(Olive Films, 3.22.2016)
The test of time has made one thing abundantly clear about Don Siegel: almost everything he directed was more worthwhile than audiences and critics realized at the time. This applies to his flops and hits alike, but few cinephiles have taken the time to follow this theory all the way to the end of his filmography. Films like Charley Varrick, Escape from Alcatraz, and Telefon have all aged unusually well, but his final film remains a mystery to most for one very simple reason: Siegel was its biggest detractor. While the director managed to go on living for another decade, a mid-shoot heart attack forced him to hand over the reigns to former protégé Sam Peckinpah -- who was also in rough shape, dying a few years later -- but that was the least of Siegel’s worries.
Some speculated that the reason for the director’s ill health and/or disdain for Jinxed! was star Better Midler. To avoid misunderstanding, Siegel clarified his feelings on this subject: “I’d let my wife, children, and animals starve before I’d subject myself to something like that again.” Coming on the heels of Midler’s Oscar-nominated turn in The Rose, Jinxed! was her second major role. Fueled by the validation of critics and her peers, she went full diva on Siegel and co-star Ken Wahl. The latter was coming off an acclaimed performance in The Wanderers, but like Siegel, he fell victim to the Jinxed! jinx, never fully recovering from the experience.
But as all informed movie fans know, displeasure on the set frequently translates to pleasure on the screen. While Jinxed! isn’t exactly a case study for this phenomenon, Midler and Wahl do manage to fake something approximating chemistry. In addition, the collaboration of Siegel, Peckinpah, and legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond results in some striking Vegas/Reno imagery -- well served by Olive’s glitzy transfer -- occasionally anticipating moments from Martin Scorsese’s infinitely-more-accomplished Casino.
As late-career-gambling-world-misfires-from-great-directors go, Jinxed! is not significantly better or worse than George Stevens’ The Only Game in Town, Curtis Hanson’s Lucky You, or Hal Ashby’s Lookin’ to Get Out. (That said, the 2009 director’s cut of the latter is a cut above the rest.) Those looking for convincing, layered drama or another Siegel sleeper can probably ignore Jinxed!, but if you’re willing to make time for a slight, semi-pleasant (nasty Rip Torn notwithstanding) visit to early ’80s Nevada, this is a relatively safe bet. -- Jonathan Doyle