Think of this as a guide through each of Christopher Walken's films, starting with his first and moving forward. Each review will provide analysis, factoids and opinion on the ninety-plus films in his career.

The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

comfortcoverGenre: Erotic Slow-burning Thriller

Walken in Short: Think of Walken’s role as The Continental (from SNL), but take away the harmless goofiness, and add a dollop and a half of sinister undertone. Walken is all over this. He’s eccentric, his accent is muddled (wonderfully so), and his interaction with others is bizarre yet full of gravitas. One of my personal favorite roles of his. Ever. This is necessary Walken.

Movie in a Sentence: A British couple (Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson) are on holiday in Venice when they cross paths with an odd but compelling local couple (Walken and Helen Mirren), and things get weird from there.

vlcsnap-2013-06-03-12h37m33s217Director: Paul Schrader – Perhaps better known as a writer, he wrote the screenplays for TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL. He also directed CAT PEOPLE (with the scintillating Nastassja Kinski) and the under-rated biopic AUTO FOCUS, which isn’t too shabby either. Schrader worked with Walken again in 1993 for the film TOUCH, a lightly-cynical comedy where Walken plays a kind of unscrupulous talent manager that sees an opportunity in a guy that may have stigmata (Jesus-wounds), and the power to heal.

Writer: Screenplay by Harold Pinter, based on the novel by Ian McEwan – Pinter also wrote SLEUTH (with Michael Cain and Jude Law) and the screenplay for THE HANDMAID’S TALE (also with Natasha Richardson). McEwan has written many things that have become films, among others: ATONEMENT (2007), ENDURING LOVE (2004), and THE GOOD SON (1993).

Duration: One hour, 47 minutes

vlcsnap-2013-06-03-12h45m21s30MPAA Rating: rated ‘R’. Both Miss Richardson and Rupert are naked for several un-rushed scenes, not that you see their naughty-bits or anything hardcore, just some tanned bottoms and plenty shots of her perky unleashed sweater-puppies. Unfortunately, there are no Walken/Mirren sex scenes here. Sorry. But can you imagine?! Wowsers. Oh, and also there is a short scene of shocking blood-shed, but it’s all “tastefully done”, whatever that means.

Actors Other Than Walken:

  • vlcsnap-2013-06-03-12h30m48s8Helen Mirren – plays ‘Caroline’, Walken’s wife. On the outside she’s all smiles and polite small-talk, but every once in a while the facade begins to slip, and we see a glimpse of something dark, twisted and hungry in her. I love Helen Mirren. If you’re new to films, you may only know her as that older lady in the Bruce Willis spy-film RED. But she’s had a long career of playing sexually intriguing roles, the finest of which (IMO) is “THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE, AND HER LOVER”, a darkly charming, gorgeously shot tale of jealousy and revenge. If you’ve never seen “TC, TT, HW & HL” you should make every attempt to track it down. (NOTE: not for the squeamish though)
  • vlcsnap-2013-06-03-11h54m13s154Rupert Everett – plays ‘Colin’, the smug British publisher on holiday. He is perfect in this. Too handsome for his own good. Blissfully aloof. He effortlessly straddles that line between loving his girlfriend, and placating her, which is exactly what the role demands. He is a supercilious son of a bitch, but British, so y’know: charming too. He has a tendency to appear rather smarmy in other things, but I like him in this, the smarm works in his favor.
  • Set in Venice, but I can clearly see Naples in this shot.

    Set in Venice, but I can clearly see Naples in this shot.

    Natasha Richardson – plays ‘Mary’, Colin’s girlfriend. Another critic I read called her “fuzzy-headed”, and it’s such a perfect descriptor that I had to repeat it. She’s beautiful (as always) and super sweet, but yeah, a little bit daft, a little bit naive. Her and Colin are just babes in the woods…


Grumpy Walken

Similar Films: (these films all share a kind of exotic, creepy, kinky tone, and they are all worth checking out) – THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (1990), CRASH (1996), PERFUME (2006), EYES WIDE SHUT (1990), THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING (1988), THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999)

Available to Own: VHS and DVD, but alas, no Blu-ray as of yet. Also, I should add that the DVD is somewhat rare. Not IMPOSSIBLE to get, but it probably won’t be cheap or easy to find.

