Friday March 22, 1996
The urbane, debonair V.A. Musetto, arts editor of the New York Post, is credited with writing the now-legendary 1983 headline "Headless Body in Topless Bar," and is so acknowledged in the credits of the new Peter Koper/James Bruce movie of the same name. But does he get a co-author's credit on the song (hereafter referred to as "Love Theme from 'Headless Body in Topless Bar' ") that closes out the film?
No, but he should.
It would seem only right. Who, after all, would write a song lyric like that without a headline to go with it? And, for that matter, who would write a movie like "Headless Body in Topless Bar" without having been likewise inspired? Peter Koper, who wrote the film, has taken enormous liberties with the actual story. But like any of the many, many films that bear the titles of rock songs, the title inspired the movie.
And it shows. The premise is that a lone gunman (Raymond J. Barry) would walk into a seedy topless joint (the actual Baby Doll Lounge at White and Church streets in Manhattan), kill the bartender for resisting his robbery attempt and then spend much of the rest of the night playing mind games with the motley crew that's witnessed his crime. Like "Lifeboat," or perhaps "No Exit," it's a setup that forces each of the characters to reveal his innermost secrets. But without a certain delicacy--and there's very little here--the viewer, like the hostages, just wants to get out of the bar.
Barry's character, known only as the Man, is a middle-aged career criminal (the real killer was a 23-year-old security guard and the bar was in Queens) who's clearly spent his share of time in psychiatric wards. Barry makes him convincingly volatile, and he generates a good deal of tension. But what he gets out of his prisoners--during a torturous mind game called "Nazi truth"--is less than riveting stuff.
Bradford Lumpkin (David Selby), a corporate lawyer who's desperate not to be caught in a strip club, carries rubber goods (including latex underpants) in his briefcase. The two New York Islanders fans (Rustam Branaman and Taylor Nichols) who have wandered in to drool at the dancers turn out to be a pair of losers (big surprise). Carl Levin (Paul Williams, and where's he been?) has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair; he also reminisces about his lost dog. The dancer, Candy (Jennifer MacDonald), is the most interesting of the group and not just because she plays almost the entire movie nude. Street-smart and savvy, she keeps her dignity, toying with her captor, but not quite winning him over.
Together, they're not the most fascinating ensemble, but what can you expect? This is a low-rent dive where thirsty men go to stare at breasts. It ain't a Noel Coward drawing room. It ain't Jane Austen. It ain't, in fact, much.
Headless Body in Topless Bar, 1996. Unrated. A Green Tea Pictures production, released by Northern Arts. Director James Bruce. Producers Rustam Branaman, Charles Weinberger, Steven Falick. Screenplay by Peter Koper. Cinematographer Kevin Morrisey. Editor Robert Barrere. Costumes Natasha Landau. Music Russell Ziecker. Production design Gustav Alsina. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Raymond J. Barry as The Man. Rustam Branaman as Vic Palmieri. April Grace as Letitia Jackson. Jennifer MacDonald as Candy. Taylor Nichols as Danny.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times