Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TV Spot Not on the DVD: Eyewitness (1981, Peter Yates)

Peter Yates and Steve Tesich followed up their award-winning Breaking Away collaboration with this early 1981 NYC-set thriller starring William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Plummer, and James Woods.  Eyewitness (aka The Janitor) was not the critical or financial success that Breaking Away was and it's not a top-grade mystery by any means.  What it does offer, however, is an outstanding collection of leading and character players in well-written, interesting roles and, of course, some choice New York locations, circa 1980.  This is the kind of character-driven, slightly offbeat, mid-range studio picture that went out years ago.  Those looking for an edge-of-your-set, nail-biting suspense picture will be disappointed, as this moves at a leisurely pace and revels in the quirks of its characters more than the machinations of the plot.  The narrative revolves around a Vietnam-vet janitor (a largely sympathetic Hurt, playing one of his few working-class characters) who discovers the murdered body of a wealthy (and criminally-connected) Vietnamese businessman in the office building where he works.  The janitor pretends to know more than he does in order to gain favor with the television newswoman (Weaver) he loves from afar, thereby arousing the interests of the killer, the associates of the murder victim, and the police.

Christopher Plummer co-stars as Weaver's Israel-lobbying fiancé and James Woods is Hurt's unstable best pal and fellow vet.  The cast is filled out by Steven Hill and Morgan Freeman as the lead detectives on the murder case, Pamela Reed as Woods' sister and sometime lover of Hurt, Kenneth McMillan and Alice Drummond as Hurt's parents, Irene Worth and Albert Paulsen as Weaver's parents, Jimmie Ray Weeks as a tv producer, and Chao Li Chi (memorable from Big Trouble in Little China) as Mr. Wong, the murdered man at the center of the story.

The film, Hurt's second, came in the middle of a very impressive 8-month run for the actor, which included his feature film debut, Ken Russell's Altered States (released Christmas '80) as well as Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat (released late August '81).  Meanwhile, as Eyewitness opened in theaters, he starred in the Circle Repertory's production of Childe Byron.

For those who are interested, as I am, in practical locations (i.e. real locations used for filming), as well as set design, Hurt's workspace was built at the Kaufman-Astoria Studios (formerly Paramount Studios) by production designer Philip Rosenberg.  You can see that very impressive set in the below lobby card:

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