Walken Content: At first, he only haunts this film like a creepy European Where’s Waldo. We see glimpses of his dapper white Armani suit as he lurks in the shadows. And then, once he’s formally introduced, there’s no getting rid of him. He has an obsession with his father (and with his father’s father) and his answer to almost any question involves telling an anecdote about him as a child, living in fear and adulation of his father and his many sisters. vlcsnap-2013-06-03-12h00m00s210Despite the stories he tells, Walken remains a mystery throughout. His name is Robert, his father wore a black “moostash”, but everything else is up for grabs. His motivations, his intentions, his end-goal, all of these things are dangled in front of the audience, but never spelled-out for us. Some people like that; some don’t. Either way, Walken is a real treat here. His unique talent for being simultaneously funny and scary is never so clearly conveyed than in THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS.

vlcsnap-2013-06-03-12h01m36s137Walken Quote: When our two young lovers, Mary and Colin, meet Walken for the first time, they were lost in the labyrinthine alleyways of Venice at night. He saves them, brings them to a restaurant, plies them with wine, and entertains them with a story. It begins when Mary asks Walken where he and his wife first met. This is all the prompting he needs. The story goes on after I stop, this is just a little taste. Note that the last word he says, “favorite”, is spoken in his terrifically-deep grumbley gravelly voice, as he does so well.

So Mary says ‘How did you meet?’, and he replies:

“Ahh, that would be impossible to explain without describing my mother and sisters. And then it would only make sense if I first described my father. In order to explain how I met my wife I would have to describe my father. Want me to do that?vlcsnap-2013-06-03-12h42m23s40 Would you? Really? Like me to do that? Shall I do that? …

My father was a … verybigman. All his life he wore a black moostash [sic]. When it turned grey, he used a little brush to keep it black, such as ladies use for their eyes. Mascara. Everyone was afraid of him, my mother, my four sisters. At the dining table you could not speak unless spoken to first by my father. But he loved me. I was his – favorite.”

~ Robert (Walken)

vlcsnap-2013-06-03-12h37m41s58Should You Watch This? Yes, do it. Understand though that this is not a film that gives you all the answers. It gives you clues, and sets a tone, and allows you to come to your own conclusions. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Just enjoy the beautiful cinematography, and the subtle ways that Schrader creates tension. Walken is amazing, as always. This is a perfect role for him, and he’s enjoying himself. He’s charming, sadistic, kooky, mysterious, and ready to snap at any moment!

4 comments on “The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

  1. ki
    July 16, 2013

    that’s the only role where he really, truly, viscerally scared me. To the point of whimpering “go away go away” whenever he showed up.This moustache monologue is my personal Exorcist plus Alien I, I have absolutely no idea why.

    Fantastic performance (not sure about the whole film though), great review.

  2. That guy sure can make an impression :). Soooo creepy.
    For me though, if we’re talking MOST, I think his performance in AT CLOSE RANGE is the one that gets to me over all the others. There’s just something about the way he looks at people in it, cold, calculating, his charm is manufactured, his smile so sly, his strength just under the surface biding its time.

    I love it.

  3. Nathan Forester
    January 1, 2014

    This is in my opinion one of the most hypnotic performances he has ever done in a movie, and in a very good way – sort of quasi-vampiric.

    • Something Something (todd)
      January 1, 2014

      Heartily agreed! I love it.I just just picked up the book that the film was based on, eager to see if there is anything in the way of explanation of his behavior. I mean, I get that his father had a black moostash, but surely there’s more to it. I’ll let you know if it’s worth reading.

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