The Medusa Touch (1978)
NASA loses contact with a the Achilles Moon mission, London is reeling in the eaftermath of a 747 striking a tower block and author John Morler (Richard Burton) is battered to death in his flat by a mystery assailant. Three unconnected events or are they?
Inspector Brunel (Lino Ventura), a French exchange officer with the Met is the investigating officer at Morlar’s flat (unlikely I know, but how else do you get European producers to cough for the dough other than casting an Italian who was big in France in a lead role?). As Brunel attends the crime scene the corpse stages a miraculous recovery and is rushed to the nearest intensive care unit. Brunel leafs through Morlar’s journal and discovers that he was being seen by a Dr Zonfeld (Lee Remick, bringing in the American finance) so he hotfoots it to the shrink’s consulting rooms.
Through a series of flashbacks we discover that Morlar has been seeing Zonfeld because he is convinced that the series of gruesome deaths and disasters that have followed him since childhood are the result of his own mental processes. Initially, Brunel is sceptical but as he follows up the clues from Morlar’s journal and the witness statements, he realises that Morlar is right, and worse still, even comatose in a hospital bed, Morlar’s mind is cooking up a plan to literally bring the house down on the British Commonwealth’s movers and shakers when they meet at London’s Minster Cathedral. Will anyone believe Brunel as he races to thwart the evil mind’s designs and save HM The Queen from a crushing dilemma.
Burton’s career was in freefall when he made this movie in 1977, years of boozing and a pressing need for cash to pay off the extravagance of his second failed marriage to Liz Taylor had led to him taking a series of mediocre film roles, but The Medusa Touch saw him of the sauce and right back on form again. He has relatively few scenes, but whenever he is on screen he totally owns it. Particularly good is the part where he trades insults with his wife’s (French actress Marie-Christine Barrault, another nod to Euro finance) new lover Edward, played by a pre-Sherlock Holmes Jeremy Brett. Old mates from the London stage, the pair literally spark off each other.
There’s a solid supporting cast of familiar British actors with Harry Andrews as the police commissioner, Michael Hordern as a freaked out fortune-teller, Gordon Jackson as Morlar’s neurologist and the magnificent Derek Jacobi as a camp publisher.
The writing, by John Briley (Gandhi, Cry Freedom) from Peter Van Greenaway’s original novel, is intelligent with some really meaty dialogue for Burton to get his teeth into. The cinematography is beautiful with some nice location and close up work, great editing and seamless synched voice dubbing for Ventura and Barrault. However, the model work for the infamous plane crash into the tower block does look a little like something from Thunderbirds.
A police procedural that rocks up into a paranormal disaster picture complete with intelligent dialogue and some classy acting, plus the odd dodgy SFX; I give The Medusa Touch 555/666.
The Medusa Touch has been reissued on Blu-Ray by Network as part of ‘The British Film’ series in the UK, price: £14.99.
The Blu-Ray is packed with extras including:
- Audio commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones with director Jack Gold
- Theatrical trailer
- Behind the scenes footage from the Destroying the Abbey sequence
- Image gallery
- London’s ‘Minster’ Cathedral was played by Bristol Cathedral cunningly disguised by not one, but a two London bus drive by.
- Watch out for Brook Williams as a hospital technician. He was Burton’s PA and can be seen in minor roles in many of his later movies.
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.