Friday, January 5, 2024

The Disappearance (Stuart Cooper, 1977)


At the time of writing, there are two versions of Stuart Cooper’s The Disappearance easily available online, one of them a shorter, linear cut with almost unwatchably dark image quality, the other longer and more impressionistic, but with opening and closing credits missing; I only watched a few minutes of the former for comparison, enough to reveal intriguing small differences such as an assassination victim who cries out “Don’t do it” before he’s killed, but is silent in the second version. The multiplicity of versions and details enhances the evasively prickly nature of Cooper’s film, one built around basically familiar narrative ingredients, but with most points of certainty removed: although the title seems to refer specifically to the sudden disappearance of the protagonist’s wife, the film is full of sudden absences and strangely brief appearances (the movie has a starry sounding cast including John Hurt and Christopher Plummer, but most only show up for one or two scenes). Donald Sutherland’s Montreal-based assassin Jay Mallory is a perfect focal point, unreadably spiky and short-tempered at times, completely charming when the situation demands it: he takes a job in Britain that he doesn’t want, apparently because it allows an opportunity to follow a lead on his wife’s location, and it’s no surprise of course when he finds a link between the disappearance he’s investigating and the one he’s being paid to effect. If that’s all broadly predictable, the treatment is consistently intriguing and expansive, always suggesting greater mysteries and ambiguities, all the way to the final seconds which introduce yet another unexplained disappearance of sorts. A peculiar sequence has Sutherland and Hurt encountering a couple of roadside bandits, seemingly unrelated to anything else in the film; one of the two criminals is apparently played by Norman Eshley, the sailor in Welles’ The Immortal Story, although he doesn’t receive a single identifying close-up here, perhaps the saddest of all the film’s erasures.   

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