he had. The film is a slow-burner, but remains intriguing up to the end. However the very end is now a horror cliché.

Harlequin (or Dark Forces as it became in the USA) was a success, selling worldwide and picking up awards at fantasy-specialist film festivals. Relative to its somewhat high budget it was one of the most commercially successful Australian films ever made.

The Disc: Britfilms TV add to their range of Australian titles with Harlequin, released on a single-layered DVD. The aspect ratio is the original 2.40:1, anamorphically enhanced. The transfer is a little soft with some grain, and skin tones tending towards reddish, but this is more to do with the filmstocks and lenses used on the film. This is pretty much like the other editions of this film on DVD, and reflects what 70s Australian Scope films tend to look like.

The soundtrack is the original mono, and it's clear enough and well balanced. There are no subtitles available, unfortunately.

Britfilms's edition loses the Wincer/Ginnane commentary available on the Synapse (US) and Umbrella (Australia) editions. The only extra is the trailer for Harlequin itself and those for other Britfilms releases: Doing Time for Patsy Cline, The Survivor, Storm Boy and Malcolm.

Category Capsule Review

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