The Ninth Configuration (1980)

R | 109 mins | Melodrama | 29 February 1980

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HISTORY

The film opens with the following narration: “Toward the end of the war in Vietnam, an unusually high number of American servicemen suddenly manifested symptoms of psychosis. Most of them were in combat, or slated for combat, and had no history of prior disturbance. These facts, plus the epidemic scope of the problem, and the controversial nature of the Vietnam War, led American authorities to wonder whether many if not most of the men were faking. To probe the mystery, the government established a network of secret study centers and clinics. The last of these, Number Eighteen, was highly experimental in nature and was set up in an old, abandoned castle in the Pacific Northwestern United States. Among its inmates was an astronaut who, during a final countdown, had aborted a mission into outer space.” In the film, Stacy Keach’s character, “Colonel Hudson Kane,” hints that the film’s title is his argument for proof that God exists: “In order for life to have appeared spontaneously on earth, there first had to be hundreds of millions of protein molecules of the Ninth Configuration, but given the size of the planet Earth, do you know how long it would take for just one of these protein molecules to appear entirely by chance?”
       A couple characters are listed in credits as being of military ranks different from what they had in the film. Robert Loggia’s “Lieutenant Bennish” wears captain bars and is referred to by Colonel Kane as “Captain Bennish,” while Mark Gordon’s “Sergeant Gilman” wears a lieutenant’s bar and is called “Lieutenant Gilman.” Kane is described as a “Special Forces” officer, but he is a U.S. Marine; Special Forces is ... More Less

The film opens with the following narration: “Toward the end of the war in Vietnam, an unusually high number of American servicemen suddenly manifested symptoms of psychosis. Most of them were in combat, or slated for combat, and had no history of prior disturbance. These facts, plus the epidemic scope of the problem, and the controversial nature of the Vietnam War, led American authorities to wonder whether many if not most of the men were faking. To probe the mystery, the government established a network of secret study centers and clinics. The last of these, Number Eighteen, was highly experimental in nature and was set up in an old, abandoned castle in the Pacific Northwestern United States. Among its inmates was an astronaut who, during a final countdown, had aborted a mission into outer space.” In the film, Stacy Keach’s character, “Colonel Hudson Kane,” hints that the film’s title is his argument for proof that God exists: “In order for life to have appeared spontaneously on earth, there first had to be hundreds of millions of protein molecules of the Ninth Configuration, but given the size of the planet Earth, do you know how long it would take for just one of these protein molecules to appear entirely by chance?”
       A couple characters are listed in credits as being of military ranks different from what they had in the film. Robert Loggia’s “Lieutenant Bennish” wears captain bars and is referred to by Colonel Kane as “Captain Bennish,” while Mark Gordon’s “Sergeant Gilman” wears a lieutenant’s bar and is called “Lieutenant Gilman.” Kane is described as a “Special Forces” officer, but he is a U.S. Marine; Special Forces is part of the U.S. Army. Given that the story is based on protagonist Kane’s repression of the true identity of psychiatrist “Richard Fell,” the doctor was probably named after a famous 1680 satirical poem by Englishman Tom Brown, which reads: “I do not like thee, Doctor Fell, The reason why—I cannot tell; But this I know, and know full well, I do not like thee, Dr. Fell.”
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, screenwriter-director William Peter Blatty sold his home in Malibu to help finance the film, based on his 1966 novel Twinkle, Twinkle “Killer” Kane. He told the 8 Aug 1980 Boston Globe that his story was “the flip side of The Exorcist, his most famous novel, because it “demonstrates the mystery of goodness—it’s a subtle argument for the existence of God.” Blatty and production designer William Malley traveled around the U.S. and Europe looking for a Gothic castle to stand in for the exterior of “Center Eighteen,” the strange military sanitarium where the story takes place, and found Eltz Castle in Wierschem, Germany. Another castle in Vienna, Austria, was used briefly for a courtyard scene, but the interiors were shot at a studio in Budapest, Hungary. Blatty relied upon a contingent of American technicians, but was obliged by government regulation to use a Hungarian crew. None of the Hungarian technicians appear to have been listed in the film’s credits on the print viewed for this record. The 13 Sep 1978 DV reported that soft-drink conglomerate Pepsico put up half of the film’s $4.6-million budget with money from its Hungarian Pepsi-Cola bottling company. Like other communist countries, Hungary did not allow international companies to move local profits outside its borders, so Pepsi-Cola invested its frozen assets in a Budapest movie studio. A Pepsi-Cola machine appears in one scene. The film’s title was changed from Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane to The Ninth Configuration. The fifteen-week production concluded in Aug 1978.
