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September 06, 2005

"Red Eye"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Thanks to Brian for recommending Wes Craven's "Red Eye," which The Wife and I caught up with over the holiday weekend. It struck us both as a first-class B movie: a shrewdly-judged, unpretentious, and expertly-engineered piece of suspense, full of energy and surprises.

Terrific performances from everyone; the movie heightens the male/female contrasts between its stars, Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams, very effectively. And while the film's portrait of McAdams' character is a long way from "King Lear"-deep, it's valid, and it's right on target. She's a type of young woman who's much in evidence these days: hypercompetent yet scared, girlishly anxious yet also extraverted and rowdy.

What a surprise to see a Wes Craven movie that isn't teen horror; "Red Eye" is a psychological thriller. And what a surprise to see Craven working with such finesse. His camera partners the script and the acting with lickety-split alertness, and his pacing sweeps you past most of the unlikelinesses -- thrillers always have unlikelinesses -- wittily and effectively. And Craven and his performers and writers (Carl Ellsworth and Dan Foos) play a cat-and-mouse game with the audience that's entertainingly unstable. There's daring and virtuosity in the way much of the first half of the film takes place in the confines of a passenger plane: It's a chamber thriller! And one that's full of subtle, even elegant, tonal shifts!

As the film's credits rolled, I spotted a name that I'm fond of: Dey Young. In "Red Eye," she played such a tiny role that I'm sorry to say I didn't notice her. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, though, I noticed Dey Young a lot. She was a graceful, charming, and mischievous comedienne, appearing in "Rock 'n' Roll High School" and "Strange Behavior," among others, often as a nerdy good girl with a sexier-than-you'd-expect spark in her eyes. Later, she gained a little notice as the nasty shopgirl in "Pretty Woman," and she memorably gave her all in this otherwise-awful thriller. I always looked forward to Dey Young's appearances, and always wanted to see more of her.

dey_young.jpg Dey Young in "Rock 'n' Roll High School"

But her movie appearances seemed to grow more and more rare. What becomes of people? IMDB tells me that Dey Young has continued appearing in lots of movies, though mostly not of the type you'd take much notice of. Snooping around online, I learned that Dey Young is the younger sister of '60s and '70s hippie-sexpot Leigh Taylor-Young; that she's the aunt of Rebecca De Mornay; and that she married someone from the Ladd (as in Alan Ladd Jr.) family. I also learned that Dey Young is a very accomplished professional sculptor.

Here's an interview with Wes Craven; here's another, and another. Fascinating to learn that Craven, the 66-year old master of teen horror, was inspired to become a director by the films of Ingmar Bergman and the French New Wave, and that he has experienced as much in the way of creative frustration over the decades as any arty filmmaker.



posted by Michael at September 6, 2005


As for Dey Young's seeming obscurity, it's most likely due to the lack of demand for 50-year-old "B"-list actresses. She's probably lucky that she can get steady character work.

Posted by: Peter on September 6, 2005 2:40 PM

I heartily second everything you say! Caught the movie Friday and was delighted by its wit, craft, and economy. Yet when I mention it to colleagues or friends, I get mostly quizzical looks. Half think it's more slasher horror from Craven and half think it's the Jodie Foster airplane movie, which looks--to be prejudgmental--to be an altogether more plodding affair.

It's interesting how some of these horror directors make great transitions to more mainstream fare--for instance, Sam Raimi. His record isn't flawless, but Spiderman 2 was as good a superhero flick as I've seen (not that I've seen so many), and I remember liking A Simple Plan quite well.

Posted by: ogic on September 6, 2005 3:04 PM

Dey Young - what an interesting name. Don't you love the way you can indulge those 'where are they now' questions for almost anyone with the internets?

A while back I re-watched To Sir With Love and saw a woman who looked South Asian in a few scenes - Chitra Neogy. Just a few background shots, no speaking lines. Almost nothing on her in terms of a filmography, but blogged about her and then her nephew (or cousin?) left a comment, thanks to the interconnected-ness of the desi blog world! How cool is that?

