Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Diary of a Madman (1963)

Diary of a Madman is the sort of 1960s Vincent Price movie that you’d expect to have been made by AIP, but in fact it was made by an outfit called Admiral Pictures and released by United Artists. It’s a competently made production but Vincent Price is the reason you’re going to watch such a movie.

It was based on a story by the famed 19th century short story writer Guy de Maupassant, and it offers us a slightly unusual monster. More about that later.

The movie opens with a funeral of respected magistrate Simon Cordier (Vincent Price). Cordier has left behind him a diary, a diary that tells a strange and scarcely believable story. But why would such a distinguished man make something like this up? Especially when it doesn’t reflect all that creditably on his own reputation? We have to believe the story is true, or at least that Simon Cordier believed it to be true.

A murderer due to be guillotined three days hence asks for an interview with Cordier. The murderer tells the magistrate that he wasn’t responsible for the crimes. A force beyond his control had taken over his will. Suddenly the murderer lunges at Cordier, there is a struggle, and the murderer is killed.

While it’s a regrettable incident no blame can of course be attached to Cordier. But even so he is haunted by the incident. He soon comes to believe that the force that enslaved that murderer’s will is also enslaving his own will. He consults a psychiatrist and is advised that he needs to relax more. Perhaps he should take up sculpture again? Simon had been a keen and fairly talented sculptor in his youth. Simon takes the psychiatrist’s advice, and as a result he meets model Odette Mallotte (Nancy Kovack).

Odette is married, to a penniless artist. Cordier obviously has some feelings for her and a wealthy magistrate is certainly a much better prospect than a starving artist. This is obviously going to be an awkward situation, and that’s exactly what it proves to be.

Simon Cordier is now convinced he is under the power of the Horla. But what is the Horla? It seems to be a kind of mind vampire that feeds on evil, but interestingly enough even though it’s invisible it has a physical presence. That may prove to be significant. Cordier is compelled to carry out acts of violence by the Horla and he really seems to be powerless to defy this monster.

Of course the question that is left begging is, does the Horla really exist? Or is it a product of the mind? We’re never really sure. Simon Cordier is convinced it is real, but then if it was a product of his own mind it would still seem to him to be very very real.

Price is perfectly cast and does a fine job. This is Price as a sympathetic monster, a man who believes himself to be a good man and yet he is compelled to do evil. Price has no problems bringing out the contradictory and nightmarish qualities of the situation, and its essential ambiguity. Nancy Kovack is decorative enough and she’s reasonably competent.

Reginald le Borg had a very long career as a director in both movies and television. It’s easy enough to see why he remained a director of B movies, but it’s also easy to see why he was so successful in that role. He is not overly inspired but he carries out his task quite adequately.

MGM have released this movie in their made-on-demand series. It’s ridiculously overpriced but it’s a very decent print.

Unlike the movies Vincent Price was making for Roger Corman at the same time Diary of a Madman never transcends its B movie roots, but it’s entertaining and it gives Price a good meaty role that he makes the most of. If you’re a fan of B horror movies or of Vincent Price you’ll want to see this movie, although you may not be happy paying the price MGM is asking for it. At a reasonable price it would be a must-buy. At this price it’s still definitely worth a rental.

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