       The 27 Jan 1978 and 21 Mar 1978 editions of DV reported that Nicol Williamson and Michael Moriarty were originally hired to portray Col. Kane and “Captain Billy Cutshall,” respectively, but both actors left the production early. Stacy Keach replaced Williamson, and Scott Wilson, who was scheduled to play “Captain Fairbanks,” moved into Moriarity’s role. George DiCenzo took the part of Fairbanks.
       The 20 Jun 1979 Var reported that United Film Distribution (UFD) picked up the film and planned an Oscar-qualifying release in Los Angeles in Dec 1979, followed by a Feb 1980 opening. Blatty continually edited the film between test screenings, beginning with a 140-minute version and ending with one roughly forty-five minutes shorter—which drove up the film’s cost to $5.6 million. However, the UFD deal fell through and Warner Bros. agreed to release a 109-minute version of the film in early Feb 1980, according to the 2 Jan 1980 Var. Six months later, Warner Bros. dropped the picture after a limited, unimpressive opening in three cities. UFD again became the distributor, and a re-edited version of the film, retitled Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane, was set to open in New York City in Aug 1980, the 24 Jul 1980 DV noted. Five years later, Blatty re-edited the film again to expand it to two hours, and New World Pictures was ready to release it as The Ninth Configuration, , according to the 8 Sep 1985 LAT.
       Early reviews in the 7 Feb 1980 DV and 8 Aug 1989 NYT dismissed the film as “confusing” and “infuriating,” and its dialogue as “annoyingly arch.”
       End credits contain the following information: “The audio portion of The Tonight Show—Starring Johnny Carson courtesy of the National Broadcasting Company, Inc.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Boston Globe
8 Aug 1980
p. 1.
Daily Variety
27 Jan 1978
p. 3.
Daily Variety
21 Mar 1978
p. 3.
Daily Variety
13 Sep 1978
p. 2.
Daily Variety
7 Feb 1980
p. 3.
Daily Variety
13 Feb 1980
p. 6.
Daily Variety
24 Jul 1980
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Feb 1980
p. 3, 8.
Los Angeles Times
7 Feb 1980
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
8 Sep 1985
Calendar, p.
Los Angeles Times
14 Dec 1980
Calendar, p 47.
New York Times
8 Aug 1980
p. 3.
People
8 Sep 1980.
---
Sight and Sound
Jul 1999.
---
Variety
28 Dec 1977
p. 6.
Variety
13 Sep 1978
p. 3.
Variety
20 Jun 1979
p. 76.
Variety
2 Jan 1980
p. 4.
Variety
6 Feb 1980
p. 20, 22.
Variety
4 Jun 1980
p. 7
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Gaffer
Key grip
Cam asst
Photog equip by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
Film ed
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp
SOUND
Prod sd
Supv sd ed
Dial ed
Asst sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Casting consultant
Prod coord
Prod auditor
Prod asst
Prod consultant
Asst to the prod
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt woman
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty (New York, 1978), which he updated from his original novel Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane (New York, 1966).
SONGS
"There's A Rainbow 'Round my Shoulder," [written by Al Jolson, Billy Rose & Dave Dreyer], sung by Al Jolson, courtesy of MCA Records
["San Antone," music and lyrics by Barry DeVorzon, sung by Denny Brooks
"Ah Sweet Mystery Of Life," written by Victor Herbert & Rida Johnson Young, sung by Walter Scanian, courtesy of Mark 56 Records
+
SONGS
"There's A Rainbow 'Round my Shoulder," [written by Al Jolson, Billy Rose & Dave Dreyer], sung by Al Jolson, courtesy of MCA Records
["San Antone," music and lyrics by Barry DeVorzon, sung by Denny Brooks
"Ah Sweet Mystery Of Life," written by Victor Herbert & Rida Johnson Young, sung by Walter Scanian, courtesy of Mark 56 Records
"Dancing In The Night," music and lyrics by Barry DeVorzon].
