Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Essential Margot Kidder

Margot Kidder
1948 - 2018

On May 14, 2018 the film and superhero worlds lost their Lois Lane when actress Margot Kidder passed away at the age of 69. Her career started with television appearances in shows such as "McQueen" and "The Mod Squad" before landing her first film role in Norman Jewison's GAILY, GAILY in 1969, starring alongside Beau Bridges and George Kennedy. She continued to work in both television and small roles in films before landing a major part in the Brian De Palma thriller, SISTERS which led to roles in BLACK CHRISTMAS and THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER. But of course her career skyrocketed when she landed the role of Lois Lane in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. Kidder went on to become a big star and reprised the role in 3 sequels. She returned to the Superman universe in a series of episodes of "Smallville" in 2004 as an unrelated character. She also starred alongside James Brolin in the horror mega hit THE AMITYVILLE HORROR in 1979. She worked regularly through the 90s in films like TRENCHCOAT, SOME KIND OF HERO and MAVERICK until a well publicized mental health issue. After recovering, she became a mental health awareness advocate and continued acting all the way through 2017, her most high profile film being 2009's HALLOWEEN II. She was a political activist until the end, protesting military involvement in Iraq and the Keystone oil pipeline.  Below are her essential films.

SISTERS
1973
Director: Brian de Palma
Role: Danielle

"Where is she?"
"Don't you remember? She was always here."

One of the first of many Alfred Hitchcock homages by de Palma, SISTERS tells the story of Philip, a young salesman who takes a young model, Danielle (Kidder) out on a date, which is interrupted by Danielle's ex husband. After eluding him several times, the two go back to her apartment where they sleep together. The story gets twisted from this point forward, and at the risk of revealing spoilers, I'll just say that something is very very wrong with Danielle. A brutal murder takes place and Danielle's neighbor, Grace (Jennifer Salt) is the only one willing to investigate. 

BLACK CHRISTMAS
1974
Director: Bob Clark
Role: Barb

"Oh, why don't you go find a wall socket and stick your tongue in it. That'll give you a charge."

BLACK CHRISTMAS broke a lot of ground in the slasher movie genre, and inspired many future horror films from HALLOWEEN to FRIDAY THE 13th. As a sorority house start to make plans for the Christmas season, a series of anonymous and chilling phone calls start to unnerve them. At first, the police ignore the sorority sisters, but after a murdered child is found dead, they set up a wiretap in the house to hopefully catch the stalker. But will the girls make it out alive? If you've seen slasher movies before, you probably know the answer. While most of the film may seem like it relies on tropes, it's important to remember it started a lot of the tropes to begin with. Kidder plays Barb, one of the sorority girls, a sarcastic smart ass who at one point eggs the caller (named "The Moaner" by the girls) on. Will that prove to be a fatal mistake? What do you think?

SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE
1978
Director: Richard Donner
Role: Lois Lane

"You've got me?! Who's got you!?"

The role that made her famous. The casting process for Lois Lane was almost as exhaustive as Superman's, auditioning many actresses before finding Margot Kidder. Richard Donner specifically said he wanted a "knockout", which Kidder certainly was very attractive, but also able to play a seasoned reporter and be witty as well. Kidder brings the right spark to the role of the smart-ass Daily Planet reporter. She also has fantastic on-screen chemistry with Christopher Reeve, which for these two characters is incredibly important. No other Superman film has quite been able to capture that. You need to believe in Superman/Clark's love for Lois for the ridiculous "spin time backwards" climax to have any effect at all. With Reeve and now Kidder gone, the world is a little bit dimmer.

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR
1979
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Role: Kathy Lutz

"I just wish that... all those people hadn't died here. I mean... ugh! A guy kills his whole family. Doesn't that bother you?"

Supposedly based on a true story, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is the chilling tale of George and Kathy Lutz, a young couple buying their first home. But the house has a dark past, and it soon manifests itself in all manners of horrific ways. A monster success for its time, it was the highest grossing film of the year and was the highest grossing independently produced film of all time until 1990 (when it was unseated by, of all things, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.)  Kidder contributed a lot to genre cinema, with SISTERS, BLACK CHRISTMAS and SUPERMAN, and continues the streak here. Her performance alongside James Brolin as the terrified wife is excellent, in an otherwise average horror film.

SUPERMAN II
SUPERMAN II: THE RICHARD DONNER CUT
1980 & 2006
Director: Richard Lester (Theatrical), Richard Donner (Donner Cut)
Role: Lois Lane

"What an undemanding male this Superman must be."
"Yeah, and you could use a tuck here and there yourself, sister."

During the filming of the original SUPERMAN in 1978, Richard Donner was also directing scenes for the sequel simultaneously. After finishing production on I, Donner was fired by producers the Salkind brothers over creative differences. Richard Lester was hired to replace Donner and finish the sequel, with a different direction. In 2006, Warner Brothers released the Donner Cut, which included scenes that Donner had shot but were cut and a different version of the film. Both versions are enjoyable, but Lester's is very wacky and silly in parts. I prefer the Donner Cut as it portrays Lois as much more intelligent and capable. From the outset, she is convinced Clark is Superman and spends a good portion of the first act trying to get him to reveal himself, as opposed to the theatrical version where she finds out accidentally. The same charm and chemistry between the two leads is still ever present and they don't recapture it again in any of the sequels.

OTHER NOTABLE FILMS

GAILY GAILY (1969)
QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX (1970)
THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER (1975)
SOME KIND OF HERO (1982)
SUPERMAN III (1983)
TRENCHCOAT (1983)
SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987)
MOB STORY (1989)
MAVERICK (1994)
HALLOWEEN II (2009)

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