The Naked Face

Director: Bryan Forbes  
Roger Moore, Rod Steiger, Elliot Gould

At first, having the same kind of life as someone who is famous in the entertainment industry seems like a life of someone who has got it made. Often there is great wealth attached to fame, for one thing. Then there is the admiration coming from thousands of ordinary people who are in awe of your celebrity. One such problem that famous people in the entertainment industry sometimes experience that ordinary Joes like us don't usually experience is the curse of typecasting. Typecasting can happen in many different kinds of entertainers. The authors A. A. Milne (Winnie The Pooh) and Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) both complained on several occasions that their most famous literary creations got so popular with readers that these readers refused to read anything different coming from these authors. But more often than not, typecasting happens in mediums that are both audio and visual in nature. Television shows have caused a number of actors to be typecast. In his autobiography Back To The Batcave, Adam West went into great detail about how the show typecast him for years after the show ended, and that work in Hollwood was often hard to find until a new generation of power players found their way into the studios and were willing to see West in new productions and with new points of view. Barry Williams, in his autobiography Growing Up Brady, wrote about how hard it was for him and his fellow child actors from The Brady Bunch to be seen as anything else but Brady kids for many years after the show ended. At one point, when a reunion movie in the early 1980s was proposed, Williams and the other kids on the show absolutely refused at first to appear in the movie because they were still fighting typecasting more than seven years after the show ended. Only the promise of big paychecks caused each of the former Brady kids to cave in and agree to appear on the reunion movie.

Some typecast television actors, like the two I brought up in the previous paragraph, do eventually manage to break out of their typecasting and go on to make new and different characters in other productions that are accepted by audiences. Some never do; George Reeves, of the original Superman television show, was one such unfortunate actor. Television is probably the king of typecasting because it makes actors present the same characters each and every week for years on end. But it's not just television that can cause typecasting. Movies on occasion have also inflicted typecasting on some unfortunate actors. There are many different examples of this throughout the history of Hollywood movie productions, but the example that I want to bring up for this movie review is how the James Bond series manage to typecast some of its major players. Desmond Llewelyn ("Q") and Lois Maxwell ("Miss Moneypenny") certainly had problems finding film work outside of the Bond series when they were appearing in it. Also, the first cinematic James Bond, Sean Connery, suffered from typecasting for years after leaving the series. Strangely, if you were to look at his filmography, you would see that he actually didn't have problems getting cast in a wide range of movies right from the point he left James Bond behind. But a closer look at these movies will reveal that at the box office, these movies generally weren't extremely popular with audiences. Connery would have to wait until the 1980s before he would start to pack in sizable crowds with movies that had nothing to do with James Bond.

Then there is poor Roger Moore. He actually managed to make a name for himself with audiences before signing on to James Bond, such as with the television show The Saint. And his fame certainly increased when he entered the Bond series. But if you look at his career during The Naked Facethe time he was playing James Bond, you will see he tried - and failed - to get an audience to see a different side of him between James Bond movies. Can you name a non-Bond movie he appeared in while doing James Bond? Some of you might be saying The Wild Geese, but can you name any others? Probably not. And the few movies he's made since exiting the Bond series have not exactly been popular. (Boat Trip with Cuba Gooding Jr., anyone?) Anyway, I was curious about Moore's attempts to show himself in a different light during his Bond days, so I decided to seek out and review such a movie. I found it with The Naked Face, a murder mystery based on a Sidney Sheldon novel. Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, how could I resist? In the movie, Roger Moore plays Doctor Judd Stevens, a psychiatrist who lives in Chicago. One day after having a session with him, one of Stevens' patients borrows his raincoat. Exiting Stevens' building, the patient is soon afterwards pounced upon by a mysterious figure and is stabbed to death. The authorities are called in, and the investigating team is lead by police detectives Angeli (Gould, Busting) and McGreavy (Steiger, In The Heat Of The Night). Shortly after breaking the news to Stevens that his patient has been murdered, it becomes clear that McGreavy, holding a grudge because Stevens' testimony years earlier in court saved a criminal from being put in prison, is putting Stevens on his suspect list for this recent murder. Matters are made worse for Stevens not long afterwards when his secretary is found murdered. Now Stevens knows for sure that the killer - or is it killers? - are targeting him. While Angeli is sympathetic and believes in Stevens' innocence, Stevens realizes he probably can't expect any other kind of help from the police since chief investigator McGreavy considers him suspect number one. So he decides to get help from private investigator Morgens (Art Carney, The Star Wars Holiday Special), who agrees to investigate. But Stevens soon finds out that Morgens' poking around may not be enough, and that he himself might have to dig deep to find out who is trying to kill him, and why.

