The Medusa Touch (1978)


UK/France. 1978.


Director – Jack Gold, Screenplay – John Briley, Based on the Novel by Peter Van Greenaway, Producers – Anne V. Coates & Jack Gold, Photography – Arthur Ibbetson, Music – Michael J. Lewis, Special Effects – Nick Allder & Brian Johnson, Makeup – Eric Allright, Art Direction – Peter Mullins. Production Company – Coatesgold


Lino Ventura (Inspector Brunel), Richard Burton (John Morlar), Lee Remick (Dr Zonfeld), Harry Andrews (Assistant Commissioner), Gordon Jackson (Dr Johnson), Michael Byrne (Duff), Robert Lang (Pennington), Marie-Christine Barrault (Patricia Morlar)


Writer John Morlar is discovered in his flat with his head bashed in. He is found to be still alive and is taken to hospital in a coma. Brunel, a police detective on exchange from France, investigates the attack. Through talking to those who knew Morlar, Brunel learns how the misanthropic Morlar believed he had caused a series of seemingly accidental disasters by willing them to happen, including the deaths of several people who crossed him and even that he made a plane to crash into a skyscraper as a demonstration to his therapist. Through the course of his investigation, Brunel comes to increasingly believe in the reality of Morlar’s mental powers. Brunel then realizes that from his hospital bed the comatose Morlar is willing the collapse of a cathedral where a group of Commonwealth heads are gathered.

The Medusa Touch was a British-French made ESP thriller that came out not long after the success of Brian De Palma’s psychic powers hit Carrie (1976). Oddly it was one of two films about comatose hospital patients with psychic powers that came out around the same time, along with the Australian-made Patrick (1978). The film was based on a 1973 novel by Peter Van Greenaway – who should not be confused with director Peter Greenaway of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) fame. The Medusa Touch was directed by Jack Gold, best known for his work in British tv – especially the classic The Naked Civil Servant (1975) – and occasional films such as The Bofors Gun (1968), Aces High (1976) and one other venture into sf with Who? (1974). The Medusa Touch was not a success and vanished almost immediately from theatrical release.

The telekinesis plot at the heart of The Medusa Touch is familiar enough, however its presentation in a whodunnit format proves interesting. Especially good is the eloquently waspish dialogue that Richard Burton’s central character is written with. This proves highly amusing, especially during the courtroom scenes and the battle with his departing wife. Unfortunately, Burton, looking as though he has stumbled onto the set after the previous night’s drinking binge and missed makeup call, overplays horrendously. Around this time, Richard Burton was drinking a good deal and throughout the decade gave a particularly bad series of performances in films like Boom! (1968), Candy (1968), The Assassination of Trotsky (1972), Bluebeard (1972) and Equus (1977), while the previous film he had made had been the infamous Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977).

At least Richard Burton makes a distinction the rest of the cast – Lino Ventura, miscast as a French detective because of a French co-production deal, and the altogether blank Lee Remick – do not. While the mystery build-up is interesting, the last quarter of the film is much less so, with the script abandoning the whodunnit for a routine suspense plot. Jack Gold’s direction is at least adequate. His best moment is one scene where Richard Burton demonstrates his powers to Lee Remick by causing a plane to crash into a building outside the window.

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