Sunday, January 21, 2007

Films of Michael Caine #50: Half Moon Street

Cast: Sigourney Weaver (Lauren Slaughter), Michael Caine (Lord Bulbeck), Patrick Kavanagh (General Sir George Newhouse), Faith Kent (Lady Newhouse), Ram John Holder (Lindsay Walker), Keith Buckley (Hugo Van Arkady), Ann Hanson (Mrs Van Arkady), Patrick Newman (Julian Shuttle), Niall O’Brien (Captain Twilley), Nadim Sawalha (Karim Hatami), Vincent Lindon (Sonny).

Crew: Bob Swaim (director), Geoffrey Reeve (producer), Bob Swaim and Edward Behr (writers), Richard Harvey (music), Peter Hannan (cinematography), Richard Marden (editor), Anthony Curtis (production designer).

Synopsis: Dr Lauren Slaughter is an American academic working at the Institute for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies in London. The job is prestigious but the poor pay barely covers the rent for her rundown bedsitter. Dr Slaughter struggles to overcome entrenched establishment attitudes. She is anonymously sent a videotape about high class prostitutes and decides to become an escort – but on her own terms. Among her clients are a rich Palestinian called Karim and Britain’s leading expert on the Middle East, Lord Bulbeck. Karim arranges for Dr Slaughter to take over renting his flat in Half Moon Street. She becomes romantically involved with Lord Bulbeck. He is busy arranging a secret peace summit near London. Lord Bulbeck agrees to have dinner at her flat, despite security concerns. Dr Slaughter is attacked in her flat by a would-be assassin. She kills him but is then held hostage by Karim. The Palestinian is using her as bait to ensnare and murder Lord Bulbeck. Dr Slaughter is rescued by British security forces, who shoot dead Karim…


Half Moon Street began life as Dr Slaughter, a novel by Paul Theroux. In 1987 producer Geoff Reeve told What’s On magazine about the film’s genesis: ‘I am a voracious book reader. I read Dr Slaughter and was really grabbed by its sardonic, almost brittle, approach to a story, which is fundamentally about a girl taking on the British establishment. There was an outsider’s look at London, whether or not one liked the perception of the place. I gambled a huge amount of money to buy the rights because I thought it was a hot property.’

Reeve said he had wanted an outsider as director. He picked Swaim after seeing the director’s previous picture, La Balance (1982), a tough thriller that was a box office hit and critical success in France. Swaim and Edward Behr adapted the story for the big screen. ‘My attitude is very simple,’ Swaim told Films and Filming in 1986. ‘A book is a book and a film is a film. The two creatures are very different. I create the whole story just as much as if I was working from an idea overheard in a bar.’ The screenplay went through six drafts.

For the lead role of Dr Slaughter rising star Sigourney Weaver was chosen, having just finished the science fiction sequel Aliens (1986). Caine was cast as Lord Bulbeck, although he was nearly 20 years younger than Bulbeck in Theroux’s novel. Half Moon Street began shooting at locations around London and on set at Elstree Studios in the summer of 1985. But Reeve was not happy with the results. ‘For the first time in my life I felt my own power reducing,’ the producer told What’s On. ‘Heavyweight US agents came in and the scripts changed. It did become something of a studio picture, rather than be shot on locations. I felt positively excluded from any decision making. It was a lesson … an unhappy one as far as I’m concerned.’

Caine told the Sunday Express he had enjoyed working on the movie. ‘It’s the ideal sort of film for me. A short shooting schedule in a nice place with nice people. A film takes a lot of time out of your life so you’d better be sure you’re going to be happy with the people and the place. Half Moon Street is great on both counts. I can’t see myself going to the Antarctic with a load of people I hate just to get an Oscar nomination.’ Caine obviously got on well with Reeve - this film was the first of five they have made together.

The movie opened in the US during September 1986, rated R. It was unpopular with critics and the public, grossing just over a million dollars. Response to the18-rated film was just as poor in the UK several months later, although some reviewers praised Weaver’s performance. Half Moon Street was soon released on VHS in both territories. It has been deleted in Britain but remains available in America. A US DVD release is due in 2003.

Reviews: ‘It’s an honourable failure which boasts an interesting subject and an intelligent performance from Weaver. Caine could have done without his glue-on moustache.’ – The Daily Telegraph
‘Half Moon Street is a half-baked excuse for a film that is redeemed not a whit by having Sigourney Weaver and Michael Caine in the starring roles.’ – Variety

Verdict: Muddled is the most polite way to describe this movie. It tries to be a romance, a thriller, a political tale and anti-establishment blow for feminism – and fails. Things happen, more things happen, and finally a deus ex machina rescues Dr Slaughter just before the film stops. There is little emotional development in any of the characters, while seemingly important sub-plots are introduced and then forgotten. The vignettes of Weaver as sex worker are laughably unerotic. Attempts to make a point about gender politics are delivered with sledgehammer subtlety. Caine strolls through a film that offers him nothing more challenging than sporting a moustache. It’s hard to give a damn about this film or anyone in it. Don’t waste your time.

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