Moore Not Less - The Naked Face

As he neared the end of his long run as James Bond, Roger was approached by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan of Cannon Films to discuss making a film together. Cannon Films were thrifty but shrewd low-budget chancers who made a lot of action films in the eighties featuring Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris. However they also financed an eclectic range of projects away from action fare. They had always wanted to make a film with Roger Moore (it would obviously be a coup for the studio to make a film with the then current James Bond actor) and Cannon seemed happy enough when Roger suggested that Sidney Sheldon's novel The Naked Face might make a good film.
Understandably perhaps, Roger was eager to do something away from the action genre and play a more vulnerable and normal character for a change. The last thing he wanted to do was make a daft action film for Cannon. Roger even persuaded Cannon to allow his old friend Bryan Forbes (director of films like Whistle Down the Wind and The Stepford Wives) to direct the film and adapt the screenplay. Production on The Naked Face took place in between Octopussy and A View To a Kill. This period in the mid-eighties marks the last era when Roger was a busy film actor. After the release of A View To a Kill, Roger was more of an occasional actor and more interested in his charity work.
A decent cast was assembled for The Naked Face besides Roger with Elliott Gould, Rod Steiger and Anne Archer taking supporting roles. Roger's old friend David Hedison also took a part in the film. Unfortunately, the production was not a happy one it seems. Cannon (who were in financial trouble) slashed the budget and cut the production schedule from twelve to eight weeks. The loss of this precious time and money obviously made it a lot more difficult for Bryan Forbes to deliver the sort of film he was trying to make.
There were further problems when Roger had to fly from Chicago (where the film was shot) to England when his mother was taken ill. When he returned to the set and learned that the producers had been angry at Forbes for releasing him to fly to his mother's bedside, Roger was understandably annoyed. Cannon Films and Globus and Golan could get knotted as far as Roger was concerned. It was not the happiest of experiences.
Although Roger believed The Naked Face was a decent film he felt the 18 certificate it was lumbered with wrecked any chances it may have had of finding an audience. Cannon didn't help matters either by spending almost no money at all in promoting the film. While this is far from the most obscure film of Roger's career it isn't especially well known either. This is another one of those Roger Moore films that I have no memory of ever encountering on television.
The Naked Face has Roger (with HUGE spectacles) as Dr Judd Stevens - a psychoanalyst who becomes the prime suspect when some of his patients start being murdered. When his secretary is killed, Stevens realises that he might be the killer's true target. But what is the motive? Judd's problems are exacerbated by the keen interest the police are taking in him - especially Lieutenant McGreavy (Rod Steiger). McGreavy seems to have a grudge against Judd because of an old case where the psychoanalyst gave testimony that stopped a police killer who murdered his partner from going to prison. Can Judd clear his name and - most pressingly - stay alive long enough to do so?
The Naked Face is a watchable enough thriller that allows Roger Moore to shed his Bond image and play a much more human and vulnerable character. He even gets beat up in the film, something which is rather unusual for an actor known for playing action heroes of varying kinds. Roger could always play a straight role somewhat better than he was ever given credit for. Roger seems to be enjoying the sedate nature of much of the film and while his performance is hardly Oscar worthy he's quite believable in the part.
The same can't quite be said for Rod Steiger. Steiger seems bored by the film and gives a ripe performance that borders on the eccentric. Well, it doesn't border on the eccentric, it crosses the border and plants a flag with ECCENTRIC written across it over the border and then orders some fruitcake. Steiger seems intent to steal the film from everyone else as if it's a competition to see who can overact the most but he seems unaware that no one else has entered the competition in the first place and it's not even that sort of film anyway. In his autobiography, Moore wryly noted that Steiger was famous in the profession for his scenery chewing antics. He also said that make-up had a tough time with Steiger on The Naked Face because he'd come straight from his plastic surgeon and still had blood on his mush from a face lift.

The Naked Face sometimes feels like an episode of Tales from the Unexpected or Hammer House of Mystery & Suspense but with an American setting and an overlong running time. You could imagine one of those old anthology TV shows having this plot done and dusted in 50 minutes and feeling no less complete. It's a watchable sort of film but you can see why it's been almost completely forgotten over the years. There is nothing that distinguishes The Naked Face or makes it lodge in the memory.
While Steiger rants and raves with some sotto voce spliced in for good measure, Elliott Gould underplays it as his fellow police detective Angeli to the point where you almost forget he's in the film sometimes. Anne Archer is solid though as Ann Blake, a key character who to say too much about would be to give the story away. Art Carney deserves a mention too for his performance as the weary Morgens. Although The Naked Face doesn't make an awful lot of sense when you think about it afterwards it passes the time decently enough while it plays and there are a few twists and turns and a couple of tense scenes.
Bryan Forbes, although a long way removed from his salad days, does a competent job in producing a watchable little thriller with the tight eight week shooting schedule. One criticism, and it's obviously not the fault of Forbes given the lack of time and money, is that you never get much of a look at the city (in this case Chicago) that the film takes place in. I'm sure with more money and time at his disposal Forbes would have given the picture a better sense of location and this would undoubtedly have provided a nice gloss over the finished film and made it look more expensive.
The Naked Face is nothing special but strangely watchable for the different sort of role taken on by Roger if nothing else. The twist at the end is faintly ludicrous though and probably could have been lost. This is a modest little thriller that passes the time but never threatens to do much more than that.
- Jake

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