When Glenn Close had the edge

Glenn Close (By Mingle Media TV [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Glenn Close (By Mingle Media TV)

Earlier this week an ex-colleague tweeted that Jagged Edge was on TV that night and that he’d suffered nightmares after “accidentally” watching it on video back in the mid-80s. I knew exactly where he was coming from because this expertly crafted thriller made a big impression on me when I first saw it 30 years ago. The two big ‘reveals’ – involving the misaligned ‘t’ on a vintage Corona typewriter and the peeling back of a ski mask – still give me a frisson, even though I’ve seen the film a few times.

Watching Jagged Edge again reminded me that I’ve developed a prejudice against 1980s films in recent years. A quick scan of my shelves reveals that Risky Business, Raging Bull and The Big Chill are among the few 80s classics to have made it into my DVD collection. I’m not sure whether it’s the hideous fashions – perms, mullets, leg warmers and monstrous padded shoulders – or the dated synthesizer scores that put me off, but I rarely experience a warm glow of nostalgia watching a movie from the Decade that Taste Forgot.

Jagged Edge is a hugely entertaining movie, and not just because it’s set in picturesque San Francisco and stars Jeff Bridges as glossy-haired newspaper magnate Jack Forrester, who is accused of slaying his wealthy wife and her maid so he can get his hands on her money. Joe Eszterhas wrote the screenplay and would go on to pen the gloriously trashy Basic Instinct and Showgirls. But it was Glenn Close who made the biggest impression as Jack’s defence attorney and love interest, Teddie Barnes.

Watching Close’s Teddie in her power suits running rings around her courtroom opponent Krasny (the splendidly named Peter Coyote), I couldn’t help flashing forward to her more recent TV role as the Rottweiler lawyer Pattie Hewes in Damages. I shudder to think of the scorn that the steely-hearted Pattie would heap on Teddie for allowing her emotions to cloud her judgment.

Teddie Barnes may be a tigress in court, but Close also brings warmth and humour to her secondary role as the hard-working single mom to two cute kids. She’d already proved convincing as the smart, well-rounded soccer mom, Dr Sarah Cooper, in 1983’s The Big Chill. Other than her gut-wrenching sobbing in the shower scene, this isn’t one of Close’s showier roles from the period. Sarah and on-screen husband Harold (played by Kevin Kline) are the emotional support to a bunch of neurotic, boozing, pill-popping narcissists in Lawrence Kasdan’s well-observed mid-life crisis drama.

Bad news through the grapevine. Glenn Close in The Big Chill.

She heard it through the grapevine. Glenn Close gets bad news in The Big Chill.

Jagged Edge might be a nightmare-inducing movie for kids but it’s positively U-certificate stuff compared with the full-on, knife-wielding horror that was 1987’s Fatal Attraction. A lesser actress than Glenn Close might have found herself typecast as a “bunny boiler” after playing the unhinged Alex Forrest, who refuses to let Michael Douglas’s Dan Gallagher off the hook after a brief affair: “I’m not going to be ignored, Dan!”

I must admit that I haven’t watched Fatal Attraction for years. In its day it was the ultimate, Friday-night, edge-of-the-seat movie experience, from which you were likely to emerge shaken and with ear-drums still ringing from all the screaming – both on- and off-screen. But it’s also manipulative, misogynistic and nasty (did we really need to see the dead bunny?), with characterisation subordinated to the needs of the wildly over-the-top plot.

For memorable endings I far prefer one of Glenn Close’s greatest roles, as the scheming, predatory Marquise de Merteuil in 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons. Opinion was divided about whether John Malkovich was miscast as the priapic Valmont, the ex-lover she goads into seducing and destroying Michelle Pfeiffer’s virtuous Madame de Tourvel. But Close is magnificent and terrifying as the amoral aristocrat whose uses her intellect solely for the purpose of avenging herself on a man who jilted her.

With her heaving bosom, scarlet lips and deathly pale complexion, Close’s Marquise delivers her barbed dialogue with the precision of a cut-throat razor. At the climax of her bitter final encounter with Valmont, she chooses “war” over capitulation to his sexual demands. Has any woman ever injected so much venom into a three-letter word?

The wordless final scene of Dangerous Liaisons is an even better example of what made Glenn Close such a powerful, charismatic presence in 80s cinema. Valmont is dead and the Marquise is now a pariah after her machinations have been exposed. She sits in front of her mirror, scrubbing off her make-up in a fruitless attempt to cleanse herself; a single tear rolls down her face. It’s quietly devastating.

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2 comments

  1. Big fan of Jagged Edge myself, and yes, Glenn Close was fantastic in Dangerous Liaisons, but think I was in the minority in thinking Valmont, the Milos Forman directed version on the same story, was the superior film. Forman’s Ragtime would be another example of a somewhat overlooked 80s classic, albeit a period piece. Surely a renaissance in the fashion world of bubble perms and mullets can only be just around the corner, and with it a revival of the reputation of some 80’s movie reputations. Ferris Bueller still hits the mark for me AND my teenage kids today.

    1. Valmont also had a great cast and a distinguished screenwriter in Jean-Claude Carrière, who worked on several Bunuel films. It’s a long time since I watched it, but my memory is that Valmont was a bit too lightweight. Madame de Tourvel doesn’t die and the Marquise isn’t cast out of society. What can I say, I prefer DL and it’s ‘beyond my control’ . . . Agree about Ferris Bueller, and I’ve just remembered that all-time high-school classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Off to put on my red bikini so I can watch it again. Look forward to seeing your mullet next time we meet!

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