Harlequin (1980)

The great part of this site is that I’ve discovered so many movies that I’d never experience otherwise. Like this one, that I found searching through Ronin Flix. I had absolutely no idea what to expect and I was rewarded with a well made, yet incredibly strange film.

Senator Nick Rast (Blowup, Barbarella, Deep Red) has a son, Alex, with leukemia and a loveless marriage to his wife, Sandy (Carmen Duncan, Turkey Shoot). In fact, a doctor goes as far to tell them that they should just let their son die as the film begins.

At a birthday party, Alex meets a clown who makes him smile. That clown ends up being Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell, AsylumThe Asphyx), a faith healer in the mold of Rasputin (hint: the name Rast is tsar backward). The more time he spends with Alex, the better the child feels. Sandy also falls in love with Wolfe, despite the fact that he does some insane feats, like holding Alex over a cliff to make him come to grips with death.

Meanwhile, the senator is controlled by Doc Wheelan (Broderick Crawford, All the King’s Men and you know the rules when it comes to Old Hollywood actors) and he warns him that Wolfe isn’t what he seems and could be a danger to his family.

Also called Dark ForcesHarlequin was to originally star David Bowie as Wolfe and Orson Welles as Doc Wheelan. Director Simon Wincer has quite the strange directorial history, with films like Free WillyThe Phantom (the Smash Evil! version), plenty of episodes of The Young Indiana Jones ChroniclesCrocodile Dundee in Los Angeles and NASCAR: The IMAX Experience.

If you know the story of Rasputin, this film follows it, with Wheelan’s men killing Wolfe over and over again, but the results of meeting the Harlequin makes Rast reconsider his life as his son takes over the mantle of that Wolfe left behind.

This is seriously one odd movie, but Powell’s performance (and frequent costume changes) make it something truly special. It feels like more viewings will unearth more hidden meanings, but upon watching it once, I’m hooked.

Again — as seems to be a theme this week — this film should have a bigger cult than it does. Then again, the Alamo Drafthouse programming team shared it as one of their 2017 discoveries, so perhaps more folks will start sharing their love of this film. Has anyone reading this seen it?

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