Monday, May 8, 2017

The Killer Inside Me (1976) Montana Noir

Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me was written in 1952 it was called "one of the most blistering and uncompromising crime novels ever written, " in the introduction to the anthology collection, Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s. In this adaptation the story is moved to Montana and instead of a Texas oil patch peckerwood Lou Ford we get a more "westernized" stoic cowboy version of the character.

Directed by Burt Kennedy (The Money Trap (1965), Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969)), and written by Edward Mann (screenplay), Robert Chamblee (screenplay) based on Jim Thompson's novel. The cinematography was by William A. Fraker (Rosemary's Baby (1968), Bullitt (1968)), with Music by Tim McIntire and John Rubinstein.

The film stars Stacy Keach (Fat City (1972), The New Centurions (1972), The New Mike Hammer TV Series (1984–1989), Sunset Grill (1993)) as Lou Ford, Susan Tyrrell (Fat City (1972), Andy Warhol's Bad (1977)) as Joyce Lakeland, Tisha Sterling (Coogan's Bluff (1968), Betrayal (1974)) as Amy Stanton, Keenan Wynn (Shack Out on 101 (1955), Touch of Evil (1958), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Point Blank (1967), ) as Chester Conway, Don Stroud (Madigan (1968), Coogan's Bluff (1968), Taxi Driver (1976), The New Mike Hammer TV Series (1984–1989), Django Unchained (2012)) as Elmer, Charles McGraw (veteran of 10 Classic Film Noir) as Howard Hendricks, John Dehner (Vicki (1953), The Twilight Zone TV Series (1959–1964)) as Bob Maples, Pepe Serna (The New Centurions (1972), Scarface (1983), The Rookie (1990), The Black Dahlia (2006), ) as Johnny Lopez, John Carradine (Fallen Angel (1945), 'C'-Man (1949), Female Jungle (1956)) as Dr. Jason Smith, Royal Dano (Undercover Girl (1950), Hammett (1982)Twin Peaks  TV Series (1990–1991)) as Lou Ford's Father, and Julie Adams (Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957)) as Lou Ford's Mother.

Lou Ford (Keach)

Joyce Lakeland (Susan Tyrrell)

Sheriff Bob Maples (John Dehner)
Chester Conway (Keenan Wynn)

Amy Stanton (Tisha Sterling)

DA Howard Hendrick (Charles McGraw)

Elmer Conway (Don Stroud)
Johnny Lopez (Pepe Serna) lt.
Dr. Jason Smith (John Carradine )
The story is simple. Lou Ford (Keach) is a deputy sheriff in Central City, Montana. The Silver Bow County Sheriff cars and The Berkeley Pit reveal the true location, Montana's Mile High/Mile Deep City, Butte. Lou is good ol' boy likable, efficient, helpful and outwardly friendly. On the inside is a simmering f-ing nut job. He is a true Freudian sociopath which he manages to hide very effectively from his steady schoolmarm sweetheart Amy (Sterling), his immediate supervisor Sheriff Bob Maples (Dehner) and the Mayor and mine owner Chester Conway (Wynn).

Central City (Butte, Montana)

Berkeley Pit 

Lou has had a horrendous childhood. The son of a mathematics professor (Dano) whose wife (Adams), Lou's mother, (another educator BTY) liked to sleep around every time the old man was away from the house. Was she a nympho? An unsatisfied wife? Was Lou's father impotent? I've never read this particular Thompson novel so for me it's left to the imagination.


Mother (Julie Adams)

Father (Royal Dano)

The inception of Lou's psychosis begins with his peeping upon his mother and the various men she entertained through the windows of his home. This all come to a head when one night Lou awakens hearing the drip, drip, drip, of a faucet in the bathroom. Getting up to shut it off he sees through the open door of his parents bedroom his mother in bed screwing another man. Lou is transfixed and drawn into the room. he watches the proceedings from the foot of the bed. When his mother notices him watching she screams at him to get out. This freaks out the man she is with who runs out the door. His mother now furious begins to slap the shit out of him repeatedly. Lou fights back and pushes his mother back onto the bed falling on top of her. It is in this position that Lou's father finds them in when he bursts through the door. Does his father already know of his wife's infidelities? Does he tolerate it?  Or is this apparent display of deviant incestual behavior between mother and son what really sets him off? It's never explained. We just see Lou's Father severely beating his son. All this is revealed to us in fragmented flashbacks. The flashbacks are initially triggered by Lou having a hallucination of  his father in a diner.

While a mayoral election between Conway and county district attorney Howard Hendricks (McGraw) is pitting organizing miners against businessmen causing small flare ups of violence, Lou is sent five miles out on Derrick Road, to run a whore, Joyce Lakeland (Tyrrell), out of town. Joyce has been diddling with Conway's son Elmer (Stroud).

When Lou gets to her house Joyce thinks that he is just another trick, but the situation gets out of hand when she finds out that he's a cop. Joyce slaps Lou and that triggers him into a flashback and a violent spree. He beats Joyce up until a vision of his father appears. Lou announces to the vision that he's sorry. To his surprise Joyce is turned on by the beating "don't be sorry, I love it." They have sex.

Later after Joyce cooks up a blackmail scheme to bilk Conway out of $50,000 dollars, everything spirals out of Lou's control and into Noirsville.


Keach gives us an excellent performance. His exterior calm and collected demeanor is juxtaposed by a stewing maliciousness just under the surface. At first the way Keach is lit is quite flattering, he looks all American down home handsome, then as things start to spiral out of control he's lit in a more sinister way that highlights his cleft lip (probably why he wears a mustache) and makes him look somewhat grotesque, just through lighting.

Tyrrell is outstanding as Joyce. Born to play in Noir. Born to play the cheap and tawdry. She seems always off kilter, naturally skewed, with a sleepy bedroom eyes sexuality and a whiskey soaked voice. She's almost as scary sexually as Keach is psychotically.

Watching Charles McGraw, Keenan Wynn, and John Dehner do their stuff in this is like slipping into a comfortable old pair cowboy boots. Of the rest of the cast Don Stroud is a real hoot as the slightly goofy Elmer and Pepe Serna is quite compelling as the overly trusting Johnny Lopez.

Screencaps are from the Simitar Entertainment DVD Release 1998. 8-9/10

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