Review: On the Other Hand Death (Spoilers)

update: I just read the synopsis of the plot for the fourth installment, Ice Blues, and who is in it; I can’t wait. One of the boys sweetly bought me the book and so, like in the days of old, we at casa pbw are gathered around the fire, reading it in wait for September when it airs. Ok . . . no we’re not. But we are managing to annoy Dean GQ with obscure references from the book while calling the characters by their actor’s names. Dean GQ of course having read all the books and being obsessed with detectives and noir hates us. (we have truly dorked out here at la casa) end update.

On the Other Hand Death, the Third Installment of HereTV’s original films The Donald Strachey Mysteries, just aired last month on television and limited movie house release, and will likely soon be in video stores. Having written glowing reviews of the first two, I readily expected to love this one. I’m going to borrow from Marco for format to keep this review short. (Oh and Mr. Oliver, if you stop by to read this one like last time, I just want to warn you, this is a mixed review and I feel bad about it b/c I know you are out there; I hope, if the spirit is willing, you read it anyway and let us know what the next film has in store.)

The Plot: An elder lesbian couple appears to be the targets of increasingly severe hate crimes in a town that a big developer has his eyes on. The developer wants the house, the local police want the developer for fraud, and the lesbian couple, played by veteran actress Margot Kidder and Gabrielle Rose, just want to live and love in peace. Timmy’s former college roommate and former lover has sworn to stay by them during the ordeal but has his own motives for wanting to be in town as well.

The subplot: Rose’s character Edith has a secret that might cost the couple everything. AND two of Dorothy’s students know more than they are saying while also struggling to say more than at least one of them wants anyone to know.

The Good: The film has new opening credits which are great fun! While the dog, who was my favorite part of Nick and Nora and anchored the reference for me in the Strachey films, is gone, the other anchor, martinis, are still around. This time they symbolize the parallel of the longterm lesbian relationship with that of Donald and Timmy. At the beginning of the film, they all sit down to drinks; Donald makes them and Edith sets the glasses. For those who don’t know already, this is the tip off that the intensity and longevity of Edith and Dorothy’s relationship is something that Tim and Donald aspire to as well.

Kenny is also back and taking a more active role in the storyline. The growth of his character has been a nice bridge from film to film in the series. His comedic timing is also spot on.

The film also continues the running thread of coming out narratives. This time, Dorothy’s student is struggling with being out while his father works desperately to blame the school and the town and threaten him with private school. His dilemma is solved all too easily both in the scene in the barn and at the end of the film. The rapid shift from rejection to hand holding in the barn is unconvincing and like many of the dilemmas in this film leave one wondering where is the complexity that should be in everyone of these scenes if we are to be invested in any of them. The moment between Donald and the father, where Donald brings police photos of suicides, seems much stronger, but also wraps too neatly.

The relationship between Donald and Tim is more seasoned and complex this time out as well. Of particular interest is the moral struggle that Donald wrestles with with regards to telling Timmy about a pass Andrew makes at him.

Allen once again delivers a solid performance throughout the film. His ability to make the smallest scene resonate or to express complex emotions with the simple turn of his lip is always a pleasure to watch. Spence does a good job of first trying to make Donald jealous and then being jealous himself.

Margot Kidder’s acting in the first 15 minutes of this film is also spot on. She is gruff when needed, sarcastic at all the right places, and a pleasure to see back on screen. Rose, playing her partner, is also perfect in her role. She has the exact right balance of tone and expression in every scene she is in.

The Bad: Despite starting off solid, the lesbian couple’s relationship comes mostly undone in this movie. Not only is there a central lie between them that makes Donald and Timmy ultimately want to define themselves in opposition to them (not in compliment as the martini scene showed) but there is also a series of smaller lies, snarks, and personality conflicts that oscillate between normal coupledom under stress and a nagging self-righteousness that fits the storyline but is unsettling for the first lesbians centered in the series. (There is a lesbian carpenter in the first film, who is also a woman of color, but her character is minor AND she too is less competent/committed than she seems.) Since the couple’s secrets are central to the plot and their stress is understandable, it is hard to separate out what is part of the storytelling here and what is unnerving. I think the quick shift from love to snark, the constant underscoring of how much they keep from each other, and the vitriol with which they bicker, is all more than the plot calls for and is never tempered with scenes of them working together or caring for one another except for the martinis and the “I love you” uttered at the end.

In fact, the female characters in this film are the worst part of this movie. Not only is the lesbian couple duplicitous and snarky, above and beyond plot line, but the female detective is played as a typical witch. Her subsequent involvement in the overall mystery is easily surmised because of her behavior which is always a downside in a mystery. And then there is the chorus. At one of the more intense moments for Donald and Tim, a bevy of female co-workers stand just outside of the shot watching. As the issue is resolved between them, you hear the girls start to coo “ooooohhhhh” and the shot pans and widens to show them looking like they are all about to melt down into goo all over this private moment between the boys. Then they practically clap (one woman does clasp her hands togehter). From a storyline point of view, it is distracting and unnecessary, and pulled me completely out of the scene. From a gender analysis perspective, it is demeaning not only to women who are reduced to clucking hens preening over their “oh so cute gay co-worker” but also to Donald and Tim who are working out a fairly serious issue under their soap operaesque invasive viewership. If this is how Oliver sees women, I’d rather there weren’t anymore in these movies. (And I don’t think it is, given that there is always a strong women in each film and the direction has never been demeaning before now.)

The other problem with this installment is the storytelling itself. Both the plot and subplot(s) are obvious about 5 minutes in and their execution often seems rushed and way too tidy (especially the subplot). While some of this can, no doubt, be chalked up the novel itself, the execution of the plot is ultimately a Director issue.

Margot Kidder also does some serious overacting in the bulk of this film. Placed beside Rose’s subtle performance, she seems all the more over the top. It is sad, because one of the things that is really enjoyable about these movies is the return of so many recognizable veterans.

Conclusion: This is not a movie I would recommend. All though I own the other two,
it is unlikely I will buy this one, even for the sake of having a complete set. While I am seriously considering using the second film in the series for my upcoming team taught course on Coming out narratives, particularly for Chad Allen’s heartfelt performance in the scenes were he tells Tim about his old boyfriend and dishonorable discharge, the only thing I can think of to do with On the Other Hand Death is use it as an example of the tangential and demeaning nature of female roles in certain gay films. That is a sad commentary on a movie where the lesbian couple is the center of the entire plot.

The director came by last time I wrote a review and said there was a fourth one in production. I am still looking forward to it, in the hopes that it returns to its roots. Oh, and please bring back the dog.

(apparently others agree, b/c after an hour of searching for images, I cannot get any not even from the heretv myspace pages – one of which does not seem to have been made for this film)

2 thoughts on “Review: On the Other Hand Death (Spoilers)

  1. If you could possibly provide me with some video clips of On The Other Hand, Death I would be incredibly grateful. I don’t get the here! network where I live and I’m dying to see this movie. The first two were fantastic and I always prefer to actually see the movie and form my own opinion than simply rely on someone else’s review (no offense intended). Anyway I’d appreciate the help. Thanks!Becky 🙂

  2. welcome to the blog Becky. None taken, a lot of people really liked the third installment. It will be out on video some time near the end of the year or beginning of next year and has currently been making the festival rounds.

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