The Golden Age Of Hollywood
Ren's Picks

"Power, Passion & Murder"

Release date 1987
Country:  United States
Running time:
Genre : Drama/Romance
Directed by Paul Bogart and Leon Ichaso

Writing credits:
John O'Hara - story “Natica Jackson”
Budd Schulberg - story “A Table At Ciro's”
Stanley H. Silverman - screenplay “A Table At Ciro's”
Andy Wolk screenplay “Natica Jackson”


Michelle Pfeiffer .... Natica Jackson
Hector Elizondo .... Morris King
George Murdock .... Bud Loring
Holland Taylor .... Ernestine King
Darren McGavin .... A.D. Nathan (as Darren McGaven)
Lois Chiles .... Lita Nathan
Kenneth McMillan .... Lew Carteret
Stella Stevens .... Mimi Carteret
Steven Bauer .... Tony Montoya
Kim Myers .... Jenny Robbins


When I write reviews of books, movies or music, there are few things that are harder then writing a one for something that’s essentially garbage. I’m not going to speak for other reviewers, because I’m well aware that there are people who love to tear other people down and the work they do. And there are those people who try to find fault in everything other people do because they have no talent or confidence themselves. As a reader, there are few things worse then reading a review from an over-educated, pompous and sanctimonious writer who couldn’t find a job writing their own material and settles for a lucrative job in thrashing those who can. (Those who can, do – those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, become critics.)

Almost as a bad are sycophantic fans who simply can’t admit when something their favorite actors, musicians or other artists have done something bad. These are the fans who have little altars to their favorite celebrities, whether those altars a scrap book, a box of mementos or even websites - those fans can’t fathom how anyone couldn’t love just about everything their favorite celebrity or artist has ever done. The way these people write prose in an effort to justify bad work and try to make legitimate points as to why the work in question often makes for painful reading.

When I try to sit down and write a review for a bad movie, I get lethargic. My ability to function is diminished, the words become harder and harder to find. There are long stretches sitting here at the computer screen trying to find the words to adequately express my disappointment. It’s easy to write a review for something I enjoyed, the words come easy when I’m inspired by something of quality – but writing a review of something that didn’t live up to expectations is like trying to write after giving a pint of blood with a hang-over from heavy drinking the night before. (I’ve never donated blood after getting drunk, but I can imagine what that feels like.)

All of which brings me to this ‘Lost Gem,’ “Power, Passion & Murder.” It’s a frustrating, chaotic mess. The best way to describe it would be to imagine a second or third rate film crew following behind a top-notch movie company as they were filming a beautiful period film, and picture a second-rate writing team hammering out the script to correspond with what sets were available with no regard towards the greater narrative. It’s as if those who were making this “Power, Passion & Murder.” followed behind the makers of the film “Bugsy” and used some of those sets before they were struck and the costumes were either put into storage or sold.

This movie has the look and feel of a very low budget made for TV flick, (which it was for WNET’s “Great Performances” On PBS) and seeming to taking two episodes of an anthology about Hollywood in the 1930’s and 1940’s and spliced them together. The story lines “Natica Jackson” and “A Table At Cairo's” have nothing to do with each other then Hollywood during those decades as the setting, and both story lines seem to be just pasted together just to have something to put on a disk or VHS cassette or to have something to air one night.

The first story line, “A Table At Cairo's,” stars Darren McGavin as the head of a movie studio, who’s outgrown his usefulness as a mogul and spent too much time enjoying the perks of the job and not actually performing well enough to keep the studio running well or to keep himself employed. Knowing the writing’s on the wall, and suspecting he’ll be fired soon… he invites a few people out to diner: A couple who was there in the beginning, a current “latin lover” actor (who’s having an affair with his wife) and a young actress with hopes of stardom.

During the course of day leading up to the diner, there are several fantasy scenes from each of the people invited. Through these “dream sequences,” we are given an insight into what these people think as they speculate as to why McGavin’s character has invited them out to dinner, not knowing the end is near for him.

Once they arrive at the restaurant, the guests suck up to McGavin’s character with high hopes of their careers being revived or started for them, until after dinner he returns from a phone call from the studio Board Of Directors and McGavin’s character has been asked to resign. The guests are revealed to be his fair weather friends, including his wife… all of their hopes are shattered by McGavin’s firing… and the segment ends abruptly.

