YEAR:  1998

ROLE:  Will Dodge

DIRECTOR:  Peter Yates

US TV PREMIERE:  Showtime - December 5, 1998

Plot Summary

In this romantic comedy with supernatural touches, Stevenson Lowe works for a large publishing house, editing and acquiring new projects. Lowe's new boss is after him to buy fewer books that are good and more books that will sell, while his girlfriend Julia is trying to convince him that marriage might not be such a bad idea. But marriage is a tough sell for Lowe; in the hopes that a new home might make him think about settling down, Julia suggests that Lowe look at a brownstone that's just gone on the market. Lowe likes the place and buys it, without deciding if Julia should join him. However, Lowe quickly discovers that he's not actually alone in his new digs; the ghosts of Max Gale and Lily Marlowe, an acting couple who were the toast of the legitimate stage many years ago, are already in residence. Max and Lily are soon offering Lowe all sorts of unsolicited advice on winning the heart of his lady love, though given how much they bicker, they may not be the best people from whom to learn the art of romance.

Michael CAINE.......................Max Gale
James SPADER.............Stevenson Lowe
Polly WALKER...............................Julia
Maggie SMITH..................Lily Marlowe
Buck HENRY.........Charles Van Allsburg
Frank WHALEY...............Brett Conway
Marcia Gay HARDE.......Michelle Tippet

Production Notes

"Curtain Call" was based on a story by producer Andrew Karsch. Actor James Spader was going to make his directing debut with this film, but had to step aside due to scheduling difficulties with other acting assignments. Production began in February 1997, shooting at locations in New York City and Washington D.C., with a budget of just under $20 million. The picture’s name went through several permutations during filming, including "Later Life", "Trouble with Stevenson" and "It All Came True".

Movie Images

Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide:
Fine cast in fluffy fantasy about marriage-phobic book publisher Spader, who moves into a Manhattan brownstone that's haunted by the ghosts of a famous old theatrical couple who teach him about love and commitment. Curious, slowly paced blend of supernatural whimsy, romantic comedy and relationship drams never really gels. Made for theaters, this debuted on cable. Valerie Perrine appears unbilled. 
A harmless piece of fluff made for the Showtime Movie channel, "Curtain Call" is the sort of old-fashioned movie that cause people to say, "They don't make them like that any more." I admit it up front, this is my sort of movie, but it's not going to be to everybody's taste.

At no point does it strain the braincells to work out what's going to happen in this film, but that is not to say that it offers no attractions. Michael Caine and Maggie Smith are both impeccable as the warring thespians, stealing the film blatantly from their younger co-stars, while James Spader shows that he has a depth of charm and timing that lends itself well to romantic comedy. Polly Walker, however, is not sympathetic enough as his romantic foil, but much of this is because her role is so clearly underwritten. Shepard, meanwhile, who features in a totally unnecessary subplot, must have been really hard up to take on such a wafer-thin role and dials in his performance accordingly.

Not a film that stretches its cast or the viewer, but it's an enjoyable confection without being too sickly, especially since director Peter Yates emphasises the comedy over the romance. Cut the Sam Shepard subplot, tighten it by about 10 minutes, and make the focus of the film Caine and Smith, rather than Spader and Walker, and then you'd really have a movie.

Timeout, London:
Spader, a publisher with job trouble and a nervous love life, moves into an old house, which, he soon discovers, he's sharing with a couple of bickering ghosts (Caine and Smith). Not a lot happens. Plotting is unadventurous, the dialogue contains about a million words, none of them amusing or clever, and the film curls up and dies in the pauses for laughter which the actors have optimistically allowed after each feeble rally. Spader, lacking the practised insouciance of his co-stars, makes heavy weather of the hero.

Tom Keough,
James Spader looks like the hardest-working man in show business as the busy, comic-romantic lead in this enjoyable "film blanc" (a tongue-in-cheek phrase coined by film critic Andrew Sarris to describe that genre of movies featuring ghosts in love). Spader plays Stevenson Lowe, heir to a highly respected publishing firm that has recently been purchased by a giant media corporation. Though Stevenson has deluded himself into believing the new owners will allow him to maintain creative control over his family's book line, he soon discovers the unpleasant truth. A ludicrous executive (funny work by Buck Henry) is pushing no-brainer tomes about cats and the female fat cell into the spring list, pushing poor Stevenson into the margins of his own company.

His helplessness has a way of resonating with other mushy areas of his life. Having purchased an expensive townhouse for himself alone, Stevenson severely disappoints his long-suffering girlfriend (Polly Walker in a rare comic outing), who thought they were going to get married. The hero's dithering on this sore subject gets more complicated when he discovers a pair of Jazz Age ghosts (Michael Caine and Maggie Smith) occupying his new home and dispensing unwanted advice about love. Directed by Peter Yates (Breaking Away), Curtain Call has a low-key charm kept alive by the considerable skills of its admirable cast (including Sam Shepard, Marcia Gay Harden, and Frank Whaley), while a handful of memorable, screwball scenes deliver solid sight gags. Not a masterpiece, but a real treat.