Dead Again

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Dead Again
Dead Again poster.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Produced by Lindsay Doran
Written by Scott Frank
Starring Kenneth Branagh
Andy García
Emma Thompson
Lois Hall
Richard Easton
Jo Anderson
Derek Jacobi
Robin Williams
Music by Patrick Doyle
Editing by Peter E. Berger
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates August 23, 1991
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $38,016,380 (US)[1]

Dead Again is a 1991 psychological thriller/neo-noir written by Scott Frank and directed by Kenneth Branagh. It stars Branagh and his then-wife Emma Thompson, and co-stars Andy García, Derek Jacobi, Wayne Knight, and Robin Williams.

Dead Again was a moderate box-office success and was positively received by the majority of critics.[2] For their work on the film, Derek Jacobi was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Patrick Doyle, who composed the film's music, was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Score.


The film opens with a series of newspaper articles detailing the 1949 murder of pianist Margaret Strauss (Emma Thompson), who was stabbed with a pair of antique scissors during an apparent robbery. An anklet worth thousands of dollars is missing. Her husband, composer Roman Strauss (Kenneth Branagh), is found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death. Before his execution, Roman is visited by Gray Baker (Andy Garcia), a reporter. When asked whether he killed Margaret, Roman leans in to whisper his answer in Gray’s ear, but his answer is not heard by the audience.

Forty years later, Mike Church (Branagh), a private detective, is asked to investigate the identity of a woman (Thompson) who has shown up at the Catholic orphanage where Mike grew up. She has amnesia and is unable to speak. Residents say she has violent nightmares.

Mike takes her in and asks his friend at the newspaper, Pete Dugan (Wayne Knight), to publish her picture in the paper along with his contact information. Franklyn Madson (Derek Jacobi), an antique dealer and hypnotist, approaches Church suggesting that a past life regression may help her recover her memories. Mike agrees. The woman is able to speak during a session and begins detailing the lives of Margaret and Roman, from their courtship to their wedding day. When the session is over, she is able to speak but still has amnesia.

Mike visits Cozy Carlisle (Robin Williams), a disgraced psychiatrist. Cozy insists they continue to see Madson, since delving into the problems between Margaret and Roman may help resolve the trauma that triggered her memory loss.

Mike begins to bond with the woman, whom he names Grace. After a romantic evening, a man named Doug shows up, claiming Grace is his fiance, Katherine. Mike discovers he is lying, and Mike and Grace go to Madson for answers.

Under hypnosis, Grace talks about Margaret and Roman’s marital difficulties: Roman, unable to write music, is frustrated and in debt, and Margaret is flirting with Gray Baker, whom she met on her wedding day. When Margaret catches Frankie, the son of their housekeeper, Inga, going through her jewelry box, she asks Roman to dismiss Inga and Frankie. Roman refuses.

Grace has a vision of Mike in the past standing over Margaret with a pair of scissors, and becomes terrified, convinced he is after her. He becomes enraged, but when he calls her Margaret, he agrees to let Madson regress him as well.

Under hypnosis, Mike discovers he was actually Margaret in the past, while Grace was Roman. As Mike starts to tell this to Grace, Pete Dugan shows up: someone has come forward to identify Grace, whose name is actually Amanda. Grace/Amanda, still convinced Mike is after her, leaves for her apartment with Pete and Madson. Madson gives her an old gun from his antique shop to protect herself from Mike. Meanwhile, Mike tracks down Baker to ask him about the 1949 murder: Gray reveals that Roman whispered nothing to him on death row, but just kissed him on the cheek.

Convinced Roman did not kill his wife, but uncertain who did, Gray urges Mike to find Inga, Roman’s housekeeper. Mike discovers that Inga is Madson’s mother, and that back in 1949 she had confessed her love for Roman. Not reciprocating, he instead reconciled with Margaret. Frankie then killed Margaret and framed Roman for her death. After the murder, Frankie learned of past lives and became convinced that Margaret’s spirit would seek revenge; on seeing Grace/Amanda’s picture in the paper he became convinced she had finally returned, even hiring an actor to pretend to be her fiance to try to scare her away.

Mike tracks down Grace/Amanda to tell her the truth, but she is still terrified of him and accidentally shoots him in the shoulder, knocking him out. Just as she realizes her mistake, Madson shows up and reveals his true identity, knocking out Grace/Amanda and staging the scene to look like a murder-suicide. Mike comes to and overpowers Madson. In the ensuing struggle, Madson is killed in self-defense. The film ends with Mike and Amanda as a couple.



