The Mephisto Waltz
Director: Paul Wendkos
Starring: Alan Alda, Jacqueline Bisset, Barbara Perkins, Curt Jurgens, Pamilyn Ferdin
Man's body is taken over by another man's soul. Wife prefers the new management.
Someone wrote me and suggested this and another movie, Montenegro, and this one was so good now I REALLY need to find Montenegro. I must admit I was skeptical, given the starring role of Alan Alda, who I never, ever want to see again during my lifetime, but this was before he became such an irritating lanky smug nasal whiner, and in part of it he's evil, so that helps to erase the horrible memories of MASH from my mind. So during the wonderful psychedelic credits in which we have scenes from the movie displayed behind colorful images of candles and such, we find out that we are dealing with an all-star cast! After Alda we have Jacqueline Bisset of The Deep, Airport, and When Time Ran Out. Barbara Parkins, of Valley of the Dolls, Curt Jurgens, who sounds really familiar, even though I don't know what I would know him from—although I have to love that he was in a movie listed on the IMDb as Kill! (aka Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!) Bradford Dillman of The Swarm, Pirhana, and Compulsion, and finally Pamelyn Ferdin of What's the Matter With Helen? and who grew up to be the stalkeree of The Toolbox Murders! And music by Jerry Goldsmith! And a trivia item on the IMDb says that for financial reasons, this was the ONLY film 20th Century Fox released that year! Well, at least they have their priorities straight.
Okay! So after the fabulous credits we have Bisset as Paula waking to the rasping of some blue jay or whatever. She tries to rouse her husband, Alda as Myles, and get him to put his bony lovin' on her, but he's too tired. Dude, I'm gay and I would get it up for Jacqueline Bisset. But this film takes place in an alternate universe in which someone like Jacqueline Bisset might marry someone like Alan Alda. They also have a perky young daughter in Abby, who is forgotten for long stretches of the story until she becomes important to the plot.
So Myles goes to interview this dude Duncan Ely. Myles used to be a pianist, but didn't make it and became a music journalist. Ely is an older, obnoxiously arrogant asshole, and when Myles walks in he is playing the Mephisto Waltz, which we are told is about "the devil dancing with his paramour." Ely demands to see Myles' hands. After looking him over briefly, he kind of makes a decision, and suddenly Myles is like his bestest buddy. He invites the couple over to party where film directors and the like are present. We have also met Parkins as Ely's daughter Roxanne. She seems to enjoy a rather intimate relationship with her father. Ely asks Paula what she was like when she was young and she says "Beautiful, and precocious." Then she asks her what she was like as she got older, and she says "Beautiful, but less naïve." Well, she doesn't mince words about her looks I suppose. Anyway, Myles is asked to play a piano duo with Ely, which makes Paula all pissy [as the attention is off her?] and she decides she wants to go home and pout.
So the next day Ely, Roxanne, and a bunch of people come in to Paula's boutique and buy a bunch of shit they don't need, which makes her suspicious. She just doesn't like these people at all, and doesn't hesitate to let Myles know it, although he is getting all sorts of money and attention and doesn't seem to care. It must be said that marital relations between these two do not seem to be very cordial, to the point I would say they full-on hate each other. We find out that Ely's "wife was murdered by a dog," and soon we have a crazy back-and-forth edit to this face—which turns out to be a human mask on a dog! Which is freaky. Furthermore, IMDb trivia says that the mask is a William Shatner mask and is the SAME model mask as was used in Halloween! What. The. Fuck. This is at this WILD costume party, at which you will see sights such as this:
So then Paula sees Ely go right up his Roxanne, his daughter, and full-on start making out! There is all sorts of craziness going on everywhere which I believe we are supposed to now stands in for actual sex, and one couple offers Paula a joint, but she's all pissy once again and wants to leave. Myles says "Success makes you miserable," although really I think maybe just HIS success and not hers. She wanders upstairs and finds a creepy room with all this devil-worship kind of stuff in it, but is barked at by the big, evil dog. Roxanne shows up and compliments Myles, and when Paula responds icily, Roxanne says "So it's okay if I do him?" I think we've ALL encountered people like that.
So some later night Myles is over there alone. Ely romantically puts his hand on his daughter's face and says "People should be born at 17 and live their lives backward." Think about that. This movie is perverted! And as Margaret White says, "Ahh like it. AHHH LIIIIKE IIT!!!!" So they make a life cast of Myles' face, and he comes back to Paula after having consumed three bottles of champagne. She flat-out asks him not to go back there again. Well, back he goes.
