In Richard C. Sarafian’s film Sunburn (1979) Charles Grodin plays an insurance investigator sent by William Daniels to look into the mysterious death of a rich industrialist. To pose as his wife, Grodin enlists Farrah Fawcett but that doesn’t stop the industrialist’s heir, Joan Collins, from playing her femme fatale games with him. To round out the ensemble of this underrated comedy is Eleanor Parker, Art Carney, Seymour Cassel, and Keenan Wynn.
Sunburn is fast paced, quippy little comedy that takes Double Indemnity (1944) and turns it on its head. The standout performance is that of Charles Grodin who too rarely was given this meaty a role. His PI is over confident, mildly neurotic, and prone to not seeing the wood from the trees. Fawcett is a terrific foil as the unlikely natural at investigating who does more in an hour to advance the case than Grodin ever does.
Unfortunately, Sunburn looks like an ABC movie of the week. The lighting is flat and the production values look cheap. What should be a lavish villa looks like a set from Dallas. Director Richard C. Sarafian clearly understands the value of comedic timing but fails to give the more cinematographic aspects of the production the attention they deserve.
However Sarafian is not entirely to blame. Sunburn languished in development for a long time with its budget being cut over and over again. By the time Sarafian began shooting the film the expected resources available had been greatly diminished. And although Harrison Ford would have done well as the lead, it’s hard to imagine him ever being as hilarious as Grodin who eventually got the part.
Strangely, Sunburn has not had a proper home video release since it was issued on VHS tape back in the eighties. Sunburn, this underrated gem with a freeze frame finish to the melodic sounds of Paul McCartney, is virtually unknown to two generations of cinephiles. Even as Sarafian’s other films like Eye Of The Tiger (1986) and Vanishing Point (1971) have gone on to find a contemporary audience no one has issued a restored version of the superior Sunburn. Sunburn would be a perfect release for Vinegar Syndrome and I sincerely hope they put it out on disc someday.