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At Last, Bogdanovich's First!,
This review is from: Targets (DVD)
In the early 1960s, celebrated director Peter Bogdanovich (1971's THE LAST PICTURE SHOW; 1972's WHAT'S UP, DOC?; 1973's PAPER MOON, et al.) was just starting his career in the motion-picture industry as an interviewer and critic. By the middle of the decade, he was working as a technical assistant for renowned low-budget producer/director Roger Corman, with whom he developed a good working relationship and a great mutual respect.
Impressed with Bogdanovich's creative and aesthetic contributions to the projects of others on his staff, Corman offered him the opportunity to write and direct a horror cheapie of his own, and of course, Bogdanovich jumped at the chance. But this would be a true test of Bogdanovich's mettle, Corman warned, because there would be three restrictions placed upon the project: Bogdanovich must keep the cost of making the film within its meager budget; the film must make prudent use of footage edited out of Corman's earlier cheapie, THE TERROR; and the film must feature actor Boris Karloff (yes, THE Boris Karloff, who was contractually indebted to Corman's production studio for one last film). The result? TARGETS, Bogdanovich's suspensful and intriguing two-pronged study of the effects of unrelenting ennui.
In the film, Karloff portrays Byron Orlok, an aged horror star of yesteryear who, despite opposition from his assistant and a director friend, wants to retire from filmmaking. The world has become so apathetic towards violence, he believes, that everyday events can sometimes be scarier than any of his fright flicks, and thereby his work has become passé.
Tim O'Kelly plays a dissatisfied young husband whose lack of genuine success is making it difficult for him to live in the shadow of his overbearing father. When he finally reaches his breaking point, he stoically murders his wife and parents, after which he takes his father's rifles and goes on a sniping spree.
The two stories converge at a drive-in theater, where Byron Orlok is preparing to make a public appearance (and where he plans to deliver his swan song and announce his retirement to his fans). After shooting at passing cars on a nearby highway, the sniper hightails it to the drive-in, being drawn there when he notices Orlok's name on the marquee. When the two men actually meet, the ennui in the lives of each finally comes to a head, but with quite different consequences.
The performance that Karloff delivered in TARGETS is arguably one of the best of his career. But it wasn't much of a stretch for him, to be honest, as the film was shot just a few years before his death and he was, therefore, merely playing himself. Peter Bogdanovich not only directed the film, he also played Sammy Michaels, the director friend of Orlok who is trying to talk the actor out of retiring. A beautiful young asian woman named Nancy Hsueh played Orlok's personal assistant, and she did an excellent job of complementing both Karloff and Bogdanovich. (Her performance really is outstanding, especially considering that she plays a secondary character, and it's a shame that she didn't go on to greater recognition before her death in 1981.)
Tim O'Kelly also derserves some kudos for the work he did as the discontented sniper. The role required little dialogue, so O'Kelly had to express most of his feelings and thoughts through facial expressions. It is really amazing to see the dichotomy of emotion--sometimes a mix of boredom and desperation, sometimes both anger and sadness--that he was able to convey at any given moment.
By the way, Bogdanovich did comply, for the most part, with Corman's requisites. Though production did go a bit over budget, TARGETS was still a low-budget film, even by the standards of the 1960s. (Since it was both critically acclaimed and a commercial success, the film actually earned a moderate profit for Corman's studio.) And obviously Karloff was, as required, the star of the film. But what of those snippets of footage from THE TERROR that Bogdanovich had to add in? They were were used as the "movie" that plays at the drive-in just before the Orlok character is scheduled to address his fans. Clever, eh?
Priase to Paramount for finally releasing TARGETS on DVD; the long-awaited disc is just fantastic! Though it doesn't appear as if much, if any, restoration was done, the print that was used for the transfer seems to be in very good shape. Colors are crisp and vibrant, and there are few intrusive wear artifacts. There are few extras, but an interesting feature commentary with director and co-star Bogdanovich is included. And at the going retail price, this DVD is a steal! Not often is such an excellent gem offered at for so little, especially one that has gained as big a cult following as this film has over the years.
This is certainly one film that is a must-own for Karloff fans. And those who love well-made, suspenseful thriller will be remiss if they don't add TARGETS to their collection.