Curtain Call

Curtain Call movie still

Director: Peter Yates
Screenwriter: Todd Alcott
Starring: James Spader, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Polly Walker, Sam Shepard
Release details: TVM, USA 1998, 93mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Romantic comedy
Rating: 6 out of 10

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.

Stevenson Lowe (James Spader, surely one of the most under-rated 80s actors) is a publisher working in his family business. Unfortunately, life is not going according to plan. Having sold out to a large conglomerate, he finds himself being asked to publish books like "1001 Names for Your Cat". In addition, he's in severe danger of losing his girlfriend (Polly Walker) to a handsome senator (Sam Shepard).

In an attempt to bring some stability into his chaotic life, he buys a house, not realising that it's inhabited by the ghosts of a famous theatrical couple: Max and Lily Gale (Sir Michael and Maggie Smith all but reprising their California Suite roles). As you would expect, only Stevenson can see the couple - the great unwritten law of comedies with amusing ghosts.

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 (Summer Holiday, Bullitt) 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.

External Reviews

Considering that no one other than Lowe can see them, it's odd that people start going out of their way not to walk through the ghosts... Apollo Movie Guide


The James Spader Appreciation Society contains a fair amount of information on the man who starred in the quintessential 80s classics Pretty in Pink, Mannequin and Tuff Turf. have an interview with Sam Shepard from January 2001.

There's a Maggie Smith online factsheet from the Guardian.