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane
Release Date:
29 February 1980
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 8 February 1980
Production Date:
1978
Copyright Claimant:
The Ninth Configuration Company
Copyright Date:
20 July 1981
Copyright Number:
PA109578
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Widescreen/ratio
2.35:1
Duration(in mins):
109
Length(in feet):
9,844
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Toward the end of the Vietnam War, sixteen military patients are held for psychiatric observation in Center Eighteen, a Gothic castle in the American Northwest. Major Marvin Groper, dressed in a Marine uniform, lines up the men, who wear various costumes, and informs them that a psychiatrist will be the new commanding officer. The men sing “You Are My Sunshine” as Marine Colonel Hudson Kane arrives, and Marine guards Master Sergeant Krebs and Gunnery Sergeant Christian lead him to his quarters. That evening, Lieutenant Bennish, his face corked in blackface, sings along with an Al Jolson recording, while other men play cards. Colonel Richard Fell, the staff “medic,” explains to Kane that an heiress shipped the castle, stone by stone, and all its statuary from Germany in the early 1900s. Kane does not consider the castle’s atmosphere “therapeutic.” He vaguely recognizes Dr. Fell, but cannot remember where he saw him. Dr. Fell telephones a superior officer to inform him that it is too soon to tell how Kane will fare. Marine Captain Billy Cutshaw enters Kane’s office to announce that unseen forces want him to leave the castle. Reading Cutshaw's file, Kane wonders why the former NASA astronaut aborted his moon mission on the launch pad. Cutshaw accuses Kane of coveting his St. Christopher’s medal, but then, fearing Kane will steal it, gives it to the psychiatrist. After Cutshaw leaves, Kane finds a joke engraved on the back of the religious medal. Lieutenant Frankie Reno informs Kane that he is adapting Shakespeare’s plays for dogs, and Lieutenant Spinell is his casting director. Dr. Fell and Kane discuss whether most patients are feigning mental illness to escape combat, but Fell ... +


Toward the end of the Vietnam War, sixteen military patients are held for psychiatric observation in Center Eighteen, a Gothic castle in the American Northwest. Major Marvin Groper, dressed in a Marine uniform, lines up the men, who wear various costumes, and informs them that a psychiatrist will be the new commanding officer. The men sing “You Are My Sunshine” as Marine Colonel Hudson Kane arrives, and Marine guards Master Sergeant Krebs and Gunnery Sergeant Christian lead him to his quarters. That evening, Lieutenant Bennish, his face corked in blackface, sings along with an Al Jolson recording, while other men play cards. Colonel Richard Fell, the staff “medic,” explains to Kane that an heiress shipped the castle, stone by stone, and all its statuary from Germany in the early 1900s. Kane does not consider the castle’s atmosphere “therapeutic.” He vaguely recognizes Dr. Fell, but cannot remember where he saw him. Dr. Fell telephones a superior officer to inform him that it is too soon to tell how Kane will fare. Marine Captain Billy Cutshaw enters Kane’s office to announce that unseen forces want him to leave the castle. Reading Cutshaw's file, Kane wonders why the former NASA astronaut aborted his moon mission on the launch pad. Cutshaw accuses Kane of coveting his St. Christopher’s medal, but then, fearing Kane will steal it, gives it to the psychiatrist. After Cutshaw leaves, Kane finds a joke engraved on the back of the religious medal. Lieutenant Frankie Reno informs Kane that he is adapting Shakespeare’s plays for dogs, and Lieutenant Spinell is his casting director. Dr. Fell and Kane discuss whether most patients are feigning mental illness to escape combat, but Fell reminds him that Cutshaw was going to the moon, not Vietnam. Kane wonders why men are so horrified by natural things like a death. He believes madness grows out of evil, not the other way around. Dr. Fell suggests giving everyone shock treatment to “shake out the phonies.” That night, Kane requests Dr. Fell’s presence in order to get access to the clinic’s drug locker, but Krebs informs him the doctor has signed out for the night. Holding the chain of Cutshaw’s St. Christopher medal in