BLACK RAINBOW. Miramax, 1989. Rosanna Arquette, Jason Robards, Tom Hulce. Screenwriter-director: Mike Hodges.

   A father and daughter pair make a meager living traveling from town to town setting up shows in local churches as clairvoyants and preying on their audiences’ desires to make contact with loved ones on the other side. Martha Travis (Rosanna Arquette) is very effective at this. Dressed all n white, she is able to assure everyone who has lost someone close to them that they are happy where they are now and that all is well with them.

   It is all a fraud, of course.

   Until, that is, the spirits she is in contact with begin not to be dead yet. Even more, in her visions, she can even see (and can describe in detail) the manner of their passing, including as it turns out, the murder of a would-be whistle blower at a nearby chemical plant. Even more, she claims she saw who the hitman is.

   When a local reporter (Tom Hulce) gets wind of this, skeptical as he is, the story gets into the newspaper, and thinking there just might be something to it, the owner of the plant puts his hitman back to work again.

   The story of Martha, the reporter, and her alcoholic father (Jason Robards) is all that’s of interest here. The outside criminal element that Martha accidentally eavesdrops upon, that’s pretty much by the numbers. Martha, a lovely young woman in her early 20s (I’m guessing) is not the virginal gateway to the other end of the rainbow as her role is in church. Far from it, as the reporter soon learns. And besides these new abilities, she is now also beginning to realize how much her father stole her life from her.

   Forget the hit man, and keep your eyes on Rosanna Arquette’s performance. I found it mesmerizing, especially toward the end when she chastises her audience for being relying on their belief in the happiness that awaits them once they’re gone. If we knew for sure that life is lived only once, she suggests, perhaps we’d try to be better people while we’re here. The ending is quite remarkable, too, as the film verges even further into the supernatural and the unknown.

   Is this film a diamond in the rough? No, not really, but you may find it parts of it as fascinating to watch as I did.