Saturday, 30 May 2015

Jersey mystery… Neither the Sea Nor the Sand (1972)

This strangely affecting film is an ode to enduring love which just happens to have been based on a book by the TV newsreader Gordon Honeycombe. It is based on Jersey, an island I know reasonably well, and the setting alone guarantees an atmosphere of dislocation: an isolated lighthouse on the wind-battered North side of the island and the unpredictable tides off Five Mile Beach provide an uncompromising backdrop to this curious love story.

Honeycombe wrote the screenplay but eventually fell out with the film’s producers and as I haven’t read his original story I can’t work out why. Any adaptation takes on a life of its own and it can’t be easy being the author especially when you know a few tricks of the visual trade.

Michael Petrovitch and Susan Hampshire
Susan Hampshire stars, apparently by her own insistence, and shows what a fine dramatic actress she is – a world away from the upper class roles she has sometimes been associated with. She’s highly watchable throughout and plays to the supernatural McGuffin with conviction: she has to as the whole story rests on it.

Her Anna Robinson is a woman whose relationship has just broken up and who has come to Jersey to think out her future direction. During one of her sad solo walks she encounters a tallish dark handsome stranger near Corbiere Lighthouse - Hugh Dabernon (Michael Petrovitch). He tells her of the dangers of the tides that rips over the small causeway linking the lighthouse to the shore and they walk back to the shore together.

They couple agree to meet again and start to discover each other, walking the streets of St Helier and watching movies: comparing notes on their lives, Eventually they go back to his place encounter his even odder older brother George (Frank Finlay) who doesn’t like the idea of any fancy woman attracting his brother or something like that. The two are steeped in Jersey mystery… being one of the oldest families on the island with a brass rubbing of a mediaeval knight bearing an uncanny resemblance to Hugh…

Brother George leads the dinner discussion
Anna and Hugh grow closer and a romance begins with some obligatory period nudity that I suspect was not in Miss Hampshire’s contract. The couple head off to Scotland to stay at the well-appointed Dabernon home-from-home yet tragedy strikes as they take a walk on the beach: Anna turns round to find Hugh face down on the ground, unnaturally still. In a panic she flees to the house and gets the housekeepers to call for help.

The doctor duly arrives and pronounces Hugh dead leaving Anna devastated… She returns to the old house and cannot sleep; wandering around the house in the dead of night, hearing noises and despairing at the loss of this chance of love when she had least expected it.

This never happened in my movies with Cliff...
She sees a figure moving outside, getting closer to the house… seemingly waiting for something or someone. She opens the door to find Hugh miraculously re-animated and apparently alive only he’s not exactly saying much just staring.

She returns to Jersey with Hugh in tow and goes to his house. Brother George is not impressed by any aspect of recent development and concludes quickly that his brother, much though he would like him otherwise, is dead. Somehow he has been kept alive by Anna’s desperate love and George tells her she must let go.

But Anna cannot think beyond her returned love and the half-dead Hugh runs his brother off the road sending him to his doom. Now it is just the two of them left with Hugh’s increasingly cold flesh pushing their spirits slowly apart.

A friendly local lad Collie (Michael Craze, who viewers might remember as assistant to both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton), takes an interest in Anna and tries to find out if she is alright but she tries to push him away.

Michael Craze second from the right
As Hugh becomes more distant, Anna must decide what to do with her love: can she really let it go or is there a way she can push through into eternity..?

Dusty verdict: Directed by Fred Burnley, Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is an efficient chiller which raises questions about the nature of grief whilst also holding out for love. Should Anna simply move on or are some relationships binding for all time: has she even a choice in the matter?

The film retains an eerie quality and the atmosphere lingers perhaps due to the eternally-close proximity of Love and Death…

Michael Petrovitch and Frank Findley make for excellent siblings, the latter assuming the role of repressed “Parent” to his much younger brother’s determined individualism. How this connects with later events is open to debate, maybe their land-anchored heritage plays a role in Hugh’s transformation? Or maybe it’s just the love of a very good woman.

Susan Hampshire
Susan Hampshire is excellent as the vulnerable city-soul who finds herself in the cold isolation of the Jersey shore, with her delicate confusion becoming replaced by the vice-like grip of her love for Hugh and the realisation that she cannot live without him…

Neither the Sea Nor the Sand is available on Odeon Entertainment either direct (DVD or download) or from Amazon.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

In the grip of giallo… The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)

Italian cinema is like another country to paraphrase Ian Rush: similar but decidedly different. They may have ruled European art-house from neo-realism through to the titans of total control such as Fellini and Antonioni but the Italians also had their own take on Hammer horror or was it film noir?

Giallo took elements of both to create over-plotted, bloody and erotic horrors taken from an everyday life in which everyone behaves suspiciously and no one is to be trusted. It’s an uncertain world and one that AllMovies described as sometimes “…a head-spinning experience in style over substance." The attempt at this result is deliberate with a generous of naked female flesh, artfully shot violence and sublime, swoonful scores (here from Nora Orlandi).

