Wednesday, January 04, 2017

PSIFF ’17: Do It or Die

Talk about ironic. Philanthropist Elaine Chaddick’s primary residence was Chicago, but she was kidnapped during a regular stay in their Palm Springs vacation home. Of course, they were well known in Palm Springs society. Harry Chaddick happened to own the racquet club. Understandably, it remains one of the city’s most notorious crimes, so there should be considerable local interest when Jørn Winther’s Do It or Die (trailer here) screens today during the 2017 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Harry and Elaine Chaddick were quite the power couple in 1979. One million dollars was also a lot of money at that time, so when Bobby Ray Robbins kidnaps her, demanding a million-dollar ransom, he does not sound like Dr. Evil. Thanks to his wife Ginger, the cocktail pianist, Robbins knew when old Harry would be out of town (“Do It or Die” becomes their motivational mantra). Frankly, the grabbing part they executed out pretty smoothly. However, keeping her under wraps and negotiating with Harry are details far more complicated than they expected.

Mr. Chaddick pretends to follow their instructions, but he actually had his friend, the Palm Springs police chief, secretly bring in the FBI. Chaddick himself will also be a handful for Special Agent Herb Clough to deal with, but his reputation as the Bureau’s best kidnapping expert keeps the concerned husband somewhat at bay.

After retiring, the late Clough settled down in Palm Springs, where he became poker buddies (or whatever) with Winther, who took on the Chaddick kidnapping as his first feature directorial project. Winther’s credits include some pretty high profile television gigs, including the original Frost-Nixon interviews and Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare special. Unfortunately, DIOD feels very TV-movie, circa 1980. Frankly, the look is even more down-market than MST3K favorites Mitchell or Riding with Death.

The cast is also uneven, to put it diplomatically. Denise DuBarry and John Callahan are reliable professionals, who have some nice chemistry together as the Chaddicks. On the other hand, Andrew J. McGuinness and Viktoria Stamm are just plain awkward as the kidnappers. Still, it is nice to see David Naughton as Clough, even though he is way grayer and dignified-looking than we remember him from An American Werewolf in London and My Sister Sam.

The Chaddick kidnapping is an interesting case and you have to admire her resiliency. Frustratingly, the film just doesn’t do it justice, even though it was shot at many of the actual locations involved in the crime. Honestly, there is no way a film of its caliber would play the Palm Springs festival, without the built in local interest. Unless you remember where you were at the time of Chaddick’s abduction, you can safely skip Do It or Die when it screens today (1/4) at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.