Within the first five minutes of Canadian film The Pyx, Elizabeth Lucy (Karen Black) plummets from the penthouse apartment of a tall building. Suicide? Murder? Tough and cynical Detective Sergeant Jim Henderson (Christopher Plummer) is the investigating officer.
The Pyx is fascinating in entwining the first 24 hours of Henderson’s investigation with the last 24 hours in Elizabeth’s life. The two halves of the story unfold concurrently with Henderson piecing her past together, assisted by his Francophone partner Detective Sergeant Pierre Paquette (Donald Pilon), an ex-vice squad officer who asks questions with his fists.
It seems Elizabeth was a prostitute and drug addict who spent part of her final day trying to elude an unwanted client. Betrayed by a colleague, she wandered into a bizarre trap.
Both of the main characters are lapsed Catholics and religion becomes increasingly significant in the story. The narrative style was at least 40 years old in 1973 but is suited here to the texture of the film.
By the time Henderson and Paquette solve the case, the screen is splattered with more blood from three brutal murders, cops are riddled with bullets in a shootout with a killer and Henderson is left to deal with Keerson (Jean-Louis Roux), the mysterious Mr Big, and a subplot involving Satanism.
The film was shot entirely on location in Montreal in ten weeks. Budgeted at a little over $1 million, it was the most expensive picture ever produced in Canada at the time. Karen Black wrote and sang three songs in the picture. Clearly, songwriting and singing were some of her “lesser” skills compared to her acting.
NB: A “pyx” is a small container in which a consecrated Eucharistic host is transported, for example to the sick or dying.
Det. Sgt. Jim Henderson
Det. Sgt. Pierre Paquette