The Ninth Configuration
(a.k.a. Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane)
directed by William Peter Blatty
(Lorimar, 1980)

Fair warning -- this film is not easy to find. It is an oldie, and as the saying goes, a goody. Try Blockbuster, many of them carry it in the drama section. Your local Mom & Pop Shop will probably never have heard of it.

The screenplay is by William Peter Blatty, of Exorcist fame, who also serves as director. It stars Stacy Keach, and it won a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.

The basic premise -- Stacy Keach as Col. Kane is put in charge of a military mental institution. But the building it is housed in is ... different. It is in a castle in the mountains of California, replete with hulking, brooding statues and grand foyer. The castle was European in origin, but was transported to the U.S. and the military has acquired it rather cheaply as its owners could not keep up with the costs involved.

The patients are as odd as the choice of location. My personal favorite is the man casting Shakespeare's plays with dogs. Yes, you read that correctly -- how many of you are now sitting there wondering just what breed would make the role of Hamlet?? Would Juliet be a poodle or a pomeranian? But I digress. Allusions are made that all is not as it seems, and indeed they are not. There is a bit of role reversal, with the patients "treating" the doctor. But is he the doctor, or another patient himself?

Due to the subtleties of the plot, I hesitate to divulge too much. To do so would colour your viewing of the movie and instill too many preconcieved notions, which could in turn hamper your enjoyment.

This is a film best viewed when prepared to confront something different. Its humour is almost British -- less slapstick, though there is some of that too, more subtle -- it exists on many levels. This is a the film to hunt down when you are weary of being spoon-fed plot and talked down to by directors catering to the lowest common level of intelligence. There are no wild car chases, no dastardly villains in need of punishment. Good and bad are not so easily defined here. Maybe that is the attraction, that and the wonderfully odd humour. This is a film subtle in its genius, and genius it is. Be prepared to watch it several times and to argue with whomever you view it with, as everyone manages to interpret it differently.

Quite simply, I love this film. It is possibly one of the best movies I have ever seen, possibly ever made. So check it out. You can thank me later.

[ by Jill Cocheo ]

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