Sweet Killing (1993) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
Tuna reviewed this one a while back and, while I didn't originally intend to cover it, I thought the premise was intriguing, so I picked up a copy.
Here's the deal:
A stodgy middle-management banker has a fairly solid life except that he's stuck with a fat, shrewish, frequently drunken wife. He despises her so much that he fantasizes about killing her. He's a comic book buff and one story in his collection gives him the concept for a perfect murder. He impersonates a fictional client (Mr. Targo) who calls for him at work several times until his supervisor gets upset that Mr. Targo is not being treated properly by the firm, and orders Our Hero to make an appointment with the fictional character. The banker then goes to great lengths to inform everyone at work precisely when he will be visiting with Mr. Targo. While he is in "Targo's neighborhood," he stops often to ask directions making sure to make silly errors so people will remember him, meanwhile doubling back to sneak into his home and kill his wife brutally, all while wearing a protective covering to prevent any blood contamination. He showers, places the same clothing back on, then sneaks back out and resumes his search for Targo, eventually landing in an apartment building and knocking on a random door asking for Targo and claiming to be confused. He manages to get inside the apartment to use a phone, calls home in front of the apartment owner, and finds nobody there, even though he is "sure" his wife is home. He calls his neighbor and asks him to check on the wife and ... is shocked to find she has been brutally murdered!
The banker's life becomes perfect. His alibi is air-tight. People saw him leave before the time of death; people saw him all along the way; people saw him return after the time of death - in the same clothes. His supervisor actually talked to Targo and ordered our guy to arrange the appointment. On top of everything else, the woman in "Targo's apartment" is a stone cold fox who becomes his new lover. Everything is hunky-dory except for a bulldog police detective (Michael Ironside) who doesn't believe Targo exists, but the policeman is ordered off the case by his captain and told to work on something sensible. The captain closes the case. Our hero has gotten away with murder.
One day, while our man is at home by himself, there's a knock on the door. Who could the sinister man in the leather hat be? Why, it's none other than the fictional Targo! (F. Murray Abraham) To make matters more complex, Targo seems to know almost everything about the murder.
What's that all about?
I know it seems that I have "spoiled" the film, but I have not in the least. What I have revealed is merely the set-up, and I can't tell you one more blessed thing because ... well, that's the whole fun of a film like this, isn't it?
Surprisingly, this case is (very loosely) based on a real and once-famous case in the U.K.: the 1931 murder of Julia Wallace in Liverpool.
William Wallace was an insurance agent who attended a meeting at his chess club one evening where he was handed a telephone message to call on a prospective client at an address in Menlove Gardens East the following evening. The caller, Mr. "Qualtrough," had called just a few minutes before Wallace's arrival at the club. Wallace took a tram to the appointment, only to discover that there was no Menlove Gardens East. Wallace talked to people frequently along the way: to the tram operator, to a newsagent, and to a beat cop. He returned home to find his wife Julia beaten to death in her sitting room.
The police found that the phone box used by "Qualtrough" to make his call to the chess club was just a few hundred yards from Wallace's home. They were also convinced that it would have been just barely possible for Wallace to have killed his wife before leaving and still have had time to arrive at the spot where he boarded his tram. Wallace was found guilty and sentenced to death, but the verdict was reversed upon appeal. Wallace wasn't around long to enjoy his exoneration. His health was poor and he died in 1933. The case remains unsolved, and Qualtrough's identity was never determined.
This case from the 1930s was made into a novel in the 1960s before it became a film in the 1990s. The novel, Angus Hall's "Deathday," was a fictional story loosely based on the Wallace case, with "Qualtrough" developed into a fully-defined character. The link in the previous sentence spoils the book, but not the movie. Although the movie is based on the novel and has many things in common with it, it also changed many key details, including Qualtrough's name and his secret. At first, I thought the film would have the same explanation as the novel seems to have (I have not read it), with Qualtrough/Targo turning out to be an alter-ego, Tyler Durden style, caused by the murderer's guilt, but that did not turn out to be the case. Furthermore, Targo's identity is not as important to the movie as it seems to be to the book. Even after Targo's secret is revealed, the film still has more surprises and quite a coy and crafty ending.
It's a movie with many strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, there is the great premise, Leslie Hope's beauty, lots of entertaining plot twists, some humor, and the off-kilter performance of Salieri as Targo. On the negative side there is some very stilted unnatural dialogue, some uneconomical plotting filled with unnecessary details, some errors in judgment about the appropriate use of humor, and some very bad acting by everyone except the four main characters. I also found the film very aloof and difficult to relate to because there are no sympathetic characters. The murdered wife is seen through the eyes of a man who despised her enough to kill her. The police detective, who should invoke some sympathy from us in his quest for justice, is an cold, ruthless and priggish ass. The wife-killer, in addition to being a sociopath, is a total pussy who spends most of the movie whining about something. The new girlfriend has some kind of split personality and keeps turning hot and cold in her relationship with the killer - sometimes for good reason, but at other times just because she seems to have some "issues," as they say. The only character who is consistently interesting is Targo, but he's certainly not someone to root for, even when he turns out to be real. If it had been my call, I would have made both the killer and the detective sympathetic, and would have cast them with the most clean-cut and appealing actors possible, guys like Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart.
Speaking of The Black Dahlia, this movie would be a great candidate for a remake by somebody like Brian de Palma, who could apply the money and talent necessary to make it professional through and through, which is what it lacked to be a really terrific movie.
Anthony Higgens plays a middle-management banker who has a comfortable life which is spoiled by only one factor - an overbearing wife. His principal hobby is collecting comic books, and eventually their lurid stories inspire him to do in his shrewish wife. In the process of setting up a perfect alibi for the murder, he meets the woman of his dreams, Leslie Hope (24, Talk Radio), who is completely believable as a woman who would instantly inspire lust and affection. The murderer's plan is nearly perfect, but an over-zealous cop (Michael Ironside) is convinced Higgens committed the murder, and goes to extraordinary lengths attempting to prove it.
Sweet Killing is a nifty little murder story that nobody has heard of. It's original and interesting from start to finish, thanks to a fast pace, Leslie Hope nudity, and many delicious plot twists which are difficult to out-guess.
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