AT THE MERCY OF A STRANGER
US, 1999, 90 minutes, Colour.
Joanna Kerns, Tim Matheson, Stephen Lane.
Directed by Graeme Campbell.
At the Mercy of a Stranger is a popular telemovie, focusing on a woman who has been married for seventeen years to a prominent doctor. He has been aggressive, even pulling a gun and the marriage is falling apart. She stays because of her three children although she’s considering divorce with her lawyer. Unbeknownst to her, her husband has hired a hit man to kill her. However, the hit man is infatuated with her, tells her the truth, concocts a plan to convict the husband.
The plot seems somewhat far-fetched – but is done with the customary telemovie gloss to make it credible and entertaining. Joanna Kerns is very dignified as the victim wife. Tim Matheson is believable as both the hit man and the hit man who changes his mind. Stephen Lane has appeared as many villains in films and telemovies and does so again.
1. Entertaining telemovie? Credibility? Probability?
2. The affluent house, neighbourhood, town? Police precincts, lawyers’ offices? Motels? Credible atmosphere for the film? Musical score?
3. The title, it being borne out by Liz’s dependence on John?
4. The family situation, Liz and her love for her children, the teenagers and their rebellion, the little boy and his dependence on his mother? The estrangement from her husband – the flashbacks, the socials, his criticism of her alleged flirting, his pulling a gun on her? This known to lawyer friends and the police? Her wanting a divorce, going to see her lawyer?
5. The portrait of Thomas, at the hospital, prominent surgeon? His dismay at his wife’s wanting to divorce him?
6. John Davis, his encounter with Liz, the discussion at the restaurant, his explanation of the situation, her disbelief? Her memories and the discussion of her marriage with him? His plan, going to the motel, her attempt to escape through the window? Her becoming dependent on him, believing him? Going out to the restaurant? The special occasion? The discussions? The evident admiration John had for her, in love with her? Her trying to deal with the situation?
7. At home, Thomas and his severity with the older daughter and her boyfriend? Making the evening meal, the discipline, with the little boy? The children’s puzzle about their absent mother? His telling the older daughter about the potential divorce? The children and their suspicions?
8. Liz persuading John to go to the lawyer, the explanation of the case, the tapes and whether they were admissible? Liz persuading him to go to the police, his being willing to testify? The discussions with the police, his past record? The plan, the phone call to Thomas, his coming with the children? Liz running to the car, getting the children? John keeping his cool, getting Thomas talking, counting the money, recording? The confrontation of the police, Thomas’s arrest? The arrest of John because of the unlicensed gun – to ensure his presence at the trial of Thomas?
9. The aftermath and the explanations, the short sentence for Thomas, John’s subsequent life, Elizabeth having to find a new identity and home for the children?