Watching a movie on television is a little different when someone you know is in it. Last night I saw the suspense thriller 'Nick of Time' on television for the first time, not realizing until midway through that that's what it was. But by the end of the movie it became clear to me that this was the movie I had read about on the internet several years ago. I had googled it up because someone I knew was in it, an actress I met some twenty years ago, a gospel, jazz and blues vocalist who eventually won significant parts in a number of local stage productions in Seattle. I learned from the internet a few years ago that she spent much of the 90s in Los Angeles, getting bit parts in episodes of a dozen different television series and in two movies.
Her role in 'Nick of Time' was like most of her bit parts, one or two lines of dialogue and a handful of seconds or less actually on screen. It went by so fast that I wasn't able to spot her on the cable broadcast, so today I went to the video store and bought the VCD. Her line is "Here's your Jack and Coke, sir." She plays a cocktail waitress. She sets down a cocktail napkin, delivers her line and the drink, then taps her fingernail three times on the cocktail napkin. The hero, played by Johnny Depp, picks up his drink and notices, as a result of the fingertaps, a three word message written on the cocktail napkin. The information on the napkin is not just vital; it's crucial to the action and the outcome of the story. Depp's character is at a point of desperation, lapsing into despair, but the message alerts him to the fact that his plea for help has been heard and a plan is in the works that gives him hope and perhaps even a fighting chance to extricate himself from a dire situation. It's actually the turning point in the movie, the point at which his role in the movie subtly shifts from hapless victim to action hero.
Reviews for the movie when it was made ten years ago were disappointing considering the quality of the cast and the skill of the director. The story was deemed too improbable to justify ripping off Alfred Hitchcock's techniques for generating suspense. But reviews have steadily improved in recent years. Perhaps events since 9-11 have rendered a little less passe the sometimes hoky premises Hitchcock so famously and successfully exploited early on in the Cold War era.