The Medusa Touch (1978)

Written by Mike Lyon on March 1st, 2008

They certainly don’t make movies like Jack Gold’s The Medusa Touch these days, and that’s a crying shame. It’s wickedly clever and features a host of excellent performances, including wonderful turns by Richard Burton as John Morlar, a dying writer who may possess the ability to kill with his mind, and Lino Ventura as the dapper French detective sent to discover who tried to murder him. It’s a picture that happily defies categorization, starting as a very mannered murder mystery and ending as a supernatural thriller.

The film plays with illusions of choice beautifully – or as Ventura puts it so eloquently as he passes a war memorial, “To build a cenotaph, first choose a million victims.” As Morlar descends into madness, he comes to see his own hand in every death and disaster the world over, and with increasing flippancy he dispatches the people that surround him. Does his choice, however wanton, eliminate or enforce the arbitrary nature of death? Indeed, when Morlar himself is confronted with death, the audience must ask whether or not they believe in his power, and if they do, is his attempted murder really his method of committing suicide?

Labyrinthine logic of this nature abounds, and for the most part the film stays on the rails. The dialogue is exceedingly clever and worth the price of admission all by itself. Burton is a whirlwind and naturally reaps the choice lines, although Ventura’s casual, confident style is the movie’s secret anchor. Morlar’s psychiatrist Zonfeld, played by Lee Remick, is definitely the weak link in what should be a solid trio of memorable performances, although the character’s linear trajectory could be more interesting than it appears at first glance – from the second she met Morlar, did she cede control of her actions to his will?

Not content to remain a pure psychodrama, the film also blithely juggles Freud, nuclear proliferation and a homosexual relationship for Ventura. With so many interesting themes and two such charming leads, the film suffers most from being as short as it is. But though some dangled threads are never pulled, there’s little to keep me from recommending The Medusa Touch to anyone looking for wit, class, and some devilish twists.

[rating: 7]

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