SPOILERS > > >
Can you guess where this is going? Myles goes back, Roxanne gives him a drugged drink, takes some of his blood, and puts a droplet of satanic liquid Tide on his forehead [just kidding, but she has this vial of Satan Juice that is thick and blue, like liquid detergent], and places Myle's life mask on top of Ely's face. There is then a whole long dream/soul transfer sequence, and then Ely wakes up—in his new body! I gotta tell ya, if I was going to move into a new body, it sure wouldn't be Alan Alda's. I'm sure Carl Hardwick can play piano as well as anyone, if that's his big concern.
So Myles [now with Ely's soul and personality inside] goes home and brazenly looks at Paula's body and FUCKS HER! And… well, you know what Mrs. White said. Ely's old body is buried and he leaves a hundred thousand dollars to Myles and the rest to Roxanne. I think he should have left it all to himself as Myles—I mean sure, she's your daughter, but you never know what's going to come up and you don't have a pre-nup. Anyway, Paula comes flat-out and says it: "All that money has made you terribly attractive." Personally, I try to keep all that to myself and pretend that I really, you know, LIKE someone, you know, for who they ARE INSIDE, but not Paula. And she's having a lot more hot Satan-sex than me, so clearly I need to re-examine my M.O.
So now Paula is starting to notice that Myles is acting totally different—demanding better Scotch and decent food—while also putting the pork to her in a way she's never had before. She only kind of minds: "It's true you've changed," she says. "Oh, it's terribly exciting. But it's not comfortable like it was before." Well if it's not comfortable, you need more lube, sweetie. I'm sorry I have such a potty-mouth in this review. This perverted movie is bringing it our in me. Anyway, Paula made it clear that she fucking HATED Myles before, so I don't know what she's missing now. Roxanne gives Myles the key to her house as well as a loaded look, and soon Paula starts to recognize Myles' vastly improved piano playing as Ely's.
So one night Paula goes to sleep and has this crazy dream [and you know I LOOOOVE me some crazy dreams!] where she's at Ely's mansion but the whole place is filled with white-painted branches! She sees him coming in through the door—and understands that his soul is in Myles—and he goes and puts some of the Satanic spot cleanser on the daughter's forehead! The daughter, by the way, pretty much disappeared from the film until NOW, and in a second more, she's gone! Paula wakes, the daughter suddenly has a serious condition, and before you can say "swizzle stick," is DEAD! Paula heard something somewhere or other [I missed it] about how Ely needs sacrifices to Satan in order to pull his little soul switcheroo. When Paula complains to Myles about it he says "Paula, you're living in a nightmare!"
So Paula goes to find Roxanne's ex-husband, who I believe also lost a child [or someone]. He's not too keen to talk to her, but meets her again that night [after Myles gives a triumphant concert that sets him up to go on a concert tour] and now he's all drunk and hot for her. They go for a drive, hang at his place, he starts to open up, then goes for a walk—and doesn't come back. And Paula's got a blue spot of extra strength Tide on her head. She goes for a drive, feels dizzy and crashes the car, and then decides it might be a great idea to just lay down right in the middle of the road. I won't reveal the ending—although I'm dying to—because it really surprised me, but let's just say it remains in Paula's character as a lusty lady who ultimately places really good sex above, well, pretty much everything.
< < < SPOILERS END
I really liked it. Not only was it SUPER cheesy with lots of delightful 70s flavor, garish colors, crazy edits, turning cameras and wild sex parties, but also the whole Satanic angle with the crazy perverted sex, incest theme, liquid Tide with bleach, dogs with human masks on—and none of this is even to mention Jacqueline Bisset. I really liked her character, not so much as a person I would like to know, but the fact that she's up front that she's beautiful—she seems to be aware that this is how most people see her, and she doesn't have qualms about facing that. She's like me, that way. But anyway, this is infinitely better than her becoming an abstract expressionist and demanding that everyone admire her paintings and relate to her for who she IS INSIDE. I also like that she just comes right out and tells Myles that she's a lot more attracted to him now that he's rich. She doesn't spend a lot of time bemoaning the fact that her marriage [that it was obvious she hated] is over, she likes the new one, likes the good hot sex, and is prepared to do what she has to in order to keep it. So she's just a breath of fresh air all around. I SO need to re-watch The Deep right now.
But in addition to all the cheesiness, it's also pretty intriguing and, not exactly scary, but creepy and menacing. The story is interesting, the characters are set up well, I liked all the perversity [again, a breath a fresh air], and it was just involving. And, like I said, it took a direction I genuinely didn't expect at the end. All round, a total winner! And I needed it, too, because it's been like all shit lately in my DVD player.
Yes! It has that beguiling mixture of total cheesiness and genuine creepiness!