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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Believe In Me (1971) - Spotlight on... On the Edge

"I steal. I shoot dope. I fuck." - Jacqueline Bisset (as Pamela in 'Believe in Me')

'Believe in Me' is a 1971 romantic drama film directed by Stuart Hagmann and starring Michael Sarrazin, Jacqueline Bisset, Jon Cypher, Allen Garfield and Kurt Dodenhoff.

The film was written by Israel Horovitz and produced by Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler.

Remy (played by Sarrazin) is a medical student. Pamela Keefe (played by Bisset) is an assistant editor at a children's book publisher. The two meet through Pamela's brother Alan (played by Cypher), who is a friend of Remy's. After moving in together, the two begin to experiment with speed and barbiturates, and eventually become heavily addicted. As a result of his addiction, Remy is expelled from medical school and Pamela voluntarily quits her job. Living down the hall is teenage addict Matthew (played by Dodenhoff), who features in a shocking, yet memorable drug hallucination scene.

Spectator manipulation

I like the way in which the film manipulates the spectator with the character of Remy. When we are first introduced to Remy, we find him to be compassionate and immediately notice his genuine concern for the comfort of his patience. 15 minutes into the film, we start uncover the inner truth of the character and see Remy steal prescription drugs from the hospital. What makes this worse is that this is occurs just moments after a patient is rushed to emergency from an overdose, and only just survives.

Context to the film

The film was very confronting at the time of it's release in 1971, with the spread of fashionable drug culture. It was a rather brave move for MGM, a major film studio to take on such controversial subject matter.

It is fascinating to see the transformation of Pamela from a beautiful and successful career woman at the start of the film to a washed out unemployed druggie by the time the film ends.

The occupations of the characters is also ironic. Remy is a medical student, and Pamela is a children's book editor. Both occupations are in a position of trust. This is a critique on society on the 1970s,  and leaves the viewer thinking if they cannot trust their doctor, who can they trust?


Lou Rawls sings the film's title tune "Believe in Me", taken from his album 'Silk and Soul' (1971).

Did you know

  • The original title of the film was 'Speed is of the Essence', which was the title of the story by Gail Sheehy in which the film is based - Sheehy wrote the story about her sister's addiction to drugs
  • 50 minutes of footage was deleted from the film, including a scene featuring George Rose and Geraldine Fitzgerald as Pamela's parents
  • MGM commissioned John G. Avildsen to reshoot some scenes - Avildsen does not receive a credit for his work

Closing remarks

'Believe in Me' is a confronting film portraying the consequences of drug abuse and corruption in the field of medicine.  The film features fine acting performances from it's stars.

Sadly 'Believe in Me' has not been released on VHS, DVD or BluRay, and is seldom shown on television. I was fortunate to come across a rare screening on TCM, Australia. 

As unlikely as this would be, I would welcome the release of a directors cut edition presenting the film in the way Hagmann had initially intended (prior to MGMs reshoots and edits).

The film's obscurity and inaccessibility is a shame as the film does a great job in showing how easy it is to become addicted to drugs, and the consequences of drug abuse. As viewers we experience the desperation, hallucination and mood swings drug victims endure. With drug abuse still very much an issue in society, the film is still as relevant today as it was in 1971

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