A haunting & haunted film
William Timothy Lukeman | 06/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Here's a powerful film that was completely unknown to me, one that deserves to be much better known. It's suspenseful & unsettling, but it's also far more than that.
When a noted psychiatrist dies suddenly, the official decree is suicide. But his fourteen year old daughter Cathy (a stunning young Pamela Franklin) doesn't believe her father would have killed himself, and she pleads with TV commentator Alex Stedman (an equally good Stephen Boyd) to investigate.
Alex has his own reasons for wanting to discover the truth. A patient of the dead psychiatrist himself, he's been shattered by the suicide. The doctor helped pull Alex out of despair when his wife & daughter died, and Alex fears that suicide means that everything that helped him was a lie. He desperately needs to learn the truth for the sake of his own sanity. So he begins investigating the doctor's other recent patients, sure that one of them must be a murderer.
What makes this film especially striking is the overall look & tone of it. Filmed in black & white, there's a world-weariness to it, a sense of balancing precariously over a dark, chaotic abyss that waits to claim everyone. Stephen Boyd is superb, his handsome but hard face etched with grief & doubt. He erupts in rage & fear at times, and raises the suspicion that he may be the murderer himself, having blotted out that self-knowledge. Could it be possible? Or is he simply struggling to survive in a world bereft of personal meaning?
We follow his investigation, which leads first to a tortured gallery owner & aspiring painter played by an unrecognizable Richard Attenborough; then to an intimate encounter with another patient, portrayed with brittle beauty & growing despair by Diane Cilento; and finally to a craggy, distinguished judge with a secret, played by Jack Hawkins.
But the most fascinating relationship is between Alex & fourteen year old Cathy. She's unnaturally precocious, a woman-child wise beyond her years, who obviously sees an understanding father figure in Alex. He in turn sees his own dead daughter as she might have been, and it's only in her presence that his grim face softens with tenderness & hope. Some modern viewers might tend to see this relationship as Cathy's suspicious uncle does, that of a predator moving in on a vulnerable girl. But it's something quite different, innocent yet somehow erotic all the same -- certainly it's the most intense relationship in the film.
The script is highly literate, the sort of writing that's seldom seen in films today. And the suspense builds as the film moves forward, an almost existential suspense -- the mystery isn't just about the identity of the murderer, but whether life itself has any meaning. It leads to a stunning climax that frankly jolted me. I wondered if it might not be better to end the film at that point, which would have been terribly bleak but effective. Yet the final scenes, while not viscerally shocking, are all the more sad & heartbreakingly tender, reminding the viewer that some wounds never fully heal.
Most highly recommended!
The Secret Face of Madness
Tom S. | New York City | 06/09/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Here's a tidy little British suspense film from 1964 that will hold your interest throughout. Well-received and highly regarded at the time, it soon fell out of view, overshadowed by THE NANNY and BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING and SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON and several other, more sensational British chillers of the same era. Now it's back on DVD, and worth a look from anyone who enjoys a literate, well-acted mystery.
A London psychiatrist is found dead, an apparent suicide, but his young daughter (Pamela Franklin) is convinced he was murdered by one of his patients. She appeals to the only patient she trusts, a TV commentator played by Stephen Boyd, to investigate the others. One of them is a dangerous paranoid schizophrenic--but who is it? The passive/aggressive art dealer (Richard Attenborough)? The frigid secretary (Diane Cilento)? The eminent judge with an unmentionable vice (Jack Hawkins)? Or is it Boyd himself, whose recent loss of wife and child to tragedy has unbalanced him, causing disturbing dreams and sudden, violent behavior? He investigates, leading to a surprise finale.
The publicity for the film played on the recent success of PSYCHO and DIABOLIQUE, asking audiences to see it from the beginning and please not to reveal the shocking "third secret" to other potential moviegoers. It's not really as shocking as all that--not now, anyway, though it might have been in 1964--but it's a solid, entertaining diversion. Try it."
Taut, Brooding Psychological Drama, with Stephen Boyd Well-C
Aldanoli | Ukiah, CA USA | 09/21/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A British psychologist has apparently committed suicide, but his teenage daughter is convinced it was murder and asks one of his patients (Stephen Boyd, as an expatriate American journalist) to investigate. Somber, brooding, introspective tale, with Boyd well-cast in the lead. The film is elegantly written (and worthwhile just for the dialogue) and moodily shot in black and white.
Regrettably, the film is inaccurate in its portrayal of psychiatry; despite what the script says, people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia are no more likely to be murderers than anyone else, and people with schizophrenia cannot hide their illness as though they were undercover spies. That small suspension of disbelief aside, the film ruminates on all sorts of interesting ideas that fit together like inlaid wood.
It's also enhanced by an excellent cast -- besides Boyd, it features Jack Hawkins, Richard Attenborough, and Diane Cilento as the three suspects, the now-legendary Judi Dench in her first credited role, and the much under-rated child actress, Pamela Franklin, as the psychologist's daughter. In particular, though, Attenborough's performance as an awkward, insecure art dealer stands out as a remarkable contrast to his performance in another film of 1964 -- "Guns at Batasi," in which he plays a tough, almost indestructible British Army sergeant."