Maybe the 1980’s noir never really bloomed after Body Heat; The Postman Always Rings Twice didn’t herald a return to the hard-bitten hero and the duplicitous dame. But there were a bunch of little movies that could, notably the Coen’s Blood Simple, and a series of movies like Fake-Out or 52 Pick-Up, all of which make something of their seedy snake-pit of backwater life. Paul Lynch (Prom Night) was the director of Cross Country, a film which, with no DVD or legal streaming options, has been lost since the initial VHS pressing. It’s a clever little thriller which really deserves to be seen for fans of the twisty-turny plot. Adapted from Herbert Kastle’s book, it’s the story of Evan Bley (West Side Story’s Richard Beymer), an advertising executive whose wife is brutally murdered. Some narrative slight of hand creates doubt about his character from the outset; he seems complicit in a horrendous slaying, and his subsequent behaviour seems to add to our suspicions. He takes off across the US in his Merc, with a dubious couple dragged along at gunpoint; Lois (Nina Axelrod) and John (Brent Carver) pursed by dodgy cop Roersch (Michael Ironside, between Scanners and Total Recall).
The poster-art features a big car stunt, but that’s actually the final scene of the film. But there is action here, notably an impressive scene in which Bley attempts to intimidate his two victims by driving dangerously along a busy road teaming with trucks; it’s a great sequence, original in construction. And it works, not just because of the physicality, but because this is a genuine noir where no-one’s motivations are clear. You can guess the killer, but you won’t be sure until at least half-way through, and fans of the old-fashioned whodunit will not be disappointed.
Fans of the book seem to have felt that this film was too light and lively with the story-line, but by 2020 standards, this is dank and dark material, with hard sex scenes, ménages a trois, strippers, bondage and gruesome deaths. The performances are sound, and the edge created in the early scenes is maintained until the end. It’s hard to say why this film has been so comprehensively buried; perhaps the Chris Rea soundtrack has copyright issues, or at least the Elkie Brooks cover of Fool If You Think It’s Over that plays over a bar-room scene might. That’s pure speculation on my part, and I’m happy to be corrected. Like the similarly lost Looking for Mr Goodbar, it seems that music clearances were an issues during the late 70’s early 80’s period. If you know where to look for a copy of Cross Country, it’s well worth the effort; a tense, tough, adult noir that never misses a beat.