The Medusa Touch is a 1978 British supernatural thriller film directed by Jack Gold. It stars Richard Burton, Lino Ventura, Lee Remick and Harry Andrews, with cameos by Alan Badel, Derek Jacobi, Gordon Jackson, Jeremy Brett and Michael Hordern. The screenplay was by John Briley, based on the novel The Medusa Touch by Peter Van Greenaway.
Plot summary[edit | edit source]
Monsieur Brunel, a French detective on an exchange scheme in London, is assigned to investigate the murder of novelist John Morlar. As they examine the crime scene, Brunel discovers the victim is still alive in spite of his severe injuries and has him rushed to hospital.
With the help of Morlar's journals and Dr. Zonfeld, a psychiatrist Morlar was consulting, Brunel reconstructs Morlar's past life. Seen in flashback, it is filled with inexplicable catastrophes and the sudden deaths of people he disliked or who offended him. Morlar was even more convinced when a supposed psychic examined his hands, became ill, refunded Morlar's fee, and excused himself. Dr. Zonfeld scoffs at this explanation, asking Morlar if he seriously believes in palmistry as a means to predict the future.
As flashbacks continue, it becomes shown that Morlar is a psychic with powerful psychokinetic abilities. Disgusted at the world, Morlar has caused two recent disasters: a Boeing 747-200 that crashed into a London office tower and the loss of a manned spacecraft. Dr. Zonfeld, who came to see Morlar at his home, had tried to stop him from killing the astronauts in the spacecraft, but she had failed. She had then bashed in Morlar's skull with a blunt object.
Brunel eventually figures out that Zonfeld attempted to kill Morlar, and confronts her over it. She admits that it was her, but Brunel does not arrest her right away, as what evidence he has is not truly enough to prove, in a court of law, that she was responsible. Later, Brunel returns to Dr. Zonfeld's office, but he discovers her corpse where she had committed suicide, leaving a note where she admits the realization that she cannot live in a world in which Morlar also lives, apologizing to Brunel for leaving the mess for him to deal with. In the meantime, Brunel discovers that Morlar had mentioned, in one of his journals, news about a cathedral being repaired and how he intended to punish the hypocrisy of those praying there to God but caring nothing about the suffering He inflicts. From his hospital bed, Morlar manages to bring down the cathedral on the "unworthy heads" of a VIP congregation attending the fund raising event for the crumbling building's restoration. Morlar seems able to keep himself alive by sheer willpower. An enraged Brunel runs from the collapsing cathedral to the hospital, where he tries to kill Morlar to end the destruction, just as Zonfeld had tried to kill Morlar to stop him from killing the astronauts, but is also unsuccessful in stopping him. Morlar writes on a pad the name of his next target: the nuclear power station at Windscale (now Sellafield).
Production notes[edit | edit source]
Film and novel[edit | edit source]
The film follows the plot of Van Greenaway's novel fairly closely, but changes several details.
- In the novel, the detective is not a Frenchman but an English character named Inspector Cherry, who appears in several other Van Greenaway books.
- In the novel Zonfeld is male and is a Holocaust survivor whose experience of Sachsenhausen concentration camp contributes to his eventual suicide.
- At the end of the book, Morlar's hand does not scrawl Windscale but Holy Loch, the site of an American nuclear submarine base.
Minster Cathedral[edit | edit source]
Kent locations[edit | edit source]
The Reculver Towers near Herne Bay were used for the scene where young John and his parents are having a picnic whilst on holiday. John wills the car to move towards his parents, which causes them and the car to fall over the cliff. Herne Bay was also used for the scene where a young John Morlar (Adam Bridges) stays with his parents and is out on the seafront. The hotel is now residential properties.
Art[edit | edit source]
After the opening establishing shot, the film cuts to a close-up of Edvard Munch's The Scream. The camera zooms out to show that this is a framed copy hung in Morlar's apartment. In the ensuing opening scene, after Morlar is murdered, the camera pans over the wall of his apartment and comes to rest on a copy of Caravaggio's Medusa, which underlies the opening credits.
Cast[edit | edit source]
- Richard Burton as John Morlar
- Lino Ventura as Brunel
- Lee Remick as Doctor Zonfeld
- Harry Andrews as Assistant Commissioner
- Alan Badel as Barrister
- Marie-Christine Barrault as Patricia
- Jeremy Brett as Edward Parrish
- Michael Hordern as Atropos - Fortune Teller
- Gordon Jackson as Doctor Johnson
- Michael Byrne as Duff
- Derek Jacobi as Townley - Publisher
- Robert Lang as Pennington
- Avril Elgar as Mrs. Pennington
- John Normington as Schoolmaster
- Robert Flemyng as Judge McKinley
- Philip Stone as Dean
- Malcolm Tierney as Deacon
- Norman Bird as Father
- Jennifer Jayne as Mother
- James Hazeldine as Lovelass
- Gordon Honeycomb as Himself (Newsreader)
Cultural references[edit | edit source]
A sample from the film (Richard Burton's line "I will bring the whole edifice down on their unworthy heads") was used in the Manic Street Preachers' 1998 song "Ready for Drowning". The 2005 Manic Street Preachers song "Leviathan" includes the lyric "Baader Meinhof and Medusa Touch".