Going back and seeing the movies I should have seen or always wanted to see, but missed.

How did it get to my "blind spot?"  To be honest, I had never heard of the movie until recently.  It was before my time and I'm not exactly a James Caan or Katharine Ross connoisseur.  I recently read about the film in a Nina Metz article in theChicago Tribune about a downtown one-night-only screening of the quirky film at the Music Box Theatre.  The accompanying article fleshed out the movie's appeal and discussed other underseen psychological thrillers of the era. and a discussion of some of the other underseen and forgotten

Why should it be seen?  Games has a kitschy appeal that matches the late 60's and their style of psychological thrillers.  The film calls back to an era where storytelling, performance, subtlety, and tone made good thrillers over shock, awe, and gore.  If that's your style, Games will keep your attention.

Background:  In 1967, years before James Caan became a star thanks to Brian's Song on TV and his role inThe Godfather and in the same year when Katharine Ross became Hollywood's new "it girl" fromThe Graduate (Alphabet Club vintage review), director Curtis Harrington brought the two together forGames.  

Caan and Ross play Paul and Jennifer Montgomery, two snobby Upper East Side New Yorkers who clearly come from money and have nothing to do with all of it.  As a young couple, their joy comes from being hip and retro at the same time.  Their modern side comes out from their posh apartment adorned with modern designs and pop art by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein.  Their retro side comes in the form of collecting old games, props, and inventions of the macabre and magic.

To flaunt their supposed coolness, the Montgomery's host upscale performance parties to show off their wares to their fellow socialites.  Underneath, we realize that the Montgomery's get their borderline-sadistic kicks from messing with people through these parties with elaborate hoaxes and games.  They seek out the gullible at every opportunity and relish pulling these schemes together.  When a French cosmetic saleswoman named Lisa Schindler (the scene-stealing and top-billed Simone Signoret) comes to their door, the Montgomery's invite her in and attempt to toy with her only to find that she embellishes them about having psychic abilities of her own.  The fascinated couple invites her to stay with them where they begin to share each others' affinity for the biza about her.

The twists and complications begin when one of their little games and jokes goes terribly wrong.  As a ploy, Paul talks Jennifer into acting seductive around the dimwit grocery delivery man Nelson (Don Stroud) just so he can barge in and mess with the guy at the opportune time if he takes interest in his wife.  When Paul does so and threatens Nelson with a prop gun, a live round goes off instead of a blank and shots Nelson dead.  Jennifer is instantly frazzled while Paul is determined to cover the crime up and keep Lisa in the dark about it all.  This puts into motion the building suspense ofGames.

Reaction:  THREE STARS-- I had a decent time watching Games.  I'm glad I followed up my interest of the film from Metz's Chicago Tribune article.  It took me a while to find a way to see the film.  While it doesn't resonate the way other psychological thrillers of its day do, Games more than kept my attention and challenged my guessing skills.  The double and triple crosses that struck before the credits rolled turned my head plenty.

I totally get its cult favorite status for those that love that era, especially with its ability to show a then-top-1% story in glitzy clean-cut Manhattan against the radical, long-haired hippy movement happening away from the film.  Even though I definitely didn't live during that time period, I can see why Games feels like a conceited dismissive gesture by the rich to the dirty flower children of the day.  It comes across as "first world problems of 1967," which is clearly by design from Harrington.  There's definitely a fun aspect to observe Games and compare it to the similar despondent first world problems of today.  For a good sidebar, check out this range of movies showcasing first world problems.

Seeing them younger than The Godfather and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Caan and Ross clearly show the appeal that made them bigger names after this movie.  Caan plays a great jerk and Ross practiced her anguish skills for The Graduate quite well.  It's Signoret that steals the screen time.  Her gypsy-wannabe is given a deserved place in the thick of the schemes.  She plays a weird little part and sells it well.

The style of the film, from the decadent production design to its clever cinematography, really pops off the screen.  Games has a unique look and tone.  It fits the mold of the slow-building psychological thrillers of that cinematic time period.  As I mentioned before, Games favors storytelling, character, tone, and subtlety over gore and shock value.  It guns for a head tilt over a dropped jaw.  While not earth-shattering like other films, Games works as solid quirky entertainment.

LESSON #1: UNDERSTANDING WHO THE PLAYERS ARE IN AN ELABORATE GAME OR HOAX-- As seen in future headscratchers like David Fincher's The Game, either incarnation of Ocean's 11, Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects, and even The Sting, it is important to know the players in a game or elaborate hoax.  On the inside of it, everyone has to have their place and role and play it perfectly.  Outside of the scheme, the mark can't learn that he or she is the target.  The great quote from Rounders says it best: "If you can't spot the sucker in ten minutes, then you are the sucker."

LESSON #2: THE FETISH-LIKE APPEAL OF ROLE-PLAYING-- Every romantic couple gets their kicks in different ways.  Most won't admit it, but everyone has their weird trigger, no matter the size, scope, or style.  Likewise, there is fetish for everything because of that.  For the Montgomery's, their fetish is role-playing.  They get into the games and hoaxes they play and are drawn to each other by stepping outside of themselves for different perspectives.  That's their cutthroat trigger.

LESSON #3: EVERYTHING IN LIFE CAN'T BE TREATED LIKE A GAME-- Once one of their games leads to murder, the comfortable life of Paul and Jennifer is frazzled for a time.  They realize that they went too far.  Jennifer, more so than Paul, slowly learns the guilt of conscience that comes from living with a mistake.  It eats at her and gets her a little crazy.  Paul, on the other hand, seems less distraught and keeps angling for a way to keep ahead of paying for his mistakes by covering the whole thing up.  At some point, compounded lies have to catch up to him.