Released in 1980 and also known as Dark Forces, Harlequin is an Australian supernatural political thriller. Not a genre you come across every day.Filmed in Perth, but set in an unknown corner of the USA where half the population speaks with Australian accents, Harlequin is about the mysterious Rasputin-like Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell, who had recently played Jesus of Nazareth). He first appears as a birthday party clown at the home of Senator Rast (Ginnane regular David Hemmings from Blow Up). In a matter of days, Wolfe cures Rast’s son of leukemia and beds the Senator’s wife, unhappily married Sandra (Carmen Duncan). Cigar-chomping Doc Wheelan (Broderick Crawford) is manoeuvring Rast into the position of Deputy Governor for his own nefarious ends. Eventually, we learn that Doc and his cronies have good reason to fear Wolfe’s party tricks, flamboyant get-up and sinister interest in the Rast family.
Harlequin has all the hallmarks of producer Tony Ginnane’s late 1970s work (Patrick, Snapshot, Thirst et al) - a muddled attempt to disguise that it’s Australian, imported “stars” who no longer pull an audience (if they ever did), gratuitous female nudity, ludicrous plotting, wildly variable performances, extraneous shocks and the over-the-top music of Brian May (no, not the guy from Queen). Unfortunately, the overriding characteristic of Ginnane’s films is that they are never as fun as they sound.Everett de Roche’s screenplay may have once had a decent idea - putting Rasputin in a contemporary political thriller. Alas, making Rasputin a clown fatally undermines the concept no matter how hard Powell tries to make the character powerful or enigmatic. The cheap effects and manufactured suspense don’t help matters. Director Simon Wincer’s second film is more coherent than his first, the trashy Snapshot. But in trying to inject some genuine drama into the proceedings, he only comes off looking silly for taking this nonsense so seriously.