"I bought a gorgeous new lucite frame for one of your most famous pictures."
When I was Pippin in a Boston production of Pippin, I had a fan. A diminutive fraggle-like girl would leave me poems at the stage door night after night. First, she wrote a sonnet about my radiance, which soon turned to a limerick on how I was an icy glacier that she was trying to climb but the sun kept melting her down, and finally a haiku about how she was going to cut off my head and use the blood to write the next poem. I got a restraining order and never made eye contact with anyone at the stage door again. You see, once upon a time, there was a thing called a Broadway star - women who lit up the great white way, entertaining packed houses and holding court at Sardi’s night after night! Despite having a three-note vocal range and fighting a losing battle with her addiction to Virginia Slims, Lauren Bacall was the most glamorous star ever to grace the Broadway stage. In The Fan (1981), Lauren learns to deal with a stalker on her terms while clawing her way back to the top in a Marvin Hamlisch musical!
Lauren Bacall is playing Sally Ross and Sally Ross is going through it. She’s feeling old and alone. She has two friends: her assistant and her maid. Sally's love life is stale (James Garner, stale). She has countless devoted fans, but she can’t take a fan home to bed with her because everyone knows that when you do, they invariably want to skin you alive. Normally, Lauren Bacall’s midlife crisis coupled with some fabulously atonal musical numbers would be enough to make this movie a camp classic, but The Fan has a trick up its sleeve: Michael Biehn (pre-Aliens)…playing a gay! A gay obsessed with Lauren Bacall!
Michael is unlike real life stalkers in that he is gorgeous. He dresses impeccably (if not a bit preppy), but he hates himself for being gay and is deluded into believing that he has a relationship with Lauren Bacall (like how Richard Simmons asked Barbra Streisand to marry him a few years back, only Michael sends Lauren pictures of his Johnson instead of a diamond ring). Meanwhile, Sally cannot be alone so she becomes fast friends with the dance captain of her musical (indicated to be gay by his hand gestures, big toothy smiles, and preternatural thinness). Soon enough, she is flaunting her new gay all over town, the ultimate accessory to the aging diva. But it’s exhausting keeping Sally Ross propped up all the time and her gay needs to sometimes go off to the bathhouse to let off some steam. Michael Biehn is jealous, so he gets half naked and box-cuts his rival right there in pool! Gay on gay crime is bad news, Michael means business.
With her best friends dropping like flies at the hand of a homicidal homosexual, Sally runs off to her Hamptons beach house to pontificate on mortality. She stops taking Michael's calls and he gets real down, running straight to the local gay bar for some companionship. Sally's rejection gives Michael the nerve to finally take a guy up to the roof for a quick BJ. If he didn't have this tiresome angst around his sexuality, this could be the starting point for a lovely romantic comedy - but no such luck for the other guy! The Fan(1981) understands that no third act is complete without a gay being sliced at the throat and set ablaze on a Manhattan rooftop!
Listen: I know how offensive it can be to have gay characters ALWAYS be the vengeful maniacs or the tragic martyrs serving to advance a story for the heroine...but this movie is a riot. The Fan is compulsively watchable. It's got fake blood, old women being chased in sequins and musical numbers involving leather S&M gear and neon lights! Need I say more?