White Light (1991): Throwing Shade

Dave heads to Toronto where Martin Kove is trying to solve a case about a mysterious woman who he saw when he popped up to heaven.

A Cagney & Lacey supporting cast reunion is probably the least unusual aspect of this genuinely odd Canadian flick; a film that TV Guide described as “a clumsy and lifeless low-budget hybrid of Ghost (1990) and Flatliners (1990)”. As gloomy as that evaluation is, I bet it’s piqued your interest – and so it should because for all its imperfect eccentricities, WHITE LIGHT never fails to entertain.

The Toronton-born Al Waxman might be best known for playing Lt. Bert Samuels, the blustery supervisor of the iconic ‘80s female cop duo, but directing was always something he felt he was destined for. As Waxman explained to the Los Angeles Times in 1992:

It began with Cagney & Lacey. We had trouble the first couple of years. We were cancelled. We didn’t finally have secure waters to sail in until about the third season. Every year thereafter I directed a few episodes. Acting is such a joy for me, but I think I find more satisfaction in directing. One of the joys of it is you can bring a point of view [to a project].” [1]

His point of view in White Light seems to lie in the concept of how accurate near-death hallucinations can be. In this case it’s the post-flatline experience of Detective Sean Craig (Martin Kove), an undercover cop who is shot and pronounced dead on the scene. Lo and behold, six hours later, his heart jerks back to life, and he wakes up with the vivid memory of spectrally encountering a beautiful blonde woman who he’s sure is connected the assignment in which he was gunned down.

Bunkum, poppycock and balderdash – but there’s no denying that Waxman’s film has a certain charm about it. Penned by Ron Base (who started out by riffing on Fame (1982) with the dance-off drama Heavenly Bodies (1984), before settling on standard ‘90s fare like the Rob Lowe vehicle First Degree (1995)), White Light flits from sultry and sexy saxophone shenanigans, to shoot-outs and soapy melodrama without batting an eyelid.

Kove, as always, is great value for money, and he seems all too aware of just how nutty this concept is. Having said that, Martha Henry as Dr. Ella Wingwright does well and adds an air of authenticity, with the trust that grows between her and Craig supplying some credible dramatic meat. A fireside romp in the final reel with the underused Allison Hossack (set to Paul Zaza’s excessively opulent score) might prove a litmus test for many – but if you get that far, you’ve already done the hard bit and all that’s left to do is embrace this entire trippy endeavour.

Lensed over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1990, White Light premiered at Cinefest Sudbury International on 20th September 1991 before arriving in U.S. video stores the following month. Here in the U.K., the film would appear on cassette the year after courtesy of Columbia-TriStar Home Video.

Canada ● 1991 ● Thriller ● 94mins

Martin Kove, Allison Hossack, Martha Henry, Heath Lamberts ● Dir. Al Waxman ● Wri. Ron Base

[1] Out of Character: The Politics of Al Waxman Go Beyond Acting by Susan King, The Los Angeles Times, 22nd March 1992

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