both hands like a garrote, Kane hears a voice in his head saying, “Just a boy, kept on talking.” Cutshaw enters, exclaiming that he believes in the Devil, but not in God. Outside the castle, Dr. Fell meets with a superior officer. The next day, Reno tells Cutshaw he found Kane, oblivious to him, making repetitive gestures and talking to himself. In a dream, Kane speaks to someone named Vincent, explaining how mathematically impossible it would be for hundreds of millions of protein molecules to form life by chance, without God. He watches an astronaut on what appears to be the moon, but nearby, Jesus Christ is hanging on a cross. Awakening, Kane confesses to Dr. Fell that his late brother, Vincent Kane, was one of his patients. Vincent was the notorious “Killer” Kane, a Marine guerrilla who assassinated Viet Cong with his bare hands. Kane is having the same grotesque nightmares that Vincent once described to him. Dr. Fell claims he knew Kane’s brother many years ago. Later, Reno debates with Kane whether Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” was crazy, or simply pretending to be crazy to preserve his sanity amid the madness around him. In any event, the more Hamlet indulged his fantasies, the healthier he became. Using that concept, Kane orders Nazi Gestapo uniforms and establishes a “psychodrama” in which he and the guards are Germans and the patients are Allied prisoners trying to escape. Cutshaw suggests that the patients become the guards, and the guards, along with Kane, become patients. Cutshaw thinks Kane is “too human to be human.” He tells the story of circus impresario P. T. Barnum keeping a panther and a lamb in a sideshow cage to prove to the public that predator and prey can coexist, but secretly he had to put in a new lamb each day. He wonders why creation is a slaughterhouse. Kane reasons that if Cutshaw thinks the Devil is alive because of evil in the world, he must also believe the world’s good justifies belief in God. When Cutshaw asks Kane to give a sign of an afterlife if he dies first, the psychiatrist agrees. A new patient, Gilman, recognizes Kane as the Vietnam assassin and remembers witnessing him decapitating a young Viet Cong with a wire, holding the boy’s head, and screaming because it will not stop talking. Kane suddenly remembers how, in Vietnam, he mistakenly received his military psychiatrist brother’s orders to a stateside asylum. The revelation makes him faint. Cutshaw goes berserk when he discovers that the kind psychiatrist is Killer Kane, because he needs to believe in him. Kane awakens with Dr. Fell, but does not remember having learned his true identity. They hear Cutshaw crash though the front gate in a stolen car. Dr. Fell explains to the inmates that he is actually Col. Hudson Kane, and was sent to the castle to watch over his brother, Col. Vincent Kane, when headquarters realized the mix-up could be used as an experiment. Obliterating his own personality, Vincent Kane wanted to cure himself by curing others, and only glimpsed the truth in dreams. Dr. Fell wants everyone to pretend nothing happened, so that Kane can resume his benign identity. Meanwhile, Cutshaw goes to a biker bar, where Stanley, a motorcycle gang member, recognizes him as the astronaut “who lost his marbles.” Stanley and his friend, Richard, begin beating Cutshaw, and other bikers join in. A waitress telephones police, and her call goes to Kane at the castle. He hurries to the bar to rescue Cutshaw, but is attacked. He tries to be passive, but his assassin personality takes over and he kills most of the bikers. Back at the castle, Cutshaw apologizes for getting Kane into trouble, and Kane asks why he did not want to go to the moon. Cutshaw explains that outer space looked too empty and lonely, and he feared being stranded without God. Kane tells him he will prove that God exists, then leans his head back and dies. He is wearing Cutshaw’s St. Christopher medal. Years later, Captain Cutshaw returns to the empty castle and reads the letter Vincent Kane left him. Kane explains that during the bar fight, a biker fatally sliced his arm, but he let himself slowly bleed out in order to shock Cutshaw back into sanity. Returning to his car, he finds the St. Christopher medal. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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