The Legacy Review
In The Legacy, the kind of film which is so irresponsibly stupid that it wouldn’t be allowed out on its own after six at night, people don’t just die. They meet their maker in ways which are so baroque that you can almost picture the shade of Thomas Kyd bowing down in wordless admiration. The staging of these expirations – timed at convenient fifteen minute intervals throughout the film – is so inventive that its hard to believe that the morass of stodgy expository sequences which comprise the rest of the movie were dreamed up by the same people.
The Legacy is largely set in England –the place where, as you know, “everything stops for tea” – and presumably takes place in the late 1970s, although the only concessions to modernity are some of the costumes and a sedulously furbished indoor swimming-pool. Given the context, it’s rather odd to see Katherine Ross and Sam Elliott wandering around in leather jackets, although not quite as odd as it is to see Roger Daltrey turn up in his immortal cameo as “Clive”. The effect is similar to that of British films from the 1950s where an American star on the wane turned up to ensure transatlantic distribution. Not that either actor is what you’d call a star. Katherine Ross looks very nice but acts like an ingénue who has unexpectedly been thrust in front of a camera. Sam Elliott is, of course, one of the three coolest men on the planet (along with Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson) but a star he ain’t – and since he only ever looks at home when sitting on a motorbike or striding around the Old West, his presence in a Home Counties manor house is even more incongruous.
The plot is a load of old cobblers about how Maggie Walsh (Ross), an American designer, is inveigled into staying at the luxurious manor house of Jason Mountolive (Standing) for sinister reasons which become clear all too soon. Her boyfriend Pete (Elliott) isn’t quite at home – “Goddam English plumbing” – and both of them become very suspicious when more guests arrive. Indeed, suspicion is warranted because the guests are a collection of dedicatedly hamming English actors, several of whom have adopted European accents for no particularly good reason except, presumably, to compete with each other. Charles Gray and Lee Montague are the chief offenders in this regard but they do at least manage to make their scenes amusing. Meanwhile, Margaret Tyzack is wandering about as a nurse with a penchant for appearing unexpectedly and performing impromptu surgery with a bread knife. Mysteries begin to pile up with agonising gradualness, none greater than why people keep employing Roger Daltrey as an actor; the forelock-tugging staff become insanely aggressive; and the guests begin dying in macabre circumstances.
There are some nice spooky touches around the edges of the film – the way all roads lead back to the manor house for example, a scene which has often been done but really resonates here (possibly because not much else is going on). But Richard Marquand – best known as the man whose strings were pulled by George Lucas on Return of the Jedi and, more generously, as the talented director of Jagged Edge who died much too young – flubs the opportunities to build suspense and the plot makes so little sense that you begin to lose interest. It took three writers to come up with this nonsense – the standard of the epigrams is summed up by Charles Gray’s comment that “Clive has never forgiven us Germans for losing the war… but winning the peace.” Given that one of them was Jimmy Sangster, writer of some of the best Hammer movies and another was respected SF writer Patrick Tilley, the result can surely be put down to some kind of delirium. The explanation for all the malarkey is weightless and it might have been better to keep it completely ambiguous rather than trying to tie together the numerous loose-ends.
It’s impossible to keep a straight face during this film and that may account for why it’s so compulsive. It’s full of lines like “Now Margaret, come to me and receive the blessing… of the ring” which are delivered with the utmost seriousness. Even when you know you should be bored out of your skull during the lengthy scenes where characters explain the plot, there’s always some diversion. Charles Gray is a particular delight, equipping himself with a preposterous German brogue and poncing about like Herman Goring’s bastard son. Admittedly, there are times when the viewer is left staring at the screen in horror but these aren’t necessarily the ones intended by the filmmakers. It’s possible, for instance, that Roger Daltrey’s character – an international rock star – was credible in the original script but Daltrey takes good care to destroy any atmosphere which might be developing by stamping on his lines in such a way as to take even the most indulgent viewer out of the film. There are moments when the rest of the cast seem to be staring in disgust at Daltrey’s awful performance. I’m also a little unsure about Kiki Dee’s ballad over the opening and closing credits. It’s quite pleasant in a Melody FM sort of way but it has no relevance to anything in the film, either thematically or emotionally.
Luckily, there’s always a good death sequence around the corner. The Legacy, which wants to be a high-toned Gothic, is basically an upmarket slasher movie and the killings are everything they should be. The first one, involving a swimming pool, is relatively subtle but the second is sheer delight. I will simply state that it involves a chicken bone, Roger Daltrey’s throat, a sharp knife and gallons of stage blood. Margaret Tyzack, a very good actress, deserved an award for bringing such intensity to this deliciously daft sequence. The next few murders are equally amusing – we get a homicidal mirror, an exploding shotgun and, best of all, a lengthy burning alive which is one of the ickiest things ever seen in a ‘respectable’ British film. As Sam Elliott picks through the steaming remains of what used to be a respected character actor, you can’t help reflecting that, in comparison, Jason Vorhees lacked a bit of class.
I don’t think anyone has been waiting with bated breath for The Legacy to appear on Region 2 DVD. However if, like me, you harbour a slightly unhealthy affection for the film then you’ll be quite pleased with the disc provided by Fremantle.
The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is pretty impressive. There’s a good level of detail and the print used is remarkably free from damage. The colours are nicely full and there is no significant artifacting. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack is also good with Michael J. Lewis’ atmospheric music stretching across the channels.
The only extra is a theatrical trailer which gives far too much of the film away. Sadly, Fremantle have not provided any subtitles for the hard of hearing. The film is divided into 12 chapters.