The Best Movie You Never Saw: Dead Again

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at DEAD AGAIN!

THE STORY: Mike Church (Kenneth Branagh), a laid-back private eye, tries to help an amnesiac (Emma Thompson) plagued by visions of a past life. She’s especially troubled by the sense that she was murdered by her composer husband, Roman (also Branagh) who happens to be the spitting image of Church. .

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, Derek Jacobi & Robin Williams. Directed by Kenneth Branagh.

THE HISTORY: In the late-eighties, many considered Kenneth Branagh, who received dual best actor and best director nominations for his film of HENRY V, the heir apparent of Laurence Olivier. Having been a star at RADA, and one of the bright lights of the London stage before moving on to film, his ascendency was quick, but Branagh seemingly bristled at being typecast in upper-crust English parts. While adapting Shakespeare’s works for the screen has arguably been his life’s work, he clearly relished the opportunity to branch out a bit with the noir-inspired DEAD AGAIN, which was written by the great Scott Frank (THE LOOKOUT, LITTLE MAN TATE, GET SHORTY, OUT OF SIGHT & LOGAN).

“They had to be worried. I could have been a total . . . disaster. They were certainly worried about both of us doing American accents.” – Emma Thompson Baltimore Sun  Interview 

Recruiting his brilliant wife, Emma Thompson, to co-star along with a rich supporting cast, DEAD AGAIN proved to be a word-of-mouth hit in the fall of 1991. Opening at number one at the box office and staying there for several weeks, it grossed $38 million ($68 million accounting for inflation), and was a much rented tape in those Blockbuster Video days. Even still, in the twenty-six years since it’s been released, DEAD AGAIN has sunk into minor obscurity, and is often overlooked when discussing the careers of anyone involved, even Branagh, despite it being the film that broke him and Thompson through to an American audience.

WHY IT'S GREAT: Branagh’s DEAD AGAIN was a childhood favorite of mine. In fact, it might have been my first thriller. I was about ten when it hit the Canadian HBO (First Choice – later The Movie Network) and it was on a whole bunch. So, I became very familiar with this one, and re-examining it recently, I’m please to say it holds up really well; this bodes well for Branagh’s return to thrillers – MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

''If you have your tongue in your cheek, you can appreciate the conceit and also the form. The film has an operatic nature. It's big, on a grand scale. The score is enormous. This is really a yarn, a big one, so you can make the grand geste at the end. It is not a film of stark realism.'' - Emma Thompson Baltimore Sun Interview

A love letter to film noir, DEAD AGAIN takes place in two distinct periods, 1940’s L.A (shot in gorgeous black and white) and the “modern day” equivalent. The flashbacks are done in eccentric noir style, while the latter scenes opt for the high style of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The mystery is quite gripping, and the romantic subplot between Branagh’s detective and Thompson’s amnesiac works well. The two had great chemistry, and both make pretty admirable attempts at American accents. Andy Garcia also steals scenes as a dissolute party-hound in the forties section, only to be laid low by time in the modern section (if anything – the movie serves as a strong anti-smoking ad). Branagh’s stage-mentor, Derek Jacobi, also looks to be having the time of his life as an antiques dealer drawn into the mystery – it’s the type of role Claude Rains would have played in a 1940’s version.

BEST SCENE: Given Branagh’s anointing by Hollywood as the “next big thing”, he was able to recruit a lot of popular actors for small parts, including Campbell Scott (riding high off DYING YOUNG and SINGLES) and the late, great Robin Williams, who plays a disgraced psychiatrist reduced to working as a supermarket stock boy. Williams took no billing, but his part is an important one, with him delivering the central thesis of the movie in his big scene with Branagh and Thompson, and he more than holds his own opposite them. Yet another reminder of how much we lost when he passed away.

SEE IT: DEAD AGAIN never made its way to Blu-ray, but the DVD can be gotten for around five bucks on Amazon. Probably the best way to watch it is through streaming, with an HD version of the film available on Google Play and iTunes.

PARTING SHOT: DEAD AGAIN is the type of mid-level studio thriller they don’t make any more. Even Branagh’s own MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is more of an event given the prestige attached. I miss quickie thrillers like this one. Hopefully someone will come along and prove you don’t need to have $100 million to make a fun studio movie – but until then gems like DEAD AGAIN are ripe for rediscovery.

Source: JoBlo.com



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