The Fourth Man (1983) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

There have been two major periods in Paul Verhoeven's career as a big-league filmmaker. 
  • In the late seventies and early eighties, he made some excellent films in Dutch. Although these films are not without entertainment value, they are also provocative and thoughtful films which place ideas on a level above pure entertainment.
  • In the mid-eighties and early 90's he was seduced by Hollywood, and started turning out pure escapist fare with some good dollar signs attached. (Total Recall, Robocop, Basic Instinct)

The Fourth Man is one of his three most famous Dutch films, along with Turkish Passion and Soldier of Orange. It's an odd movie, ambiguous in many ways, and you don't realize some things about it until it's over and you start thinking about the details. 

Jeroen Krabbe plays an alcoholic, bi-sexual Dutch writer who is given to delusions, daydreams, nightmares, and fantasies. Are they the mad delusions of a perpetually drunken religious nut? Are they merely a demonstration of his creative process? Or are they some kind of occult powers - some ability at precognition. We are never really told. Everyone else in the movie thinks he is mad at the end, but we saw with our own eyes how some of his dreams came true after he dreamt them.

He has traveled to a seacoast town to deliver a lecture to the local literary society. He's seduced by the woman who organized the show, and after sex he dreams that she has cut off his naughty bits with her scissors (she's a beautician). She invites him to say a while and he has no intention of doing so until he sees a picture of her regular boyfriend in a bathing suit. Then he decides that the young hunk must be his next lover. When the woman leaves to pick up her hunky toy-boy in Germany, the writer stumbles across some old home movies, and finds that she has been married three times, and that all three marriages ended with the violent death of the husband. 

In his drunken stupor, with his natural writer's gift for embellishment, fueled by his natural religion-based paranoia, he becomes convinced that either he or the boyfriend will be The Fourth Man to die at her hands. He pictures her as a spider, constantly devouring her mates. 

The movie is so convincing, and strings you along so well by staying in the author's POV, that you don't realize while watching it that there is actually no evidence at all to support his conclusions. At no time, does the woman actually do or say anything to support his view of her as a Black Widow. All of the "proof" is in his head, constructed in his fantasies, or visions, or whatever they are.

Yet there are coincidences that can't be explained. Details in his dreams come true the next day. He truly seems to have a gift for precognition. Furthermore, a mysterious second woman keeps leading him to places that he couldn't have found on his own. Who is this woman? Could she really be the Virgin Mary, as he believes? If not, how did the writer and the boyfriend get led to the mausoleum of the previous three husbands when they had no idea where it was?

Oh, well.

When I thought about it afterwards, I realized there are three possible explanations:

1. He's mad as a hatter.

2. He isn't mad at all because the inexplicable things really happened. We saw how his dreams proved to be accurate predictors of future events. Therefore it is an occult thriller which requires us to believe in the occult, even though none of the other characters in the film do so.

3. We are witnessing events which take place entirely in his dreams as he recreates the past. He suffered a very severe shock when he was almost killed in an auto accident. As he lay unconscious in his hospital bed, he could have recreated all the events of the previous few days, with his mind rearranging the details, as the subconscious always does, to add his religious, creative, and paranoid spin to the events, and to organize unrelated facts into relationships that did not really exist. Thus, when he relived the events in his head, he saw the hotel "in advance," on the train to the town, because his mind was merely supplying a detail that he already knew. (The same technique was used brilliantly by Adrian Lyne in Jacob's Ladder)

I would have preferred a clearer resolution. In essence, the film has no ending. On the other hand, I don't think it matters that the film is ambiguous. I think you can believe that he's mad, or that he's recreating events while in his coma, or that supernatural events really occur to him. Any of those interpretations will still allow you to enjoy the film, which combines mystery with eroticism and symbolism in a kind of Brian De Palma orgy of excess.



  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.66:1

  • Full-length director commentary

  • trailer, bios

  • a gallery of conceptual art created by the director before the film was made, juxtaposed to the final product



All three of the major actors appeared in full-frontal nude scenes, Krabbe twice, Soutendijk and Hoffman once each.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.5, extraordinarily high for an occult-erotic thriller.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Maybe better. Good shock-mystery genre film. Excellent genre film made on a shoestring budget.

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