Sam Shepard's play was a short, Strindbergian chamber piece, in which a semi-incestuous affair between half-brother and sister was enacted largely by them hurling each other off the walls of their small motel room. While maintaining the claustrophobia, Altman's adaptation is much more leisurely in approach, allowing a good half-hour for the arrival of Eddie (Shepard himself) at the motel in the Mojave desert, before getting down to the hurting match between the two obsessive would-be lovers. The play had a ghostly figure, the Old Man, who hovered in the wings, breaking into occasional monologue to comment on the affair, in which it was revealed that he was in fact their father. The film successfully weaves him into the action, still standing slightly apart as a Greek chorus, but nonetheless integrated: Stanton is his usual excellent self as the man who may be a spirit from the past. Shepard is perfect as the dumb hick in cowboy gear who likes lassoing the bedpost; and Basinger, as the faded girl in a red dress, brings a curious, tatty dignity to the role, and proves at last that she can act when not required to pout in her underwear. It's the best of Altman's series of theatre adaptations, capturing the original's dreamlike musings on the nature of inherited guilt; what one misses is the sexual ferocity. CPea.
Cast and crew
Harry Dean Stanton