Meanwhile, interwoven through only the beginning of “A Table At Cairo's” is the “Natica Jackson” story staring Michelle Pfeiffer. This segment is briefly introduced with-in the first few scene of this movie, and seems to disappear until “A Table At Cairo's” concludes. In this story line, Pfeiffer’s character is on the rise of fame and fortune… which is interrupted when she falls in love and has a passionate affair with a married man with whom she had a minor car accident with somewhere in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

The two seem to be lonely people caught up in their complicated and messed up lives, calling each other “best friends” as their lives outside of their secret romance are made more complicated as their relationship becomes more serious and involved. In the end, their running around and cheating (her on her career, him on his marriage…) catches up with them with tragic and fatal results – passion is replaced by guilt before the movie ends abruptly and the credits roll.

The editing might be pretty bad, but it gets worse when you look at the quality of the images. I use the word “quality” except as a comparative, the simple fact that there isn’t any picture quality here. There are times I wasn’t sure if it was the problem was with the copy I was viewing or the original stock – but the movie itself and the cover art looked as if this was filmed on a very used VHS tape. There seems to be a layer of grease on the lenses on the cameras used to film this, trying to create a “dream like” quality… which actually makes things more confusing during the actual dream/fantasy scenes.

There also isn’t much in the way of a sound– little music, garbled dialog, and missing looping or Foley. It’s as if everything we hear was recorded as it happened on the set and there was nothing done in post-production with the exception of some music that’s sometimes too subtle. The poor audio quality of the dialog over the lack-luster music made it nearly impossible to follow the story closely. If a movie lacks action, then the audience deepens on the dialog to create tension and move the story along. If there’s no action and you can’t hear the dialog, what else is there besides the “Off” button?

The obvious question to ask from someone who wants to know if there is any redeeming quality to this film would be; Is the acting any good? Well, that’s a good question with out an answer because with the poor audio, video and editing quality lacking and with a convoluted plot with two unrelated story lines intertwined. Besides Pfeiffer and McGavin, this film also stars Paul Jonathan Henry as the married man, Hector Elizondo as her agent… and also stars a long list of B-List actors and actresses you’ve seen before in other films and television programs. It’s not like these people couldn’t act, we’ve seen them do so before… they just don’t have much to work with here with out coming off as over compensating. You can understand why this is available on VHS or DVD because it’s one of the first glimmers of light from Michelle Pfeiffer’s brilliant career… and what might be good acting from those on screen with her. But how can you tell? Besides the audio and visual quality, it also seems like the directing was also missing in this film, too…

On top of the absent directing, there’s a lack of editing in this film; scenes take too long, there’s a lot of dead movement or unnecessary action such as one of the main characters long walk from one place to the other. The camera also just seems to linger too long after the characters give their dialog, as if the actors waiting for the director to yell “Cut.”

But what is there for Vintage Aficionados, Retro-Centrics and other readers of The Fedora Chronicles? Besides proving that not all period films about The Golden Era of style and substance or the Golden Age of Hollywood are created equal, what does this film have? Admittedly, there isn’t much of anything besides the sets, the props and the costumes, but that’s again I suspect that this was the result of a small production company following around a larger one and used the left overs to create this mess. But sadly if anyone were going to lift images off this movie to use on their website, they would be hard pressed to do a good job to rip anything of quality.

Bringing this review to a conclusion brings me back to something I mentioned earlier, frustration. With all the effort that was there to bring this cast together, with all the set pieces, props, costumes, vintage cars (which was easier to do since this was made 20 years ago,) only to have all the pieces fall apart with a script or plot that’s almost incoherent, why bother? All of which is made worse with the lack of quality in the visuals and sound hammered together with lousy editing. There are moments where I can see some people worked hard to make interesting scenes with creative cinematography, camera angles, atmospheric lighting with the aforementioned sets, props and costumes. All those good efforts are demised in a film that’s almost unwatchable because horribly editing, bad sound and foggy visuals and a nebulous narrative.

If this film belongs in anyone's collection, it's should only be to serve as an example to film students and armature film makers of what not to do. If the story lines “A Table At Cairo's” and "“Natica Jackson" were presented individually, and the quality of the audio and visuals could be improved (or brought back to the original quality) then this might be something worth while. But as it stands now, avoid this "movie" as best as you can.

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