My favorite film genre of all time is ’80s thrillers. There was something about them that sets them apart from thrillers released in any other era, and we aren’t just talking about the plethora of bad perms throughout. One such perm is nice and prominent in Against All Odds (right in the sweet spot of 1984). Swoozie Kurtz’ red and stringy perm, along with Rachel Ward’s shoulder pads and Danskins, not to mention the Phil Collins power ballad? ’80s all the way.
But I happened upon two other gems this past week: Without a Trace (1983) and Betrayed (1988). If you have Debra Winger in it, a young Debra Winger in her prime you are in the thick of the bad ’80s films in general, but many of them fantastic thrillers, like Black Widow. Without a Trace seems like the film that spawned the TV series, only it did it twenty years later.
The film stars Kate Nelligan as Susan Selky whose young son disappears without a trace one day. The whole film is really about Nelligan as an actress. The detective is played by Judd Hirsch, another great icon of that era. Stockard Channing has a supporting role as “the best friend.” It is a great addition to the ’80s canon because, like most of them, it centers around one actress and she isn’t getting naked or tailored to fit the tastes of 13 year old boys. This was the era of the working woman, the yuppie, the suited female. And Nelligan’s character is no exception. They wouldn’t make this movie today because she wouldn’t be considered sympathetic.
I also like the PC eruption about stereotyping homosexuals. At first I thought they really were going to pin the murder of their young, gay, male housekeeper. But thank goodness they called out a common slur instead. I was about to hop up on that high horse and start screaming about how backwards the ’80s were. And not only that, you could tell the guy was guilty the moment he popped on screen! And and and AND why didn’t they test the kid’s underwear for blood? Right, don’t even ask.
The ’80s was PC just before the term became a joke. That is perhaps what makes Betrayed such an all-out joy to watch. Of course, it’s filled with white supremacists who go out “hunting” and kill black folk, but it’s also your standard ’80s template for the tough FBI agent. Remember, they were still kind of thought of as actresses back then. They weren’t solely sex objects in American film.
Yeah, okay. So I’ll cop to desperately trying to find a justification for my irrational love of ’80s thrillers. Point of fact: there is no justification except that I like them, I really really like them.
I will say this: I was surprised that there were so many clips from Betrayed on YouTube. Yet nothing for Without a Trace. What’s up with that?