Though there are many ways I could start my critique of The Naked Face, I will start with answering the biggest question that's probably going though your head right now: How is Roger Moore in this movie? Does he manage to shake his Bond typecasting? Well the answer to the second question is that Moore does manage to shake off his super spy image; I have to admit I seldom thought of James Bond while watching the movie. But answering the first question, as to just how good he is in this movie, unfortunately I have to answer it negatively. To put it quite bluntly, Moore in this movie gives a very poor performance. If I were to use the word "uninterested" to describe his acting here, that would be putting it mildly. He almost never raises his voice above a monotone, even when his character has a line of dialogue like, "Someone tried to kill me." He seems like he doesn't want to be in this movie, acting very tired. His visible exhaustion is made worse by a pair of glasses his character sometimes wears that make him look ten years older than he actually is. However, his performance comes across as brilliant restraint and thoughtful when compared to Rod Steiger's. Steiger gave some great performances in his career, getting three Oscar nominations and winning one at one point. However, in the later years of his career he on occasion started to ham it up, The Amityville Horror and The Specialist being two such examples. Though he doesn't always overact in The Naked Face, there are multiple times when his character starts shrieking and ranting to a ludicrous degree, a level that no professional police officer would ever sink down to unless he wanted a number of complaints filed towards him by citizens or fellow police officers. While I guess one could find some amusement from this terrible performance, at the same time it's distracting, because it makes the viewer wonder why director Bryan Forbes (The Stepford Wives) let Steiger go nuts while treating the rest of the movie with complete seriousness.

Somewhat better performances in the movie can be found with Elliot Gould and Art Carney. While Gould is not fantastic, he is clearly taking his role with a good amount of seriousness, and manages to make his character come across as both professional and sympathetic. Carney has a minor role, only two or three scenes in the entire movie, but he does manage to command your attention in his brief role. However, while Gould and Carney manage to do well in their roles, it's not enough to make up for a number of shortcomings found in the movie, not just simply with Moore's and Steiger's performances. There are some big problems with the screenplay, which was written by director Forbes. One of the biggest problems is with Moore's character of Doctor Judd Stevens. When I started to watch the movie, something soon starting bothering me about the character, but I didn't know quite what. When I got to the thirty minute mark, it finally struck me - even after that considerable amount of time, I knew almost nothing about this character. We learn he's a widower who's also lost his daughter, but that's about it. We learn nothing else about his past, his feelings about his patient and secretary being killed off, how he is internally struggling with the fact someone is trying to kill him for reasons he can't think of, or anything else that would make him a fully fleshed out character. He is an extremely bland character. No, scratch that last remark. He's not a character at all, simply just a plot device so that the surrounding elements in the movie can play out.

And what a chore it is to see those elements in the movie play out. This is one of the slowest-moving murder mysteries I have ever seen in a movie. How slow is it? Well, there is no real progress made on the case by any of the characters until around three-quarters of this one hour and forty-six minute movie has passed by. Nothing the movie does before this point disguises the fact that there isn't anything of real importance happening. And when the answer to the mystery does start to unfold late in the movie, it's mostly a disappointment, because we have been given no information before that point that might give mystery buffs an early clue as to who is behind it all, and why. Oh, the climax does give viewers a so-so twist concerning one of the major players, but then the movie doesn't really know what to do with it. This is followed by the villain trying to force information out of Dr. Stevens despite the fact he had been trying to kill Stevens several times earlier. Then the movie resorts to ending the conflict with a lame hand-to-hand combat sequence, followed by the police coming in despite the fact that the villian had previously shut tight the entrance to the building the previous events were happening in. As you can see, director Forbes was working with an extremely poor script, and he doesn't manage to do much with his direction. Although the movie is decently photographed, the penny-pinching Golan and Globus clearly didn't give Forbes a lavish budget. Though the movie was actually shot in Chicago, you never get a real good feeling of the city due to the anonymous locations that are often shot with the camera really close up. Also, set decorations and other details like people or vehicles passing in the background are often at a minimum. To sum up, The Naked Face is a failure both as a mystery and as entertainment, though as an explanation as to why Roger Moore never progressed beyond James Bond, it does succeed.

(Posted June 9, 2015)

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Check for availabiliy on Amazon for original Sidney Sheldon novel

See also: Hollywood Harry, Murder On Flight 502, Who Killed Mary What's 'er Name?