Edwige Fenech,
It takes your cinematic comfort food and lets it rot in front of your eyes as these elements combine with the warm sunlit locations – Vienna, Catalonia, Italy… to violently subvert your anticipation and response. It’s a cinema of masochism in which the audience must surrender to the brutality and in-humanity gratuitously-displayed on screen. There’s no guarantee of a happy ending and when everyone has secrets – especially the seemingly-sympathetic ones… who can you identify with; who can you trust?

Giallo is Italian for yellow; the colour used to denote thriller books and as these pulp fiction stories were presented on film, blood red and blackness became the main signifiers…

So it is at the start of the film a man in black, who drives a black car strikes out at a woman using a cut throat razor: a violent killer is on the loose and we know it could be anyone of the characters on film – or more than one...

Julie is suffocated by her husband's diplomatic discipline
Cut (sorry) to our heroine Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) as she arrives at Vienna airport with her husband the much older Neil (Alberto de Mendoza) a high-flying diplomat who is greeted by some dull-looking men who drag him off to the latest of many meetings.  Julie grabs a cab home only to be informed of the latest murder… oh these things that always happen to other people….

Her mind drifts to a violent confrontation with her former lover Jean, who assaults her in a rain-sodden wood only for the two to make passionate and intense love… back to reality she leaves the cab and as she enters her apartment block spots a black sports car just like Jean’s… Once inside the bell boy brings her a bouquet of red roses with a message from Jean. Will she ever be free of him?

Julie tries to brush the thoughts off as she heads to a party with her best friend Carol (Conchita Airoldi). The party’s a swinging affair as these things could be in 1971 but the girls behave themselves especially as Carol’s dishy cousin George (George Hilton) is there discussing his inheritance with co-benefactor Carol.

Carol and Julie eye the talent
Things are going well until Julie’s ex Jean (the superbly menacing Ivan Rassimov) shows up glass in one hand and their secret love in his mind. He’s nasty what could Julie ever see in him, yes he’s handsome but really what poor manners… ah, I see: the two had a specifically sado-masochistic relationship and he knows how thin her veneer of civilised tastes really is.

Jean raises a glass... not for the first time
Julie leaves only to be pursued by Jean and only the intervention of the late-arriving Neil just about drives Jean away… Neil strikes the sadist who responds with a dismissive laugh that mixes disdain with the knowledge of Julie’s weakness (how many times has he struck her?).

That night Julie has a dream that graphically illustrates the kind of relationship she used to enjoy with Jean: fifty shades of scarlet with smashed glass submissiveness the tip of the iceberg. But Jean wants away and to escape not just Jean but this side of herself…

Julie and Jean enjoy a bottle of wine...
That night one of the girls from the party is killed by the knife man in her shower – a scene you could say is a tribute to Hitchcock from director Sergio Martino but the whole genre has clearly been touched by the nastier aspects of Hitch’s oeuvre…

Julie and Carol see the headlines on a shopping trip brushing off the co-incidence… returning to Julie’s flat they find George, he’s clearly seen something he likes but Julie is trying for the straight and narrow with Neil. But when the girls go to restaurant they find that George has booked a table for them – Carol is playing match-maker for her bored friend.

Julie and George go biking
George takes Julie for a blast on his nifty motorbike and for the first time in a while she feels the thrill of unprotected adventure as they whisk through the Viennese streets and out into the country… it’s only a matter of time before she gives in and the spur is provided when walking late night near George’s as a black car just like Jean’s flies past… cue a romp on George’s couch watched from the window by a mysterious man in black.

Still the flowers keep on coming and Julie receives a phone call threatening to reveal her proclivities… the caller asks to meet her in the park but assuming the blackmailer is Jean Carol offers to go instead and to set him straight… but in one of the film’s most unsettling sequences Carol meets the knife man and is killed.

Carol walks to her doom
What now for Julie as it becomes clear that she is the murderer’s ultimate target… can she find refuge with anyone? 

Dusty verdict: The plot is quick-moving and becomes more detailed as we race towards to conclusion. Julie escapes to Barcelona with George but cannot elude the man in black for too long…

I won’t give away the ending as it would take a many more words to explain how the film gets from A to B… it’s a bare knuckle ride of fantastic twists and turns.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is well directed by Sergio Martino and not as graphically violent as it could well be - a plus in my book - with the suspense created by well-shot atmospherics and fine acting. Edwige Fenech is the stand out as the woman with the strange hobby who needs the chance to escape from an almost ludicrous amount of bad fortune… and whilst Ivan Rassimov excels as the most obvious threat to her life and happiness; he's not the only one!

The film is available at collectable prices from Amazon on DVD but you can also rent it from Love Film.