Going Round in Circles: Blind Man’s Bluff (1992)

Dave’s fires up the boob tube for a twisting whodunnit that gets itself into a bit of a lather.

In early 1993, Joel Gross was busily polishing another draft of his adaptation of Richard Henley’s novel, The Penal Colony, which was due to roll before the cameras in Queensland in the May of that year with (soon-to-be) Bond director Martin Campbell at the helm. Alas, No Escape (1994) became something of a cinematic turkey, barely recouping three-quarters of its budget at the worldwide box office for Sony Pictures and producer Gale Anne Hurd [1]. Whether this experience soured the playwright’s taste for the multiplex is open to debate, but he’s generally steered clear of celluloid ever since [2]. What is clear, though, is that his other screenplay, BLIND MAN‘S BLUFF, seemed to have a more rudimentary journey to the gogglebox, airing on CBS in mid-February ‘92.

Robert Urich is Professor Thomas Booker, a college lecturer with a fetish for cashmere sweaters whose life was torn apart in the wake of a disease that cost him his sight. His ex-girlfriend, Carolyn (Lisa Eilbacher), is now engaged to his best friend, Frank (Ron Perlman), and both his shrink (Patricia Clarkson) and beret-favouring P.A. (Randi Lynne) are developing inappropriate feelings for him. All the while Booker is bonking a lady of the night (Andrea Mann) each week, who checks her watch with disinterested regularity. To make matters worse, Mary (Helen Honeywell), his next-door neighbour and Carolyn’s aunt, has just been murdered – and he’s being framed as the prime suspect…

It’s an ambitious convoluted narrative with a veritable trawler full of red herrings, but the downfall of Blind Man’s Bluff is a level of melodrama that diminishes its desire for a deadpan tone. Soapier than an Imperial Leather factory, it’s Gross’ script that comes in for most of the criticism, with an assortment of lines that make your toes curl. “I know nothing about you,” reasons Booker to his psychotherapist. “Do you like jazz? How did you vote in the last election?”  – two questions that you’re unlikely to hear repeated in any moment of flirtation.

The occasional clunky line aside, the genteel whodunnit aspect of James Quinn’s film leads though an enjoyable maze of twists, with a quintet of characters warranting an accusatory finger pointed in their direction. Bodies pile up during every successive reel, and although its strain of cliched camp might be too much for some, as a dose of inoffensive intrigue, this Hitchcock-lite tale succeeds as a passable small screen diversion.

USA ● 1992 ● Thriller, TVM ● 87mins

Robert Urich, Patricia Clarkson, Ron Perlman, Lisa Eilbacher ● Dir. James Quinn ● Wri. Joel Gross

[1] John Calley, the CEO of SPE, when shuttering Sony’s low budget indie unit, Triumph Films, did note that with foreign home video sales added (often under the international title ‘Escape from Absolom’) that No Escape did eventually turn a profit.
[2] His successful play Marie Antoinette: The Colour of Flesh seems to have been stuck in development hell for a couple of years now.

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