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Dead Again (1991)

by on 2011/02/21

“Please print that I loved my wife and I will love her forever.”

* * * *

The pearl-handled revolver in the studio. The gold-plated scissors in the bedroom. The Robin Williams in the meat locker.

Dead Again is a beautifully constructed, wonderfully acted murder mystery with a twist. Multiple twists, in fact. Moody, atmospheric, thoroughly entertaining, Dead Again was directed by Kenneth Branagh and is another film in our reviews this month that showcase a real-life romantic couple.

Featuring performances by Derek Jacobi, Robin Williams and Andy Garcia, Branagh’s then-wife Emma Thompson plays both ill-fated pianist Margaret and the amnesiac Grace. Branagh stars as the 1940s composer Roman Strauss and the present-day wise-cracking private eye Mike Church.

We see Branagh first as the brooding and intense Roman Strauss, a composer on death row for the stabbing death of his wife Margaret (Thompson).  On the night of his execution, Kenneth Branagh tells newspaperman Gray Baker (Andy Garcia) portentously: “This …is all far from over.”

The present day in this film is filmed in colour, and the past is conveyed in gorgeous, shimmering black and white. Apparently the use of black and white can be credited to negative feedback from the movie’s test audiences.

Originally filmed entirely in colour, audiences found the intermittent journeys back to the 40s confusing. This is one movie where I believe the film was helped by an a crew of dullard focus group participants.  The black-and-white travels back in time, with the glittering parties post-wartime, are sublime.

From the gothic horror of death row, we flash forward to the present. It is a dark and stormy night. A woman who can’t seem to speak a word has shown up at an opulent home, now a Catholic orphanage. The staff at the school decides it is time to call in a former ward of the school, a private detective with a “name you can trust.” Affable, decidedly low-brow Mike Church is hired to find out the identity of the mystery woman.

Branagh spans several continents with his accents in this film. His accent as Strauss is as  convincing as his Sam Spade-worthy American accent playing Mike Church. Too soft-hearted to leave the mystery woman in the chaotic psych ward at the city hospital, Church takes her into his home, and puts out a newspaper ad in search of the friends and family of the woman he dubs Grace.

Enter Franklyn Madson (Derek Jacobi) to perform regression hypnotherapy on the young woman. She relives a past memory seemingly from another lifetime. Grace emerges from the session able to speak. Grace and Mike begin to fall for one another. (He likes the way she smells).

The camera loves Emma Thompson in this movie. She’s a beauty as a celebrated pianist, bride, newlywed in love. She glows, she gleams. This was a director who loved his leading lady. I’m not sure she’s ever looked quite as beautiful in any film since.

Through Madson, Mike and Grace discover they both bear an eery resemblance to a celebrated 1940s couple whose relationship ended in a horrific murder with golden scissors. Seeking the help of butcher Cozy Carlisle (Robin Williams), a creepy former psychiatrist who lost his license, Church is convinced in their meat locker consulting room that in order to prevent history from repeating itself he’ll have to kill Grace.

Grace is similarly urged to protect herself from Mike by the shady Madson, who seems to use his hypnotherapy as a means to source valuable antiques. Madson equips Grace with an antique pearl-handled gun.

With each murderously suspicious of the other, and both armed, the film builds to its shocking conclusion or perhaps more accurately conclusions. The only downside to Dead Again is you can only experience the ride once. It wasn’t as fun watching it again and know all the surprises in advance.

I had the good sense to thoroughly and completely appreciate it the first time round. Today, I appreciate the solid craftmanship of this neo-noir romance.

* * * *

107 minutes

Rated R for stabbing, stabbing, stabbing, and Robin Williams in a meat locker

  1. andymovieman permalink

    dead again was the most brilliant movie from kenneth branagh. his ex wife emma thompson did a great job. it was good seeing robin williams and andy garcia in this movie.

  2. Andymovieman permalink

    branagh did a good job directing and acting in this movie. he did well with a german accent and american accent for his 2 characters that he played.

  3. Andymovieman permalink

    it was just as good and suspenseful as basic instinct and malice. branagh was brilliant.

  4. andymovieman permalink

    it’s like watching malice and minority report.

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