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My Favourite Lauren Bacall Performance: The Fan (1981)


I was terribly saddened to hear about the passing of the great Lauren Bacall at age 89. From her pictures in Hollywood's Golden Age with former-husband Humphrey Bogart (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Key Largo) to later star turns in camptastic musical Applause and appearances in the likes of Murder on the Orient Express, The Shootist, Misery and The Mirror Has Two Faces - Bacall has been an integral part of my movie going life. However, none of her performances have affected me like her largely forgotten turn as Broadway actress Sally Ross in little-seen 1981 slasher, The Fan.

Bacall plays an actress of stage and screen who is about to embark on a new Broadway play. Ross's personal assistant Belle Goldman (Maureen Stapleton) begins to notice that the actress has been getting obsessive and occasionally violent letters from a young fan (played by Michael Biehn). Soon matters become more extreme when his fan begins to pursue Ross on a deadly cat and mouse chase.

The Fan's deadly stalker theme gained it some notoriety - with this New York set film shooting just months after the murder of John Lennon at the hands of obsessed fan Mark David Chapman. Despite this outcry and moderate boost in publicity, the film sunk at the box office and was savaged by critics. Biehn's homosexual stalker character was also the subject of much heated discussion through its alleged stereotyping. However, its time to re-evaluate The Fan as it is truly a lost classic.

This Broadway set slasher marked Bacall's first leading role since 1958's The Gift of Love - albeit Bacall had been a regular face in film and television in a variety of top-notch supporting roles in-between. Director Edward Bianchi makes us well aware of this, presenting Bacall's Sally Ross as every bit the glorious star making her triumphant return to the stage. In a fascinating move, its also a pleasure to see the traditional final girl in the slasher film, elevated to superstar level with Bacall bringing fraught emotion, class, and glamour to the otherwise gory proceedings.

Perhaps the reason The Fan shines is through its influences of old Hollywood and the golden cinematic era which Bacall helped shape. There's a charming love-story at the centre of the project between Sally Ross and Hollywood pal Jake Berman (the late James Garner) providing some warm charm and fluffiness to the otherwise grisly proceedings. The great Maureen Stapelton furthers this through her sweet turn as Ross's loyal assistant Belle. It is also the musical numbers which help The Fan stand-out as more than your average slasher - the centrepiece being the dazzling Hearts, Not Diamonds. Penned by Tim Rice, Bacall's smoky vocals tackle this poignant number about a singer looking for a less material form of love. It packs a real emotional punch (especially when listening now).

The Fan combines the gore and suspense of the best eighties slashers, with the charm and glitz of classic Hollywood to create an unforgettable watch. Bacall mesmerises as the screen titan (that she is/and plays) adding style, grace, and unparalleled emotion to the 'horror heroine' role.

The Fan is sadly out of print but can be found on sites like iOffer.



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