The movie was filmed entirely in color. After test screenings, it was decided to use black and white for the "past" sequences to help clear up audience confusion. The final frame, once the mystery is solved, fades from black and white to color. The negative of the final frame was flipped to match the present day lovers to the doomed 1940s newlyweds they embodied; i.e., Margaret dissolves into Mike, and Roman dissolves into Grace.

When the audience first meets Mike Church, he's seated in his car, which is parked on the wrong side of the street. While it may seem that this is because Branagh is from the United Kingdom (where cars are driven on the left-hand side of the road), it is actually because behind him are a number of skyscrapers that he, as the director, wanted included in the background.

In addition to the dual roles played by Branagh and Thompson, actress Jo Anderson and the film's composer Patrick Doyle both play small dual parts, appearing in the present-day and 1940s sequences.

Branagh has said that at the time he made this film (and still, to some extent) he was very interested in the technique of uninterrupted takes, and several can be seen throughout the movie. Also note sequences such as the first hypnosis sequence at the Laughing Duke, which features an extremely complicated camera shot in 360 degrees, which involved a great deal of precise timing and technical faculty. Branagh noted that this relatively short scene was shot perhaps fifteen times, taking all day.

According to the director's commentary on the DVD edition of the movie, the film has numerous in-jokes. For instance, a date seen in one of the newspaper clippings is actually Branagh's birthday, and Roman Strauss' prisoner number is the date of the Battle of Agincourt. (Branagh's previous film, which launched his career, was Henry V in 1989.)


Dead Again was released on August 23, 1991, in the United States and October 25, 1991, in the United Kingdom. It was later entered into the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival in February 1992.[3]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD 27 June 2000 through Paramount Home Entertainment. The DVD Special Features include two audio commentaries and a theatrical trailer.[4]


Critical response[edit]

Dead Again was well received by most critics. It currently holds an 82% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[2]

Roger Ebert, noted critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film a glowing four star review, drawing comparisons to the works of Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, stating, "Dead Again is Kenneth Branagh once again demonstrating that he has a natural flair for bold theatrical gesture. If Henry V, the first film he directed and starred in, caused people to compare him to Olivier, Dead Again will inspire comparisons to Welles and Hitchcock - and the Olivier of Hitchcock's Rebecca. I do not suggest Branagh is already as great a director as Welles and Hitchcock, although he has a good start in that direction. What I mean is that his spirit, his daring, is in the same league. He is not interested in making timid movies."[5] Noted online critic James Berardinelli also gave the film a four star review, praising Branagh's direction and all levels of the production from the screenplay by Scott Frank to Patrick Doyle's score, stating, "... Branagh has combined all of these cinematic elements into an achievement that rivals Hitchcock's best work and stands out as one of the most intriguing and memorable thrillers of the 1990s."[6]

Conversely, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone viewed the film negatively, praising some elements of Branagh's direction while criticizing neglect of the romance, saying, "In his efforts to crowd the screen with character and incident, Branagh cheats on the one element that might have given resonance to the mystery: the love story. Branagh and Thompson (married in real life) are sublime actors, but they never develop a convincing ardor as either couple. How could they when the director is so busy playing tricks? Dead Again isn't a disaster, merely a miscalculation from a prodigious talent who has forgotten that you squeeze the life out of romance when you don't give it space to breathe."[7]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times gave the film a luke-warm review, calling it "a big, convoluted, entertainingly dizzy romantic mystery melodrama" and concluding, "Dead Again is eventually a lot simpler than it pretends to be. The explanation of the mystery is a rather commonplace letdown, but probably nothing short of mass murder could successfully top the baroque buildup. In this way, too, the film is faithful to its antecedents, while still being a lot of fun."[8]

Box office[edit]

Dead Again opened #1 at the U.S. box office, earning $3,479,395 during its opening weekend playing on 450 screens. It remained #1 at the U.S. box office for three weeks and grossed over $38 million by the end of its theatrical run.[1]


Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
British Academy Film Awards Best Actor in a Supporting Role Derek Jacobi Nominated
Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear Kenneth Branagh Nominated
Edgar Allan Poe Awards Best Motion Picture Screenplay Scott Frank Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Original Score Patrick Doyle Nominated
Young Artist Award Best Young Actor Co-starring in a Motion Picture Gregor Hesse Nominated


  1. ^ a b Dead Again. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 21, 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Dead Again". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 3, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Berlinale: 1992 Programme". Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Dead Again (1991)". Retrieved 27 June 2012. 
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 23, 1991). "Dead Again". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  6. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Dead Again". ReelViews. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  7. ^ Travers, Peter (August 23, 1991). "Dead Again". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (August 23, 1991). "Dead Again". The New York Times. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 

External links[edit]