Having just read an interview with Morgan Fairchild in the local gay press about her role in the newest Donald Strachey thriller Shock to the System, it's a real treat to watch the first Strachey film now just released on video and starring the talented and out gay actor Chad Allen.
Based on one of the early novels by Richard Stevenson, Third Man Out is a gorgeously campy homage the forties noirish thrillers - except that there's one twist - the handsome, hunky detective is decidedly gay and lives a respectable suburban life with his boyfriend Timmy Callahan (Sebastian Spence), they're even in the middle of renovating their home.
Things get nasty when Strachey is called upon to protect John Rutka (Jack Wetherall), a local gay activist, who runs a webzine dedicated to outing important people, particularly hypocritical politicians. Someone is trying to murder Rutka and although Strachey is initially hesitant to help the man out, he is eventually convinced Rutka is telling the truth when he turns up dead.
Director Ron Oliver keeps the action and suspense flowing, cleverly shuffling around characters, clues, red herrings and various plot machinations. In one instance, suspicion falls on Rutka's younger boyfriend Eddie (Woody Jefferies) as he was seen walking past just as a firebomb was thrown at Rutka's house. Strachey also mistrusts Rutka's sister (Sean Young), who is out to inherit most of her brother's property.
But in typical noir style, the narrative builds as clues and missteps are piled on top of each other and Strachey eventually discovers a furtive pornographic blackmail plot. Keep in mind, Strachey always has his lovely boyfriend to come home to, and it's a refuge, away from the harsh realities he must deal with on a daily basis.
Third Man Out as a slick, gritty feel, heightened by its very gay sensibility and for a television movie on a fledgling television network, the production values are outstanding. Allan is a perfect choice to play Strachey and he totally inhabits the character's penchant for grittiness and sometimes even using violence and threats to get the necessary information. He's a good-looking and sexy, yet totally tough detective, who never shies away from the truth.
Although its prime function is to entertain, Third Man Out also finds room for social comment - the politics of outing, the problems of gay men trying to live in a straight society, the hypocrisy of those in positions of power and sexual abuse by the certain members of the clergy, are all addressed.
Ron Oliver and writer Mark Saltzman have made thrilling and sophisticated movie and I'm sure the series will only get better. Kudos, however, must also go to the talented Allen who imbeds this character with so much realism and is able to make the story really work. Mike Leonard August 06.