Or Tales of the Expected (Part Two)
… This film has
atmosphere aplenty but not so much tension or indeed mystery; the premise
reveals itself quite early on and as you wait for supernatural twists and turns
or a resolving hero it still carries on its course.
There is a top notch cast – legends in fact: Niven and
Kerr – along with eye-catching new-comers such as David Hemmings and the
simply-stunning Sharon Tate and all perform well. J. Lee Thompson directs with
assurance and the cinematography from Erwin Hillier makes the most of some
lovely locations, most notably the Château de Hautefort. But the whole is
slightly less than the sum of these fascinating parts.
|Sharon and some friends...|
There’s a moment when a frog is seemingly turned into a
dove and another when mesmeric powers seem to be deployed but the magic only
leads down dead-ends and isn’t really a feature of the resolution. It’s a bit
like The Wicker Man
… without the
suspense: the magic ingredient in fact.
This might be the result of numerous changes in personnel
during production: Kim Novak either injured herself in a riding accident or
fell out with the producers and was replaced by Deborah Kerr whilst a number of
directors came and went and Terry Southern was brought in (uncredited) to add
zip to the screenplay. The result is not so much uneven as just a bit flat.
But… if you like black and white forebodings, a touch of the pagan, beautiful
blondes and Donald Pleasence… then you won’t be wasting your time.
|David Niven and Deborah Kerr|
All begins in the reassuring sophistication of urban
Paris as the demi monde joins millionaire wine producer Philippe de Montfaucon
(David Niven) hosts a soiree with his wife Catherine (Deborah Kerr). The guests
listen to a harp player – such a strange instrument for an evening gathering –
and the host’s son, Jacques (Robert Duncan) comes down from his bedroom to
wander over and stare at the musician as he works the strings… the World moves
in mysterious ways and the music we might take for granted is worked in a way
the boy was not expecting.
Where Phillipe a Lancastrian cotton merchant there might
be trouble at mill but right now he has malady du vin as poor crops have led to
a collapse in his yield and the community based around his family seat is
struggling. A man arrives asking him to return immediately: he is the only one
who can save the situation.
His wife is confused wondering how much he can do – one
man balanced against the combined forces of the weather and the soil. But you
wonder how well she knows her man as his home isn’t exactly “normal”…
His sister Odile (Sharon Tate) has other, more sinister
weapons at her disposal and charms the children with her frog to dove
conversion whilst encouraging them to walk on the edge of the roof. Christine
sees this and rushes to intervene but is overcome with what can only be seen as
Odile appears to freeze her in her tracks and then, through auto-suggestion,
move her closer to the edge.
|It's a long way down isn't it?|
Before things go too far, Phillipe intervenes but it’s
quite clear that Christine isn’t wanted…
At night Christine sees men arriving on horseback and
following them encounters her husband who says he’s heard and seen nothing.
Later she spies a ritual in the Chateau’s chapel; it’s clearly not Christian…
From now it’s only a question of the mysteries building
up and Catherine being frightened into frenzy. Countess Estel knows but isn’t
really telling whilst there’s the mystery of her disappeared brother.
Researching the family reveals that the male line has always died a violent
death – mere bad luck says Phil – whilst there’s a rather specific painting
showing one man surrounded by cloaked figures who seem almost to be hunting
|Watching and waiting|
All the while Christina pops up with his bow and arrow
whilst Odile turns up and just looks… and, let’s be honest; Sharon Tate is a
very good looker indeed. Here she doesn’t have to do much but look beautiful
(big tick!) and detached (another tick, not as emphatic as the first. But, to
be honest, even Mr Hemmings struggles to make much meat out of his role:
there’s simply not enough there to develop.
|The people understand...|
Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the Wicker Man
or just that
the ending seems nailed on quite early on especially as the entire village is
gradually revealed to be in on the deal. It’s a pre-Christian society with
pagan beliefs that pre-date the bible and which yet use it to reinforce their
belief in sacrifice. If the crop is failing then it must be that the gods are
angry and the balance needs to be redressed in the time-honoured way.
|The ritual begins...|
The main difference with the later film is that whereas
Lord Summerisle knows he is controlling his islanders through ritual – it’s a
deliberate act of crowd-pleasing mumbo-jumbo – here it looks like all involved
actually believe in the paganism which, when you think about it, adds a
different dimension it’s an evil they all accept.
So, who, if anyone will come forward to rescue the family
or is the cycle of noble-nobility sacrifice continue?
Eye of the Devil is a well-made film
and looks superb even in black and white. It’s worth a watch with top-notch
performances from Kerr, Niven, Pleasence and Robson but don’t expect to be
haunted… except by the stunning Sharon.
The film is available on DVD from Amazons.
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