By John H. Foote
Watching this film for the first time, I remember thinking as Lange moved into the frame, “I am watching pure carnality”, so great was her sexual power. As Cora, the very dangerous young woman stuck in a dead-end marriage to a loud, brash immigrant who owns a diner in the Depression laden thirties, Lange was merely astonishing. Just five years after the humiliation brought about the actress by King Kong (1976), in which she was the best thing, Lange silenced critics for good with her smoldering, powerful performance in this remake, which with all due respect to the great Jack Nicholson, blew him right off the screen.
There is a sexual hunger to Lange that is striking, undeniable in her work as Cora, a woman who would be the ideal of any red-blooded American male.
From the moment they lock eyes across the diner, he at her counter, she in the kitchen making food, they are locked in step with lust. It is only a matter of time
And when they couple for the first time it is thrilling, filled with visceral lust and a deep hunger for the kind of sex many of the world only dreams about. They thrash about the kitchen, she egging him on, “Come on … come on …” daring him to take her right on the butcher’s block. And he does, as they hammer away at one other with an abandon, one that is addictive to them both. But what to do about the husband?
They plot to kill him, and do just that, but an investigator pokes around and wants their insurance money to be quiet. What can they do but pay him off to keep him quiet?
They turn on each other, one not trusting the other until Cora goes to visit her mother and returns with new found love for Frank. She wants to make it work because she loves him. Ironically, they crash their car and Frank will be framed for her murder, even though he is innocent of Cora’s sudden death.
Lange smolders as Cora throughout the film, projecting primal, raw heat as she moves across the screen. She proudly displays her body, and what a body it is, and knows Frank watches her, knows that all men watch her and drink her in. Trapped with Nick, she is in a dead-end marriage until Frank appears and then she sees a way out. Though she might love Frank, and certainly lusts after him, she does not entirely trust him. And that is their undoing, they do not trust one another.
In their first coupling in the kitchen one can feel the heat off both actors, that they want each other, that their bodies are all but calling to the other. Cora dares Frank to take her, and he does, and continues to dare him, as he challenges her.
What perhaps was not realized by audiences and critics was that Jack Nicholson was challenging Lange in her art, and she him, and they both shone.
How was Lange missed for a nomination? This was the best performance by an actress in a leading role I saw in 1981.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.