Thursday, 24 September 2009

Die Screaming, Marianne (1971)

Any movie that begins with a scantily-clad Susan George go-go dancing over the opening credits is pretty much guaranteed to get my attention. If there’s a better way to start a film I can’t think offhand what it might be.

Tragically this is the only go-go dancing scene in the whole of Die Screaming, Marianne. The lurid title (something that all Pete Walker’s movies seem to have in common) might also suggest that what you are about to see is a horror movie. It isn’t. It’s a thriller. The good news is, it’s a pretty good thriller.

Leo Genn plays a character known only as The Judge. He was in fact an actual British judge until he was sacked for corruption, and he now lives in voluntary exile in Portugal. His second wife somehow managed to get her hands on a large proportion of his ill-gotten gains (in excess of half a million pounds, a colossal amount in 1971) along with an assortment of incriminating documents. She stashed the lot in a numbered account in a Swiss bank just before her untimely death, from poison. The only person who knows the number of the account is Marianne, the daughter born to her and The Judge.

Marianne is now on the run, since she has grave doubts about her likelihood of long-tern survival if she falls into the hands of The Judge and her beautiful but seriously psychotic half-sister Hildegarde. She meets a rather creepy Englishman named Sebastian and after considerable pressuring agrees to marry him. When he checks the paperwork after the wedding it turns out she’s actually married the best man, his saxophone-playing buddy Eli. Sebastian is understandably rather miffed, and storms off. Eli and Marianne decide that since they’re married, they might as well move in together. And soon they’re in love.

Unfortunately The Judge is still on her trail, and a complicated series of double-crosses and attempted double-crosses follows.

This is a stylish and very dark thriller. While it can’t be described as a horror movie, it does have a couple of very creepy villains. Leo Genn as The Judge is oily and sinister and thoroughly evil. Judy Huxtable is memorably deranged and depraved as Hildegarde. Her hatred of her half-sister Marianne is one of the ruling obsessions of her life, the others being greed and an incestuous passion for her father (which he seems at least half-inclined to reciprocate). Susan George, always an underrated actress, does her usual solid job as Marianne. Barry Evans is a distinctly odd choice as the hero, but then Eli isn’t much of a hero, and mostly Marianne is left to save herself. Luckily she’s both resourceful and extremely determined.

There’s a nice use of locations in both Swinging 60s London and Portugal (The Judge’s villa is rather impressive) and the movie manages to look slick and reasonably expensive although it isn’t. That it succeeds as well as it does is largely due to exceptional acting performances by Genn, Susan George and especially Judy Huxtable who creates one of the great evil sexy film villainesses.

The Region 4 DVD seems, judging by the running time, to be more or less uncut but this is a movie remarkably lacking in sex and gore by the standards of 1971 so it may in fact be slightly cut.

It’s not a great movie by any means but it’s entertaining and it looks good. It really needed more go-go dancing though.

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