Faye Dunaway’s Puzzle Of A Downfall Child: A Haunting Psychodrama
Puzzle Of A Downfall Child is a haunting, experimental psychodrama from the 1970s. Faye Dunaway's big break came with 1967's Bonnie And Clyde, co-starring Warren Beatty. The movie followed the real-life story of the doomed bank robbers, but while it's rightly regarded as a classic, it was controversial upon release for its graphic bloodshed. Bonnie And Clyde and Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch both became infamous for their taboo-breaking depictions of violence, which somewhat overshadowed the quality of both during their original release.
Faye Dunaway would soon become one of the most popular actresses of the 1970s, delivering fantastic performances in Chinatown, Network, and Three Days of the Condor. Her career took something of a hit following the release of Mommie Dearest, where she played actress Joan Crawford. Dunaway felt she would win an Oscar for her unleashed performance, but while it was a success the reviews tagged it as a camp classic instead of a searing drama, especially thanks to Dunaway's famous "Wire hangers!" tantrum. She still received good reviews for her work, but she felt the movie hurt her career, and apparently refuses to discuss it in interviews.
One of her lesser-known movies is 1970's Puzzle Of A Downfall Child, where she plays a fashion model named Lou Andreas Sand. The movie opens with Lou retired from the industry and having retreated to a seaside cabin. A former friend and lover comes to visit and hopes to make a movie about her story, charting her rise to fame, her various addictions and her relationship with ad executive Mark (Roy Scheider, Jaws). Rather than a straight forward narrative, the story is told in a fragmented style, which reflects Lou's own mental state.
Puzzle Of A Downfall Child shows how she lost her soul and sense of self during her glory days as a model. The movie was directed by Jerry Schatzberg (The Panic In Needle Park), a former fashion photographer, and the movie looks stunning. Schatzberg has an incredible eye for color and composition and the visuals do most of the talking. Faye Dunaway also gives one of her best performances as Lou as the movie switches back and forth between the present and her recollections of the past. The movie also feels like it took influence from Rosemary's Baby, which became a huge hit in 1968 and added a more psychological edge to the genre.
Puzzle Of A Downfall Child can often feel like an exercise in style over substance, but it's worth seeking out for Dunaway's performance alone. The actress would later return to the world of fashion for 1978 thriller The Eyes Of Laura Mars, as a photographer who gains the ability to see through the eyes of a killer. The script was written by genre icon John Carpenter (The Thing).