The Woman In Red Review

Question: You’re married to sensible, funny, intelligent and sexy Judith Ivey and you see tall, skinny, non-acting, charisma-bypassed Kelly Le Brock showing you her knickers in a car park. Do you risk your marriage, children, home and career for the sake of a quick shag, or do you decide that you’re far too old to behave like a 14 year old and go home to your wife ? If you chose the former, then The Woman In Red might strike you as halfway believable. If the latter, then – like me – you might begin to get just a little bit impatient with the level of menopausal idiocy on display here. I know that this is meant to be about a midlife crisis causing irrational behaviour but there’s a difference between middle aged discontent and mental deficiency.

Gene Wilder was once a gifted comic actor and he had the ability to remain an oasis of calm while madness erupted all around him before suddenly becoming the eye of the storm. Watching him as the doctor in love with a sheep in Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex is like watching a great musician in concert. Every single gesture, every look, every syllable of dialogue was weighed up to perfection. I can’t imagine anyone else getting away with his role in that film, or being as lyrically funny as the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles and Frederick Fronkensteen in Young Frankenstein. But something happened during the 1970s and Wilder began indulging a sentimental side which had always been hinted at but never quite broke out. Despite a slight return to form with Stir Crazy - in which he and Richard Pryor managed to be funny despite having barely nothing to work with – his later work never returned him to the level of comic genius he once displayed. Admittedly, The Woman In Red isn’t quite as painful as the horrors of Funny About Love and Haunted Honeymoon, but it’s not very good either. Wilder does his hysterical schtick once or twice and it raises a smile, but he allows himself too much latitude to be sentimental and tries to make us believe in a completely artificial character. We’re not given enough reason for why he suddenly turns into a maniac trying to hook up with the Woman In Red, Charlotte (Le Brock), and when he begins ruining his home life, the intelligence that the character demonstrates towards the beginning seems to vanish. Indeed, when he stands in the rain and tries to persuade the girl of his dreams to go out with him, he’s meant to look cute but looks more like a vagrant caught in a storm.

This is sex farce at heart but something goes horribly wrong. Scenes which should be fast are lingered over and there are expository scenes between characters which seem to go on forever. There’s no heat between Wilder and Le Brock and when they finally get together, the scene fizzles out very rapidly. The relationship between Wilder and Judith Ivey is more believable and you can believe that this couple have been together for twenty years – all the more reason why Wilder’s decision to jeopardise his marriage seems totally unbelievable. If Le Brock was stunningly beautiful and likeable, it might be a bit more rational, but her lack of screen presence tells against her. Given that Wilder’s character has worked for an advertising agency for years, this surely isn’t the first time he’s seen a pretty girl. He’s also required to behave like a complete idiot in some superfluous sequences where he has to learn to ride a horse. Given how idiotically he acts, it seems incredibly unlikely that Le Brock would be interested in him at all, let alone be prepared to sleep with him. These bizarre events are mirrored elsewhere – did the cable car campaign devised by Wilder’s company really have to be so bloody awful? More to the point, what on earth does Le Brock see in Wilder ? Everytime he sees her, he embarrasses himself and he looks increasingly sweaty and distracted.

Worse still, around the central situation spin sub-plots which don’t go anywhere, or at least nowhere you’d want to go. A potentially funny set of misunderstandings with Gilda Radner, as an office colleague, seem more cruel than comic and Radner’s brilliant comic timing isn’t utilised. She’s just turned into a mean bitch. In their previous film together Hanky Panky, you could see through the deliriously bad scripting to the fact that Wilder absolutely adored this woman (to whom he was married in real life), but she’s given no dignity here. In any case, given that they have clearly worked together for many years, would Wilder not recognise her voice on the phone ? There’s also a really horrible performance from Joseph Bologna as Wilder’s friend who loses his wife because of infidelities. Bologna is so obnoxious in his few scenes that you can only wonder why his wife didn’t ditch him earlier. Everything is broad and obvious. Charles Grodin is usually a very entertaining actor but here, in the role of a gay friend, he has virtually nothing to do, except play a blind man in a slapstick sequence which isn’t unfunny but which seems to have come from a totally different film.

Overlaying this film, like a covering of bird shit over a statue you didn’t like in the first place, is a song score by Stevie Wonder which is so appalling that it becomes oddly compelling. The opening number, “It’s You”, is the kind of thing you might compose as a Valentine’s present to someone you wanted to dump, and things get worse. “The Woman In Red”, which plays virtually every time Le Brock appears, is syntho-pop nonsense and the ultimate horror of “I Just Called To Say I Love You” is even worse than I had remembered. I think it’s worth remembering that Stevie Wonder once released “Innervisions” and “Talking Book”; in my view, two of the greatest albums in the history of popular music. His genius in those albums is completely absent here and replaced by what can only be described as the very worst kind of schmaltz. You might also recall that Dionne Warwick, who partners Wonder on some of the songs, was once the definitive interpreter of Bacharach and David songs. You wouldn’t guess it from her contributions here.

I haven’t seen the French film upon which The Woman In Red is based, but can only imagine that the French tradition of bedroom farce made it a little more convincing first time round. If The Woman In Red were funny then you could forgive the lack of credibility in the plot and characters, but it’s predictable and silly. The sentiment becomes overpowering at times, symbolised by the syrupy grin which gets fixed on Wilder’s face every ten minutes. The only positive thing I can find to say is that, at under 90 minutes, it’s reasonably short. If you want a dose of anti-nostalgia to remind you of how bloody awful the 1980s were, then The Woman In Red will do the job admirably.

The Disc

As one of MGM’s back catalogue releases, The Woman In Red is the kind of DVD which you forget immediately after you’ve watched it; technically competent but with no extra features.

The transfer is surprisingly decent, presenting the film in an anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 ratio. There’s a good degree of detail, allowing you to check out the 1984 stylistics in all their horror, and the colours are bright and rich. No problems with excessive grain and only a small amount of artefacting.

The soundtrack is a Dolby Surround track which replicates the original theatrical presentation. Again, it’s fine. Dialogue is crisp and clear and the music track is considerably more vibrant than you want it to be.

No extras of any kind. There are 16 chapter stops and the film is subtitled in a range of languages including English.

The Woman In Red is dire, predictable stuff. Gene Wilder has done much better elsewhere and is better remembered for those projects where he displayed true comic brilliance. The DVD looks and sounds fine but is otherwise forgettable.

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