Also, thanks to the internets, I found out that my high school crush from Iowa was in one of those 'seen around town' bands in New York (seen around mostly in the 90s, I think) called Babe the Blue Ox. Found pictures of album covers and publicity shots and everything. Again, how cool is that? Please do not ask why I went looking. Ok. You can ask. I am insanely curious about what happens to people I once knew. I cannot stand that they just disappear into the ether....and I do the same thing with actors, too. I liked their work once, I can't just let them go! For some reason the other day I was thinking about that Australian actor, Burlinson or something? In one of those eighties horsey-Austrialian movies, can't remember the name.

Posted by: MD on September 6, 2005 5:08 PM

I've been a Wes Craven fan for years and even though I've suffered through some real clunkers like "Cursed" I always come back because I know what he's capable of doing. "Red Eye" is a dandy little thriller, even if it's not quite up there with "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream" in the Craven canon. If you're unfamiliar with her, the actress to keep your eye on in "Red Eye" is the sublime Rachel McAdams. After seeing her in just four movies, I'm willing to bet she's going to fill the "America's Sweetheart" slot that Julia Roberts seems to be in the process of vacating.

Posted by: Michael on September 7, 2005 11:54 AM

Peter -- Even back in her more commercially-tractable years, Dey Young never became a leading player. Not a big surprise or tragedy -- tons of talented and attractive actors never make it big. And her life seems to have worked out nicely, what with the art and the marriage and all. Still, I get a kick out of wondering and marveling about talented people (especially performers) who never quite get the chances their talents would seem to suggest they deserve. There are lots of them...

OGIC -- Glad to hear you enjoyed it too. Part of what I got a kick out of was watching how Craven was able to put his own movie-language, derived
from his experience in teen horror, to use in a different genre, and for adults. Maybe you're right: maybe horror has been a great way for some filmmakers to develop filmmaking chops. I wonder if many of them will get more chances to put those chops to use in other genres. Not that there's anything wrong with horror, of course. And doesn't that Jodie Foster movie look awful, btw? And that poster of her -- yuck. She looks Photoshopped and cosmetic-surgeried to death.

MD -- So true. I keep wanting to put up "where are they now postings," especially for actresses. Magazines used to run "where are they now?" columns as a matter of course, but they stopped doing that fifteen or twenty years ago. I wondered why -- I'd always loved the columns. I finally decided that it's because they're a bit of a downer, at least in contempo terms. Magazines like selling "it's all happening, it's now, it's great, who's a star" -- they like crescendos. They don't like de-crescendos, which is what the tale of most lives post-stardom are. Too bad: decrescendos are an important part of music!

Michael - Was "Cursed" really awful? Craven talks in the interviews I link to about what a nightmare making "Cursed" was for him: inadequate script, interfering producers, etc. Took him a couple of years to work his way out from under it. Can't be easy to contend with stuff like that when you're in your 60s. And I think he had heart-bypass surgery too. Rough! Nice to see him get more of a chance with "Red Eye."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 7, 2005 1:29 PM

Sexy actresses whose careers don't quite take off aren't doomed. If they set their mind to it, they can marry well, as Dey Young appears to have done. I recall an early 50s actress named Nancy Davis who decided to chuck acting and become the full time wife to a fading movie star. That worked out well.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on September 7, 2005 2:38 PM

I liked "Red Eye" for it's economy - it's doesn't try to load itself up with anything more than it needs. it's just a cool little b-movie, that doesn't try to tackle Big Issues.

As for the Jodie Foster airplane movie, I have a personal interest: about a year before the horrid "King Arthur" movie came out, I had an idea for a very similar movie (y'know, the "fact behind the legend" thing). So someone in Hollywood had the same idea at the same time, and made a crappy movie. A couple of years ago, after seeing Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes", I thought to myself "Wouldn't it be cool to remake that? 'Course, you'd have to set it on an airplane now. How could you pull that off?" So it looks like they've done it - all the way down to the telltale writing on the window. (And giving it away in the trailer - never a good sign.) So, will they mess up this idea like the last one? Stay tuned! (It's like I'm tapped into the collective unconsciuos of bad screenwriters...)

Posted by: jimbo on September 7, 2005 11:19 PM

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