Release Date(s)1988 (September 21, 2021)
Studio(s)MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
1988's Masquerade was marketed originally as a starring vehicle for Rob Lowe, who had impressed moviegoers with his performances in The Outsiders, St. Elmo’s Fire, and About Last Night. The film marked an interesting choice for Lowe, who undertook a role quite different from his earlier screen parts. With inspiration from classic film noir, Masquerade centers on characters that are not always who you think they are.
Olivia Lawrence (Meg Tilly) has not had an easy life. Her father died when she was 12 and her mother died just a few months before the story opens. She lives in a sprawling mansion in the Hamptons with her mother’s fourth husband, constantly drunk Tony Gateworth (John Glover, The Good Fight). Olivia hates him but can’t get him out of the house because of a provision in her mother’s will.
Home after graduating from a women’s college, Olivia spends her days and evenings at parties and dances among her late parents’ conservative friends. She runs into Mike McGill (Doug Savant, Desperate Housewives), an old friend who declared his wish to marry back when they were both schoolchildren. Mike is now a local cop and his affection for her hasn’t faded. She feels otherwise although she still values his friendship. One night at a dance, she meets Tim Whalan (Rob Lowe), the handsome skipper of a racing sailboat owned by a local millionaire. Tim has been sleeping with the millionaire’s wife, Brooke Morrison (Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City), but falls in love with Olivia after a few dates. Gateworth gets wind of the romance and is not shy in expressing his suspicions that the penniless Tim is more interested in Olivia’s money than in herself.
Gateworth announces to Olivia that he will be away for weekend, she invites Tim to visit her, and while they are asleep in her bed Gateworth bursts in on them in a drunken rage. A struggle ensues and Tim shoots him. This sets the scene for attempts to cover up what actually happened, the police investigation, and revelations about the characters and their motivations that were not previously clear.
Director Bob Swaim (Half Moon Street) and screenwriter Dick Wolf (Law & Order) have crafted a puzzle in which the pieces don’t seem to fit until, one by one, they fall into place. A few surprises occur that are both clever and shocking, taking the trajectory of the plot in an unforeseeable direction. Though the film is only 91 minutes long, a lot happens and suspense builds as Olivia and Tim attempt to rebound from the killing of Gateworth.
Lowe is physically right as Tim, a sportsman with an easy manner and pleasantness that charms the wealthy people whose company he cultivates. He gives an economical performance with creepy shadings, defying the pretty-boy persona that critics declared was all he was capable of. His romantic scenes with Tilly have heat, while his dalliances with Brooke Morrison have a mechanical quality. He loves one woman and simply goes through the motions with the other. Lowe plays Tim in low-key fashion. Tim is among his betters, knows it, and doesn’t want to endanger his relationship with Olivia. He knows her friends will assume he’s a gold digger and feels he must prove himself constantly.
Tilly plays Olivia as an innocent, befitting the character’s conservative Catholic background. Trusting and gullible, she is easily kept in the dark about the multiple intrigues that revolve around her. She is caught up in her own dreaminess as a young woman experiencing adult love for the first time with Tim. This is a flaw in the film. Olivia seems a bit too clueless as occurrences point toward treachery.
Doug Savant goes through some interesting changes as the local cop. Glover’s performance is over the top, with histrionics that border on cartoonish. Gateworth is an obvious villain—vulgar, drunk, with a sense of arrogant entitlement. We get that he’s a reprehensible character well before his shouting and verbal abuse of Olivia. Dana Delaney (“China Beach”) in a small role as Gateworth’s girlfriend has a key scene in which she provides critical information to the police. With the death of Gateworth, she’s bitter about losing her chance to move up in the world.
There are some lulls midway through the film and the second half might strain credibility with its many twists, but overall the film is a satisfying mystery.
Featuring 1080p resolution, the Blu-ray release of Masquerade is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The film has a sun-hazy look in the outdoor scenes. David Watkin’s photography of the sailboat race that opens the film is spectacular, combining sweeping helicopter shots with on-deck views and shots from other boats. The excitement of the race is beautifully captured. The scenes of Olivia’s mansion and other Long Island locations exude wealth. Production design and costuming reflect money and upper-class society. A red Ferrari really stands out and makes a statement, showing that money is not a big concern for the wealthy. The film contains nudity, and is not shy about showing Lowe’s backside. Cattrall is shown in bed with Lowe, her breasts completely bared.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. English subtitles are provided. Dialogue is clear throughout. Waves splashing against the sailboats as they race through the ocean add to the excitement of the scene. Sound effects include a gun shot, the sports car’s roaring engine, a glass window shattering, a fight, and incidental dance music. John Barry’s score is lush, sometimes romantic and other times hinting of menace. Sound mixing of dialogue, ambient sound, and music is well balanced.
Bonus materials include an audio commentary and several theatrical trailers.
Audio Commentary – Director Bob Swaim discusses the film 33 years after making it. According to him, “it’s a film, rare in one’s career, where everything worked.” He loved his cast, the crew, and even the studio executives. The title sequence shows protagonist Tim Whalan at the helm of a racing sailboat, an exciting way to introduce the character. The scene involved two camera boats and a helicopter and was difficult to shoot because of variations in wind, sun, clouds, and water movement. For the nude scenes, the set was cleared. Swaim describes sex scenes as very technical and tough to shoot. They’re difficult for the actors and it’s all about camera angles, lighting, and acting. Early scenes contrast the two women in Tim’s life—Brooke and Olivia. Swaim was “blown away” by Tilly’s performances in The Big Chill and Agnes of God and wanted her for the role of Olivia. Filming was done in the spring so the crew wouldn’t have to contend with summer crowds. Many days were very cold. The costume design visually defines the characters, whose personalities are transferred into what they’re wearing. Long Island film locations included Sag Harbor, Shelter Island, Southhampton, and Narragansett. Only one scene was shot in Santa Monica. Proper casting and a solid script, according to Swaim, make the director’s job much easier. John Barry’s score moves from romance to mystery to tension and back again. A boat explosion was filmed by a second unit but the entire crew watched from hidden positions. The final scene, in a cemetery, was filmed in perfect conditions—an overcast sky and wind from the sea. “The moment was magic and to me that’s what cinema is all about” notes Swaim in his closing comments. “Masquerade is a great example of what collaborative filmmaking should be.”
Theatrical Trailers – Nine trailers are included:
- Masquerade (1:25)
- The Hot Spot (1:49)
- Positive ID (2:03)
- The Underneath (2:07)
- Color of Night (2:07)
- The Hotel New Hampshire (1:19)
- Youngblood (1:26)
- Impulse (1:31)
- Unforgettable (2:20)
Masquerade is an entertaining mystery that keeps us involved and manages to stay way ahead of us as the plot unfolds. Cleverly scripted and well acted, the film is about an outsider, both embraced and resented, and his journey from hired hand to high society.
- Dennis Seuling