UK movie (1985). Embassy. Pr Arnon Milchan. Dir Terry Gilliam. Spfx Richard Conway, George Gibbs. Screenplay Gilliam, Charles McKeown, Tom Stoppard. Starring Robert De Niro (Archibald "Harry" Tuttle), Kim Greist (Jill Layton), Ian Holm (Mr Kurtzmann), Katherine Helmond (Ida Lowry), Bob Hoskins (Spoor), Michael Palin (Jack Lint), Jonathan Pryce (Sam Lowry), Peter Vaughan (Mr Helpmann). 142 mins. Colour.
A Technofantasy set in an Alternate Reality whose technology is sometimes reminiscent of our gadgetry of the 1950s and sometimes futuristic. The part of the world in which the story is set is undefined, though it would seem to be an alternate London, capital of a bureaucracy-ridden, somewhat paranoid England.
Lowry is a humble clerk in the Department of Records. In his Dream life, however, he is something quite other – a flying man, physically like the Angel in Barbarella (1967) – and must save a flaxen-haired beauty from threats that are sometimes realized, sometimes only sensed. In the daytime world, a machine malfunction causes an innocent man to be arrested as a terrorist; he dies in custody and, when Lowry visits the widow, he discovers that the upstairs neighbour, Layton, is the woman from his dream – albeit crop-haired. However, having made the mistake of complaining about her neighbour's erroneous arrest, she is now herself classified as a terrorist, and goes on the lam. Lowry takes promotion from Records to Information Retrieval and abuses the bureaucratic system to track her down. When at last he persuades her to trust him they fall in love; he tampers with the Information Retrieval databank to persuade it that she is dead, but even so the department's agents discover the lovers after their single night of passion and Layton dies in a hail of bullets.
A strange mix of Orson Welles's version of The Trial (1962), of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1939), Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865) and too many other Crosshatch sources to identify, let alone mention, B is as imaginative a movie as Gilliam's Time Bandits (1981) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), and among the most mature fantasies the Cinema has produced. [JG]