MARION EDWARD in "Roadgames" (1981)

Ever had that moment where you watch a film you have the feeling you won’t really like, but turn out liking it and then loving a certain aspect of it? It’s happened plenty of times with me, and most of the time it happens to be performances (especially small ones) that stand out; sometimes even in films that really don’t impress me. Now, I liked this 1981 thriller that I’m about to give a performance review on, and I especially loved one little aspect of that. A performance that is so surprisingly complex, completely nuanced, and utterly vulnerable. And that would be the performance of:

Marion Edward in Roadgames
(1981)
approx. 8 minutes and 44 seconds
3 scenes
roughly 8.6% of film’s total running time

There is something electrifying in Australian-born actress Marion Edward’s brief performance in the 1981 thriller Roadgames. The film was directed by Richard Franklin, a director infamously known to be a flamboyant admirer of Alfred Hitchcock. That admiration shows in this picture, the film taking on a strikingly similar tone to Hitchcock’s 1950s work and taking a whole load of story ideas from Rear Window. Its funny to see the DVD case and advertisements for Roadgames because its obviously being advertised as another one of the wannabe slasher flicks post-Halloween, but its really an understated thriller that gains its chilling moments from more psychological aspects rather than with blood, gore, nudity, or anything really offensive. And in the first act of the film we are treated to a slow boiling of the film’s main character (played well by Stacy Keach); a truck driver on his way to Perth, Australia. On his way there, he finds himself forcibly picking up a hitchhiker off the side of the road and that “hitch” (as he likes to call them) is the ever-so reluctant Madeline Day.

Edward’s Madeline is one of those all too familiar characters that are introduced in films (she comes in at around the 15-minute mark) and then make their quick exit soon thereafter (she exits before the 30-minute mark). But what Edward does with an arguably cliché character is make her conventional aspects glow with humanity, creating a three-dimensional human being from a character basically used by the screenplay as a plot device.

While she is quite an annoying and talkative specimen, Edward manages to make Madeline that way while avoiding typical spurts of overacting. She becomes annoying without the intention of being annoying; sparking a low-level voice and talking to her driver with a sense of interest and appreciation. Yet, the more she talks to the man, the more she becomes suspicious of his unusual eccentricities.

For those unaware, the film’s plot is basically about a serial killer running rampant and killing hitchhikers. This, of course, is why Madeline becomes so weary with certain aspects of Keach’s character. For example, there is a moment in the film where Keach pulls over to take a shortcut through the desert. Madeline obviously becomes uncomfortable, but also still continues to play a little “road game” with him. It’s a very false facade she puts on; her terrified and worried thoughts are easy to see in her eyes.

This woman is as unsure of what she has possibly gotten herself into.

And when Keach sees that same green van that has been following him for quite some time, he begins to suspect that he may be on the trail of the serial killer. But of course, there is no way to prove that he himself isn’t the psychopath to Madeline.

She becomes terrified of the man, unsure of her safety, and throughout these moments of paranoia, Edward plays the role with immense believability without straying away from the slapstick, dark-humored nature that Madeline possesses.

The way Edward handles a hairspray can in a certain scene comes immediately to mind.

After an argument, in a scurry runaway from him in the desert to the side of a cliff, we get the film’s most Hitchcock-natured moment. What could have been a tiresome and pointless homage to the director instead becomes an eerily pitiful and disturbing moment all thanks to the way Edward presents it. Edward turns her character around 180 degrees and gives a chilling explanation to the horrifying demons she is keeping buried beneath her skin.

“We don’t want trouble. We never wanted trouble… They threatened my children, horrible phone calls late at night, they’ve killed our dog. When the police came they said the strike was Floyd’s fault. We’ve got our own problems mister, we don’t need anybody elses.”

She then continues to assure him: “I didn’t see any man back there, you understand? No vans, no lunch boxes, or anything to do with police. And no more games.”

And at this moment, Keach realizes the most important aspect of this killer and a possible conspiracy. The predator is one who likes to play games before striking his victims, and it comes at complete disgust when he decides to leave Madeline at a gas station and pursue the killer himself. It’s a relief to her, just as much as it’s an uncertainty. It’s a complicated situation she has found herself in, and she can only find solace in breaking down.

Her final moment, as she sits and talks with a motorcyclist, is another one of Edward’s chillingly played moments, as she engages in a conversation all too similar to the one she first had with Keach; only this time to a man of whose face she cannot see.

It shows a disturbing underbelly to her character, one that is left unanswered, but left to the viewer to decide whether or not it’s true. Is this a woman running away from her problems? Or is she internally trying to come face to face with them regardless of whether she really wants to or not?

Marion Edward gives to Madeline Day what any other actress wouldn’t, and that is the complex and mysterious humanity of a stranger. There is something breathtaking and transparent in her performance that makes one feel happy that she played the part herself, seeing as the character would have more than likely been another Estelle Parsons imitation had another actress been cast. But here, what we have, in the end, is a very delicate and unsettling portrait of a woman unsure of why she feels so ambivalent to her personal tribulations.

Here is her entire performance on Youtube:

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~ by jerkwoddjh on September 6, 2009.

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