Just Pillow Talk’s Birthday Nightmare: Quintet (1979)
Our old buddy JPT just can’t seem to wake up from his nightmare, with the latest film on his list being a) one I’ve never heard of, b) a Robert Altman post-apocalyptic science-fiction film (sounds hideous already!), and c) a missed opportunity to feature a Snow Tiger in a Hat! Take it away, Pillows.
The long journey continues with the latest installment of my birthday nightmare. Welcome to Robert Altman’s take on a sort of apocalypse, where it’s like Lambeau field all the time, and instead of playing football they play a board game called…Quintet. Except, slight revision to the rules, they play the game with peeeeople (Charlton Heston voice) instead of game pieces. And you don’t get a second chance…because if you lose…..you die! Hmmm…I think that would change family game nights.
So Paul Newman stars as Essex, a seal hunter, journeys to a city set in the middle of nowhere with his wife Vivia (Brigette Fossey) who has never been to a “city” before. They were hoping for a dinner and a show, alas, that was not to be. He finds his brother Francha who tells them there is nothing but the game quintet to play. So while the wife plays quintet with his brother and family, Essex goes to pick up some wood and check out the area. Being your typical ice city, Essex passes by some dogs eating some poor sap who froze to death. While talking to the wood market guy, somebody deposits a bomb into his brother’s home. And the guy who delivered the bomb is bad because he’s got one big ass mustache, one that could be twirled in a menacing way. Suffice to say, Essex’s wife is quite dead, and to add injury to insult, she was pregnant too. Before he can get his hands on the mustache bomber, he gets his throat slit by someone else. The doggies now have plenty of snacks…except for his wife who he decides would be better off floating down a river.
Now I know I almost dozed off several times now, but nothing of interest happens, Essex gets a piece of paper with a list of names on it and some coins, and quintet game pieces, from his brother’s body. Essex pretends to be a dude named Redstone and goes to a hotel. While at the hotel, he meets Grigor who is the ref, so to speak, of quintet. He brings Essex to play quintet. There we learn that the man who killed the mustache bomber is named Saint Christopher, who just happens to be one of the names on the list.
Everyone on the list is turning up dead. So after a tedious amount of time has passed, Essex finds Saint Christopher and tells him he’s on the list. Saint Christopher dismisses Essex and says he shouldn’t be butting in. Essex runs into Grigor who gets him drunk, and Essex passes out. Saint Christopher happens by and Grigor gets him to bring him back to his room. However, Essex was only pretending to be drunk, to test Saint Christopher to see if he would kill him. He does not, so Essex thinks he’s in the clear.
The following day, Essex takes a stroll in the icy world, and Saint Christopher follows him and tells him his time is up. A pathetic cat and mouse game ensues, with Saint Christopher dying from the ice moving and getting crushed. The other player left from the game had all the intentions in the world of killing Essex, but Essex whips out his blade and slashes her throat. He hauls the body up to Grigor and asks what the prize is. Grigor says he’s alive, that is the prize. The thrill of the game. Grigor tries to tantalize Essex to stay, to be the best player in the game. Essex declines, deciding to take his chances going north. Just like how the movie started, Essex is walking in the snow covered world once again.
So…the game quintet is never explained. You arrange the game pieces in the order you want the other players killed. Then they carry it out in real life by killing those players. Saint Christopher was the ‘enforcer’ who made sure those players died. There’s nothing remarkable about the game, so I’m not sure what draws everyone to it. There’s nothing of interest to the game, everyone is so dispassionate about their existence, that I could give two shits who lives or dies. Essex…could give a fuck. Paul Newman gives such an uninspiring performance as Essex, he looks like he’s sleepwalking through the entire film. If the hero of the film doesn’t emote one iota of life, how am I to cheer for him? Grigor wants to protect the game, feels the game is more important than anything else…but why? In the world that these characters inhabit, they think nothing of walking by dogs eating humans, apparently no one works, and the game encompasses everything. I’m not sure how they even get their food, let alone survive if all they do is playing a stupid game. The atmosphere that they tried to create was one of bleakness, hopelessness, but I think they did a piss poor job of that. The sudden blaring of music does not make a movie bleak. I found the movie boring, the main performance snooze inducing, and the concept crap.
I give this zero Newman’s Own Popcorn out of 4…
Next up: Hero at Large
The Nightmare so far…
1973 The World’s Greatest Athlete 1 / 4
1974 Deranged 0.5 / 4
1975 Shampoo 1.5 / 4
1976 Taxi Driver 3 / 4
1977 Black Samurai 1.5 / 4
1978 The Betsy 0 / 4
1979 Quintet 0 / 4
1980 Hero at Large