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To Kill a Clown
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by Scott Weinberg

"Alan Alda as a psychotic Vietnam vet! You know you're interested!"
3 stars

To Kill a Clown is a fitfully insightful and intermittently engaging ‘Vietnam Vet’ tale that manages to shoehorn a little social commentary in between a raving lunatic’s kidnapping of a young hippie couple and the overwhelming presence of two vicious Dobermans.

It’s a none-too-subtle metaphor detailing the rightful place for a spoiled artist and a scarred veteran in a post-Vietnam culture. You know, all that “tough guy vs. sensitive guy” stuff that was so prevalent in the early seventies.

Tim and Lily Frischer are going through a rough time, marriage-wise. She’s grown weary of his wifty artboy mentality, and he’s still in love with her despite her constant disapproval. In an effort to patch things up, the young couple rent a house on an isolated island. Their landlord is Evelyn Ritchie who, despite the deceptive first name, is indeed a man. Ritchie lives alone on his little island with a deaf-mute servant and two vicious Dobermans as his only companions. (How the Frischer’s ever got this guy’s telephone number is anyone’s guess!) Upon the couple’s arrival, Ritchie seems to be the peak of all things cordial and polite, but it’s not long before the three of them are sucking down a bottle of booze. It’s at this point that Ritchie asks Tim how he believes he’d stand up in prison. The brash painter claims that he’s as tough as the next guy.

The next morning, Ritchie (along with his two carnivorous canines) devises a scheme to see how manly Tim really is. (Let’s just say it involves a lot of rocks, a lot of screaming, and some effective kidnapping.)

Despite a somewhat leaden pace and symbolism so obvious that it’s almost delivered in neon, To Kill a Clown actually isn’t a bad little flick. Sure, you might giggle when I mention that the villainous hermit is played by the one and only Alan Alda, but the guy does a bang-up job here! Propping himself up on two ever-present crutches and chewing through the scenery at every turn (particularly late in the film), Alda is simply a lot of fun to watch here. As our nattering damsel, we’re offered a very young and surprisingly nubile Blythe Danner, an actress who’s currently not well known for having a sexy body. (She did in 1971!) An actor I’m not at all familiar with, Heath Lamberts (perhaps best known for his role in Tom & Huck), delivers a great performance as the wimpy-ish Tim. It would have been real easy for this character to become a sniveling crybaby, yet Lamberts strikes a nice balance between ‘easy victim’ and ‘brooding avenger’…though he does decidedly less of the latter.

A virtually forgotten indie flick from the early 70’s, To Kill a Clown doesn’t really tread any new ground and the movie often slows down to a near-halt here and there. If this one seems more impressively presented than many other low-budget flick from thirty years ago, much of the credit can be attributed to cinematographer Walter Lassally, a filmmaker who won an Oscar in 1965 for his work on Zorba the Greek. For a movie made on the cheap, it’s photographed quite beautifully.

Though To Kill a Clown isn’t among the best ‘psycho Vietnam vet’ flicks ever made, the trio of actors keep the movie moving along nicely, and you’ll find yourself wanting to see how it all ends.

If a movie can accomplish that one simple task, it’s probably a fairly good movie.

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originally posted: 09/05/02 14:58:27
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User Comments

12/31/10 Dave Strange but interesting film, definitiely worth a look 3 stars
1/28/04 Nolan Price Found it dated but quite intriguing during its intial release 4 stars
11/10/02 robert blau One of my favorite movies. Very effective, convincing, and engrossing in its way. 4 stars
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  23-Aug-1972 (R)



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