BluRay/DVD Reviews

THIRD MAN OUT and SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM

By • Feb 13th, 2007 •

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“A thing of beauty is a boy forever”

During the year 1841 America’s most celebrated author and poet Edgar Allan Poe chose to create a new genre of literature known as detective fiction by writing MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, creating the first fictional detective, Auguste Dupin, However to finally observe the detective in all his guises it would take more than a century before the “gay” male detective would surface to any noticeable degree in modern fiction.

Although there have been gay writers of detective fiction like Cornell Woolrich, or S.S.Van Dine with his sleuth Philo Vance, who were quite visible and very popular throughout the thirties and forties, there still was no real gay male detective to follow the adventures of until 1953 with Rodney Garland’s THE HEART IN EXILE (although one could always question the relationship of Holmes and Watson but was there ever any real satisfaction in that…) It really began in 1966 with the rather tacky adventures of Pharaoh Love, an African American gumshoe who eventually becomes a transsexual, in George Baxt’s trilogy of novels A QUEER KIND OF LOVE, SWING LOW SWEET HARRIET and TOPSY AND EVIL. This series would make a wild Television series with someone like RuPaul as the lead….are you listening HERE NETWORK? I believe the tide in entertainment turned for the better for gay characters good and evil after the film version of THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY won over so many critics despite the miscasting of the title character. The runaway success of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN did the rest, setting a standard of artistry that said very clearly if the story is there people will respond regardless of the character’s sexual orientation

In today’s book market there are hundreds of novels and short stories featuring gay detectives in what was once the most macho of literary genres, the hard-boiled detective, with tough guys like Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade.

HERE, the Premium Gay Network, has released on DVD two of the first ever Gay detective teleplays, choosing adaptations of Richard (aka Richard Lipez) Stevenson’s Donald Strachey novels starring Chad Allen (who also happen to be Gay in real life) to make entertainment history.

HERE has lavished top flight production values on both THIRD MAN OUT and SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM, from the decidedly “Art Deco” opening titles to the set design and noir lighting of both features, creating a cross between CHINATOWN with a QUEER AS FOLK attitude, a new hybrid known as “Gay Noir”. The greatest asset this series has going for it is Chad Allen himself, who is perfectly cast, handling the burden of what is now a series with charisma, not to mention bags of sex appeal. Much press and ink has been spilled regarding the “outing” of actor Chad Allen in the tabloids after his work on DR. QUINN MEDICINE WOMAN, and it speaks volumes that Allen performs his role on these features with great energy and style, elevating the material and raising the bar for the others to follow.

In the novels, Strachey is not quite so handsome and sexy, so the decision to “beef” the character up was a good one. The role of Strachey’s “husband,” Sebastian Spence is played by handsome Tim Callahan, whose sensitive acting style allows Chad Allen a bit more three dimensional shading to his character. It becomes clear from the first feature that Donald Strachey is co-dependant on his relationship with Spence, and the two weather many ups and downs as their relationship encounters all the self doubts and danger from the outside world that a gumshoe like Strachey can and does attract.

Since we are dealing with the mystery genre I will not give away any plot points or “spoilers” regarding either feature. The first film THIRD MAN OUT is my personal favorite of the two. In this installment we have our hero trying to protect a gay activist who has a nasty talent for outing those who might stand in the way of progress for gay right issues.

The role of the infamous activist is played by QUEER AS FOLK’s Jack Whetherall,
with that wild and crazy actress Sean Young in a far too brief cameo. Several critics have complained about the casting of Falcon stud Matthew Rush as what else, a porno stud on the make. I found it amusing to have Rush in the mix; remember, this is a script from a gay man’s point of view and what straight detective yarn doesn’t have a sexy dame or two spilling out of her dress with huge boobs? This one just happens to have a muscle man with a big dick.

The second episode, SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM, is just as slick in its production values, so once again the relationship between the two men is given a couple of good scenes to express their need for one another. The flashback sequence of Strachey’s wartime romance with an enlisted man is filmed like soft-core titillation, giving one the feeling that there is more where that came from with this provocative series. Morgan Fairchild has a few scenes as the homophobic mother of the victim. She unfortunately is too much of a gay icon herself to pull it off; one half expects to see someone at the gay nightclub the boys frequent for that much-needed cocktail, to have at least one guy dressed like Fairchild in some wild drag, serving drinks.

Chad Allen should be congratulated for creating such a sharp, vivid characterization that is refreshingly free of gay stereotypes. His Donald Strachey is a tough guy who drives a broken down Toyota and lives in a middle class neighborhood with a partner who can be a bit too prudish at times, but the heart of the matter is the love they share for one another. The Gay community has been forced to wait far too many years for this kind of relationship to surface on the big screen. Kudos to HERE Network for this very enjoyable series, and let’s hope they show enough imagination to dip into the literally hundreds of similar novels and short stories waiting to be discovered for adaptation to give Donald Strachey a run for his money.

Both DVD’s have bonus features that include conversations with cast and crew alike, a most welcome addition to anyone’s DVD collection. I keep mine right next to Miss Marple and Father Brown, speaking of strange bedfellows. What would Dr. Watson make of this?


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