Monday, 10 May 2010

Stop Me Before I Kill! (1961)

Stop Me Before I Kill! (released in the UK as The Full Treatment) was one of Hammer’s many early 60s psychological thrillers. And it’s a reasonably good one.

Hammer had done some fine film noir productions in the early 50s so the idea of the studio doing movies that were closer to the crime/mystery genre than the horror genre actually wasn’t particularly radical.

Hammer’s psycho-thrillers of this period all feature very impressive black-and-white cinematography, the company seemed to feel that black-and-white suited this kind of material, and I’m inclined to agree.

Compared to most of Hammer’s other psycho-thrillers this one has the advantage of not having been written by Jimmy Sangster. Not that I have a problem with Sangster’s writing in general. Mostly I enjoy the movies he wrote for Hammer. But with this particular type of movie he tended to recycle the same basic ideas a bit too often. It’s nice to see someone else’s attempt at the same stye of film. And in this case the someone else is Val Guest, who both directed and write the screenplay. I think he’s rather underrated, and in fact he does a pretty competent job.

The movie opens with the aftermath of a car crash. A sports car has hit a lorry head-on. The lorry driver is dead, but surprisingly both occupants of the car have survived, although the driver has a serious brain injury. The driver is famous racing car driver Alan Colby (Ronald Lewis), motoring to Dover with his new French-born bride Denise (Diane Cilento) on the way to their honeymoon.

To everyone’s amazement Colby makes a miraculous recovery, but he still bears some scars. Not so much physical scars as psychological scars. He cannot remember the fatal drive at all, but he’s haunted by the fear that the accident may have been his fault. And although he’s still very much in love with his wife he’s started having disturbing obsessions about her. He’s become insanely jealous, and he has dreams and fantasies of strangling her. He has even gone close to doing so. Making love to her seems to be the trigger for these violent obsessions.

On their belated honeymoon in the south of France they meet a psychiatrist, Dr David Prade (Claude Dauphin). Colby is instantly suspicious that his wife is being too friendly with the doctor and that she is telling him too much about the personal problems they’ve been having. They return to London, but Dr Prade has also returned there and made contact with Denise. He seems extremeky keen to help and assures her that her husband urgently needs psychiatric help and that he is uniquely qualified to provide that help. After another incident when he almost strangles Denise Alan Colby finally agree to undergo psychotherapy. Dr Prade is anxious to make Colby remember the details of the accident.

There are, as you would expect, plenty of plot twists to come. The major plot twist isn’t terribly difficult to predict but this doesn’t matter. What matters is that although the viewer has very strong suspicions about a particular matter the person most closely involved has no inkling of what’s going on. In fact I suspect that the director wants us to have our suspicions about this matter since the dramatic tension is actually heightened thereby. We’re fairly sure we know what’s coming and we are therefore much more fearful for the person involved.

The acting is rather good. Ronald Lewis is excellent as Alan Colby, a tortured soul who is both worrying and yet still sympathetic. Claude Dauphin and Diane Cilento give effective performances although I’m not too sure about the Australian actress’s slightly overdone French accent.

The secret to the success of these Hammer psychological thrillers is not so much the plotting as the atmosphere and the performances. I generally like these movies and this one works well.

It’s included in the Hammer Films: Icons of Suspense DVD boxed set and the DVD transfer looks splendid. The set includes no less than six movies and is fantastic value for money.

1 comment:

Shaun Anderson said...

Nice to see a review of this rare and obscure Hammer film.