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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 6.25%
Average: 3.13%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 9.38%

1 review, 26 user ratings

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Ninth Configuration, The
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by Brian McKay

"Twinkle Twinkle, Killer Kane - are you a genius, or just insane?"
5 stars

It's a lazy day off and I feel like reviewing something. Not just anything, but something that most people haven't even heard of, much less seen. So what pops into my head out of the blue? Of course, it must be THE NINTH CONFIGURATION.

"The Ninth Configuwhat?" most of you folks are probably saying at home. That was what I said too, the first time I stumbled upon the opening credits of this film on cable one night. I knew nothing about it, except that it looked old, and it starred Stacy Keach. "What the hell, I'll give it a look-see." Usually that phrase ends up with me watching twenty minutes of shit before changing the channel. But occasionally, very occasionally, I get my world rocked.

Despite the fact that it was written and directed by William Peter Blatty (who penned The Exorcist) and won a Golden Globe for best screenplay, people who have seen this film seem few and far between. However, those who have mention it in the same reverential tone reserved for films like One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest, and with good reason. The movie is fucking good. Strangely, phenomenally good. Fantastic acting, razor-sharp dialogue, gripping characters, and a mind-bending theme. Though a fine enesemble piece, the most engaging performances come from Scott Wilson and an amazing Stacy Keach, who displays acting chops that left me both giddily surprised and surprisingly moved. The film is adapted from Blatty's novel Twinkle Twinkle, Killer Kane, and turns out to be one of those rare exceptions when the movie is better than the book (although the book, which I read afterward, is also quite good).

In an old European-style transplanted castle, the U.S. military has established an "experimental" mental health facility to care for psychologically disturbed servicemen. Of course, it is the unofficial opinion of the staff that only half of them are genuinely disturbed, while the other half are just fakers bucking for a section 8 ticket home. The patients indulge in all kinds of nutty things. One inmate likes taking hammers to the walls because "the molecules aren't cooperating" with his attempts at passing through them. Another has decided to put on a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet - starring only dogs. The doctors mostly try to keep the patients in line, and fail to make any real progress - until Colonel Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach) shows up.

Although Kane is soft-spoken and enigmatic, his voice betraying a very world-weary soul, he looks like the kind of dude who could assassinate you with a paper clip or snap your neck with his thumbs. But as the new director of the asylum, he begins to take a drastically different approach to treating the patients, much to the chagrin of the staff. Kane starts holding conversations with rambling and delusional patients as calmly as you and I would discuss the weather or what was on television last night. Rather than put restrictions on the patients, he indulges their every whim. He even gets the staff and guards involved in a bit of "Role Playing", getting them to dress up like Nazis so that the patients can dress up like POW's and play "Great Escape", complete with tunnel digging.

"Why, that's just crazy!" Of course it is . . . maybe even crazy enough to work. Kane starts getting results, and starts reaching the men in a way that no staff of clipboard and pill-toting drones possibly could. This leaves the staff to wonder if Kane is merely an unorthodox genius, or if he's just another lunatic who's taken over the asylum.

One patient isn't buying into Kane's regimen, however. Former pilot and astronaut Captain Billy Cutshaw is a tough nut to crack. After ending up in the hospital because he went into a screaming panic fit on the launch pad, he argues with Kane about everything from politics to God (especially God), and seems to be the one patient that Kane can't reach. The dynamic between these two men is the high point of the film, providing the most hilarious and profoundly touching moments. When Cutshaw goes AWOL and is cornered in bar by a nasty group of bikers (led by the prolific B-movie villain Richard Lynch), Kane goes after him to try and save him. This results in one of the most violent, amazing, and unflinching bar brawl bloodbaths ever. I think I said "Holy Shit" at least three times during that scene.

The movie is damn funny, but it's also damn profound. There is a big "Kane as Christ" metaphor running through the film that, despite moments of ham-fistedness, works surprisingly well - even on an agnostic-but-damn-near-atheist like myself. But as good as Keach is in this role, I was ready to believe him as the second coming.

This movie is not to be missed for any fans of psychological and philosophical drama, and should be the centerpiece of a Stacy Keach shrine somewhere, should one ever be erected. And now that it's finally out on DVD, you have no excuse not to check it out.

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originally posted: 01/29/03 10:31:33
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User Comments

10/10/18 tony gould a rare cinematic treat 5 stars
6/20/15 stanley welles excellent, funny and moving 4 stars
10/08/10 fuzzy mcglew awesome; bears repeated watching 5 stars
9/19/10 Julia dumb dum dum dumb 1 stars
4/02/10 toby weinstein much better thqn shelter island 5 stars
3/14/10 Frank LaRue I saw this movie many years ago in a theater. This is a movie you don't forget. 5 stars
4/04/08 R.W. Welch Has cerebral script and one of your better bar room brawls. 4 stars
11/04/07 Jeff Boutilier My wife and I watced this movie a million times and got more out of it each time. 5 stars
7/14/07 Christian Amazing classic that few people have seen - hilarious and moving at the same time. 5 stars
3/03/07 jonny cash sucked balz 1 stars
12/13/06 mig LOVE this movie! I can watch it over and over. 5 stars
3/18/06 david brace I saw this movie many years ago and thought that it was fantastic. Keach is awesome. 5 stars
3/15/06 Paul Jacobs My friends hate me being right, but couldnt help fall in love with this once recommended 5 stars
4/10/05 Sean McCartan THE lost masterpiece. Check it out!! 5 stars
2/14/05 Brian Sherwood greatest movie ever made! 5 stars
1/18/05 Patrick Hurn A rare movie, a treasure to be sought after. 5 stars
1/09/05 david bull unwittingly a masterpiece of psychological play in the highest degree, FANTASTIC. 5 stars
5/22/04 Brian Jamieson Great film -- Still haunts me years later 5 stars
5/01/04 John very original - makes a good argument for the thinking man's religious quest 5 stars
2/04/04 Cindy Smith Interesting, funny, introspective and definitely worth your time. 5 stars
10/05/03 john holdsworth a film which makes you think.brilliant 5 stars
9/10/03 Nicky Kent Can't forget it. 5 stars
1/29/03 Charles Tatum Different, intense, and fantastic 5 stars
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  29-Feb-1980 (R)
  DVD: 17-Sep-2002

  N/A (15)

  05-Mar-1981 (R)

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