Dave uncovers a primo entry in the wave of ’90s erotic thrillers.
MIDNIGHT BLUE (1997) defies expectations.
First impressions are of a perennial top-shelfer; its teasing, sultry artwork, and the Playboy logo seductively winking in your direction.
The Hefner-heavy presence of the production company may well have turned-off your casual couple after a Friday night rental, but therein lies its secret: beyond the fleshly façade lies a noir-tinged mystery with a stellar cast.
Leading the ensemble is Damian Chapa as Martin, a straight-laced character with a slightly skittish demeanour, who after spending an unexpected night in the company of a high class hooker (Annabel Schofield), becomes obsessed with tracking her down. For Chapa, he admits that the picture was an opportunity to break out of a mould in which he found himself following prominent roles in Under Siege (1992) and Street Fighter (1994).
“It just helped me get out of the gangster-type casting,” he muses. “Although I must admit I wasn’t initially excited about it as I don’t like to take risqué parts”.
Reluctance aside, Chapa embodies Martin with a lovable innocence that’s endearing to watch, although his praise was effusive towards his female co-star for making the shoot an enjoyable one.
“I’ve worked with many actresses in my life,” he gushes. “From Fay Dunaway to Karen Lombard to my ex-wife Natasha Henstridge, but I have to say that I loved working with Annabel. She gave so much, and she was so sensual. It was so easy to respond to”.
For Schofield, the Dyfed-born actress and model who is forever immortalized in the iconic Bugle Boy jeans commercial, the role presented itself as a multi-faceted challenge that had to be grabbed with both hands.
“I knew the producers from a previous film, but I had to audition,” remembers the leading lady. “I did love the script though, and I just really wanted the role! Also, the chance to play two characters AND do a Southern accent is a scary concept”.
Although the script from author and University of Syracuse professor, Douglas Brode, was a draw to both Chapa and Schofield, the real thrill of the shoot was to go toe-to-toe with acting icons Dean Stockwell and Harry Dean Stanton.
“Well, one of my favourite films is David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986),” Chapa explains, “So when I found out that Dean was going to be in it I just had to do the film. Harry too, he’s just so unusual!”.
It’s an opinion that Schofield wholeheartedly agrees with:
“It was an honour to work with Harry – one of my long-time acting idols. He’s a true character and working with him is one of my happiest memories from my career as an actress”.
The presence of both Stockwell and Stanton is another aspect that lifts Midnight Blue clear of the softcore samey-ness that seemed to shackle similar titles in the back end of the ‘90s. Stockwell in particular is just delightful as Katz-Feeney, a weather-beaten private dick who wouldn’t seem out of place in a Raymond Chandler novel. Also, despite targeting an audience hungry for some slinky shenanigans, there’s precious little to be found when compared to its peers.
Glowing testimonials from the two leads aside, Midnight Blue does have a nagging imbalance in its tone, switching haphazardly from intrigue to eroticism, with a little bumbling comedy thrown in – not to mention the relentless, earworm-inducing repetition of The Rush Inside by Shannon Moore on the soundtrack.
However, as a fascinating chapter in the bountiful glut of erotic thrillers that graced the decade, Snider’s film should at least give you an opportunity to marvel at Brode’s winding, twisting script, even if some brief investigation yields a pervading sense of annoyance from the author that his screenplay wound up under the stewardship of ‘ol bunny ears.
“It’s pretty rare to get to speak such elegant, well-written dialogue,” Schofield declares.
She’s right, but a Playboy movie it is. Highfalutin aspirations are all well and good (it seems Brode gets his students to pen their tutor-influenced thoughts about it on IMDb), but it remains the writer’s only produced screenplay. Without assistance from the dickie-bowed movie house, it could still be sat in a drawer.