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  Fourth Man, The Red Widow
Year: 1983
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Jeroen Krabbé, Renée Soutendijk, Thom Hoffman, Dolf de Vries, Geert de Jong, Hans Veerman, Hero Muller, Caroline de Beus, Reinout Bussemaker, Erik J. Meijer, Ursul de Geer, Filip Bolluyt, Hedda Lornie, Paul Nygard, Guus van der Made, Pamela Teves
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Thriller, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Gerard Reve (Jeroen Krabbé) is a writer who is having troubles with the bottle as well as with his boyfriend, which is apparent when he is awoken with a major hangover to the sound of a violin playing, not what he wants to hear at this time in the morning. He drags himself out of bed and pulls on his robe, then ventures downstairs to confront his boyfriend for waking him, but gets sidetracked by the need to shave, something his hands shake too much for him to be able to do, and to down the hair of the dog that bit him. He asks the violinist for the car keys as he has a talk that night in Flushing, but is refused, sparking one of his violent daydreams...

The fact that we don't know he's daydreaming about killing his boyfriend until we see that he has not actually strangled the man is the first strong hint that all may not be as it seems in the mind of Gerard, which makes things tricky for us in the audience for it is through his eyes that we experience the film. He grows increasingly paranoid as the story progresses, and all because he has met a young woman at that talk, the treasurer of the literary circle he has been asked to address, Christine Halsslag (Renée Soutendijk, both inscrutable and vampish), who makes herself known by filming him with her handheld camera. Before that he has been inspired by his lust for a man he saw at the station, lust which was foiled, but he doesn't know the connection yet.

Gerard may be gay, but he still has an eye for the ladies, so after his speech he ends up back at Christine's beauty parlour where she lives, and one thing leads to another with him seducing her - or does she seduce him? After a while we start to think that she has some kind of plan for the writer, and the imagery of the spider in its web as the opening titles unfolded fires up our imaginations just as Gerard's thoughts begin racing. The last Dutch film Paul Verhoeven released until his return to his homeland with Black Book over twenty years later, he liked to joke that he made The Fourth Man as a sop to the Dutch critics who never liked his previous movies, therefore it included much heavy handed symbolism.

This ploy worked as he received the best reviews of his career for this effort, even if it plainly looks like a parody of an art film so over the top does it go with its visuals. If you take seriously Gerard envisioning the statue of Christ on the cross as the man he saw on the train wearing red swimming trunks which in an erotic reverie of his own making Gerard pulls down, then you're missing a singular sense of humour from Verhoeven and his screenwriter Gerard Soeteman, but then there are a variety of ways to take the film. Is it an erotic thriller of the sort Basic Instinct would become? Is it an outright black comedy? Or judging by those visions is it a fevered horror movie designed to turn your blood to ice (the moment where Gerard sees his manhood being cut off will do that to the males watching)?

It could be all of those things, and it also has the bonus of being supposedly autobiographical, with Reve being an actual writer who said he based the book this was drawn from on a true incident that happened to him. As if this wasn't weird enough. But it gets stranger when Gerard discovers that Christine has had three previous husbands, all dead in violent circumstances, and all he suspects because she has somehow arranged their demises, though how she has done so is something of a mystery unless she employs supernatural methods. There is a supernatural aspect to this, as Gerard begins to believe that he is in contact with the Virgin Mary (this is where even more religious symbolism is ladled on), which might prove the talisman he needs to fend off the attentions of Christine. Complicating this is that the man from the train is her boyfriend, and he still determines to have his way with him, so can he sort his desires out with his sense of self-preservation? It's assuredly entertaining to find out, if a touch superficial. Music by Loek Dikker.

Aka: De vierde man
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Paul Verhoeven  (1938 - )

Dutch director who is no stranger to controversy. He became famous in his homeland for violent, sexually frank films such as Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange (a fine war epic), Spetters and The Fourth Man, after which he moved to Hollywood.

His first American movie, Flesh + Blood, showed he meant to continue as he started, and he was rewarded with the huge hit RoboCop. This began a line of lurid science fiction adventures such as Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man, but his sexually-themed Basic Instinct and Showgirls were equally uncompromising.

Verhoeven's sharp sense of humour tempers his over-the-top style, but he frequently sails too close to being ridiculous for many to take him seriously. The war drama Black Book, filmed in his native Holland, raised his standing once more, and his black comedy thriller Elle won great acclaim for star Isabelle Huppert.

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