Sweet Killing (1993): F. Murray Mint

Dave takes in a pleasing thriller and ponders the accuracy of ‘F. Murray Abraham Syndrome’.

There was an irritating trend afoot during the movie rental boom of the ‘90s, and that was the disdain with which the newspapers tended to view direct-to-video fare – more so if it happened to feature a former Oscar winner.

Take F. Murray Abraham for example.

“Whatever happened to Oscar’s one-hit wonders?” asked Dan Webster’s Video File in The Spokesman Review, before mocking the inconsistent careers of Luise Rainier [sic], Paul Scofield and Cliff Robertson, and blasting Abraham’s new picture, SWEET KILLING (“a putrid little movie”) [1]. Critic Leonard Maltin even christened the ‘jinx’ of an Academy Award winner failing to find success after grabbing their gold statue as ‘F. Murray Abraham Syndrome’. Not that the star of Amadeus (1984) was all that bothered. “I have dined with kings, shared equal billing with my idols, lectured at Harvard and Columbia. If this is a jinx, I’ll take two,” Abraham famously responded.

Besides, for every Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1993) that Abraham had in this era, he was never too far away from something better, like Ernest Dickerson’s Surviving the Game (1994). Thankfully, Sweet Killing sits nearer the latter end of the scale as we meet Adam Cross (Anthony Higgins), an unhappily married banker whose wife, Louise (Andrea Ferreol), would drive even the mildest mannered of men to the brink of despair. Sick of her badgering, Adam hatches a plan to kill her inspired by the hardboiled detective comics he finds solace in – and for the first few weeks post-mortem, everything seems to be moving like clockwork. He gets a promotion at work and a new lover in the form of Eva (Leslie Hope) – but when Abraham knocks at his door one night, claiming to be the fictitious client Adam created as an alibi, everything begins to rapidly unravel.

Pitched between Hitchcockian suspense and treacle dark comedy, Sweet Killing is prone to the occasional identity crisis, but overcomes it thanks to the capability of its leads. Higgins is efficacious as Adam; scheming, cunning, and withering with every passing minute of the clock. Abraham, meanwhile, is an absolute delight. Bedecked in a hat and black trench coat, and carrying pink umbrella, he swings from sinister to hysterical with dizzying dexterity. Hope is captivating as the mysterious love interest; Michael Ironside is fine as the investigating detective; and Ian Finlay is a charm as Adam’s gay best friend who rehearses for make-up classes in his lunch hour.

Frenchman Eddy Matalon, who directed the excellent Cathy’s Curse (1977), bellows “action!” on a script he and fellow countryman Dominique Roulet adapted from Newcastle-born author Angus Hall’s 1968 novel Qualtrough. Shot in Toronto over eight weeks in late ’91, Sweet Killing debuted in the U.K. in summer ’93 courtesy of High Fliers before making its bow in America on 20th October of the same year. U.S. distributor Paramount showed faith in the movie. To complement its release they spent some cash on a press campaign that introduced it in bombastic fashion, its bold print announcing: “In the high-suspense, high-rental tradition of Shattered (1991) and Raising Cain (1992)!”

Sweet Killing isn’t like either of them – but it’s nonetheless worth saving from obscurity.

France/Canada/UK ● 1993 ● Thriller ● 86mins

Anthony Higgins, Leslie Hope, F. Murray Abraham, Michael Ironside ● Dir. Eddy Matalon ● Wri. Eddy Matalon, Dominique Roulet, from the novel ‘Qualtrough’ by Angus Hall

[1] Video File: Whatever Happened to Oscar’s One-Hit Wonders? by Dan Webster, The Spokesman Review, 10th October 1993.

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