Natural Enemies (1979)

100 min. Cast: Hal Holbrook, Viveca Lindfors, Louise Fletcher, José Ferrer.


The new Fun City Editions Blu-ray of Natural Enemies marks another terrific special edition from those fine folks: taken as a whole, the film and bonus features tell a story more fascinating than either on their own. Director Jeff Kanew, determined to get famous, discovered Julius Horwitz's 1975 novel browsing in Barnes & Noble, essentially transcribed it into a screenplay, and began a reckless journey into first-time filmmaking. Remarkably, despite pissing off his star players, he pulled it off, and got the gig of editing Best Picture winner Ordinary People in the bargain.

Hal Holbrook stars as 48-year-old murder-suicidally depressed magazine editor Paul Steward, who commutes to Manhattan from the Connecticut farmhouse where his also-depressed wife (Louise Fletcher, fresh from her Best Actress win for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) frets. The film's action takes place over one distressing day, starting with Paul's daybreak narration "I don't think I slept ten minutes during the night. At least, I never knew whether I was asleep or awake. Or lost. Or dead. In a moment just after dawn, I stood by my bedroom window, and I heard myself say, 'This is the day when you will take the Marlin 22 rifle, load it, and shoot Miriam, Tony, Sheila, Alex, and yourself...'"

So it's, umm, dark. Which I love about it. But Paul's nihilism, inability to view women as deserving of more than his dick, and impolite-to-outright-antisocial tendencies make Natural Enemies an uphill trudge for those who prefer the likes of oh, I don't know, Military Wives. The script suffers from overstatement and arguably from repetitive dialogue (although the latter adds an element of dreadful realism about the protagonist's psychotic fixation), but the film's bold and uncompromising treatment of the frustrated modern man seeking—and perhaps finding—his last resort in gun violence has unfortunately only grown in relevance.

Jose Ferrer turns up in a supporting role, and Fletcher is quite fine, but it's Holbrook's show, and he completely sells the role of a dead man walking, too despairing of humanity, his own included, to keep calm and carry on. Who woulda thunk, on this film's very limited release in 1979, that its director would go on to helm Revenge of the Nerds, Tough Guys, and Troop Beverly Hills?

Fun City Editions presents Natural Enemies in a transfer sourced from the best available 35mm print (not too shabby) and supplements it with a brief, optional intro by Kanew; an audio commentary by Bill Ackerman of the Supporting Characters podcast; a two-part interview with Kanew totaling 67 minutes; a two-minute alternate ending; and a trailer. Also included is a booklet with a new essay by Jason Bailey of the Fun City Cinema podcast.

Aspect ratios:

Number of discs: 1


Street date: 8/30/2022


Review gear:

  • Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
  • Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
  • Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
  • Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
  • Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
  • Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer