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MOVIES : They Won't Let 'Sleeping Dogs' Lie : Fourteen year's after actor Peter Finch's death, his son and ex-wife have become a director-writer team : ON LOCATION

December 30, 1990|DAVID WALLACE | David Wallace frequently contributes to Calendar.

It's only a couple of miles from Peter Finch's crypt, which is near Rudolph Valentino's in Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, to a street called Camino Palmero in the Hollywood foothills where, in recent weeks, a film was being made that the late actor might have foreseen.

At the top of what some residents call "The Street of Dreams," because of its historical ties to the film industry, Finch's 28-year-old son Charles was directing his first Hollywood feature from a script he co-wrote with his mother, Yolande Turner--Peter's wife for more than a decade.

The $1.8-million film, "Where Sleeping Dogs Lie," which will be released next year, has nothing to do with Peter Finch's sudden death at the Beverly Hills Hotel 14 years ago. It has much to do with his son's life since, however.

"Originally, this was written as a script called 'Imagination,' one of the earlier things mummie and I wrote four or five years ago," Finch explained, during a break in shooting on Camino Palmero. "It was a comedy about a young writer being forced to sell real estate. Eventually this rather whimsical story became a much more autobiographical one about a young writer--me--not being able to sell the things that would keep him alive. He's a screenwriter, a playwright, a writer. He comes here trying to make a living but can't (sell) the kind of stories he wants to tell. The mechanics of surviving in the world are just too difficult to him."

The primary location for "Sleeping Dogs" is a huge Mediterranean-style, 22-room house complete with outdoor and indoor swimming pools built at the top of Camino Palmero in 1928 by C.E. Toberman, architect of many of Hollywood's golden age landmarks (including Sid Grauman's Egyptian and Chinese theaters) and often called the "father of Hollywood" because of his development of the Hollywood Hills area. Sid Grauman himself reportedly lived there briefly during the '30s.

Adjoining the two-acre property is Errol Flynn's old estate. (Flynn's daughter, Rory, is the unit photographer on the film and shot the pictures accompanying this article.) Down the street is one of the most photographed houses in America; it's the one in which Ozzie and Harriet Nelson raised their two boys. On the same block, there are houses once owned by Sam Goldwyn, Preston Sturges and Al Jolson. Around the corner is the plantation style mansion built for Fatty Arbuckle.

"It was incredible to see this house," said Turner of the location, which the set decorators had turned into a creaking, rotting hulk. "Charles brought me to see it on the first day and it stood there more or less as I saw it in my own mind."

In the film, the writer Bruce Simmons (played by Dylan McDermott) is convinced by his agent (Sharon Stone) to "sell out" and write a highly commercial book about a multiple murder that occurred years before. He moves in to the house where the crime supposedly took place, takes in a roommate (Tom Sizemore) and finds himself smack in the middle of a terrifying mystery.

"The movie is about money, power and fame," said McDermott, "What they do to a person, the corruption they entail and how this person rejects them."

Money, power and fame were, in fact, among the elements that nearly destroyed Charles Finch's film career at its onset. Six years ago, when he was 23, he wrote (with his mother), produced and directed a film in Italy called "Priceless Beauty," starring Diane Lane and Christopher Lambert. "They fell in love and are very happy," Finch said. "But I made every makeable mistake as a director. It was a total disaster. . . . There is not one day that goes by without me thinking about that film. It cost me $196,000--the only money I had--to try and protect my cut of the film."

What Finch had written and directed was a romantic fantasy. The final cut, as re-edited by the Italian investors, was "be-bop on the beach," according to Finch, so bad that when he saw it in Cannes he fled to London and was unable to write for months. "It broke my heart," he said. "I cried for four months." The film has not been released in the United States.

As much as he loathed the final cut of "Priceless Beauty," Finch looks back now and sees some threads of a personal style in both that and his current film. "I look at the dailies now and see the same sort of baroqueness that I see in 'Priceless Beauty' . . . the same sort of operatic, passionate style. I guess the films I'll make will be like that. Very different and passionate, not sexual but about heightened emotion."

McDermott agrees, "I think a lot of filmmakers mistake violence for passion and this film has a lot of passion without the violence. . . . It's blood and guts of the soul, not of the physical body."

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