Monday, 16 January 2017

Carol, come home… Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969)

In which the Battersea Bardot finds her way to Hollywood and encounters an obsessive-possessive-psychotic Terry Stamp could have floored with one thump… It’s odd to see Carol White move from the improvised naturalism of Ken Loach to the more poised dynamics of this moderately-nasty thriller.

Hard to think of the situation in reverse say with John Cassavetes in an early Joanna Lumley film like The Breaking of Bumbo. JC and CW would have made for a good match, possibly in black and white but here it’s strange to see this actress so renowned for edgy improvisations in such a formulaic film and drenched in sunshine in a richly-coloured California.

Cathy begins to have doubts...
Then again, maybe that was always the director Mark Robson’s intention for his first film after Valley of the Dolls (1967): he wanted this mix of grot and glamour and Carol certainly could provide both and more convincingly than her co-star Scott Hylands – for me, at least, he never rings entirely true in spite of some good moments and the film’s suspense is lessened as a result. It’s no Play Misty for Me

Carol plays Cathy Palmer (see what they did?) a British commercial artist who has relocated to America and indeed the film opens with her arrival, all smiles until she has a lump of unexpected snow thrown at her from a sparky young man walking past the airport taxi rank. The two share an instant attraction and he, Kenneth Daly (Scott Hylands) seems a well-balanced and connected professional. He lines Cathy up with an interview with an ad agency and she starts work but soon he is shown to be shiftless and bored – a very part-time photographer.

Happier times
Cathy comes home (see what I did...?) to find Ken tormenting their pet budgie by building a stairway of books for their cat to climb… he really should get out more but is getting shadier by the minute. But things get especially intense when Cathy finds herself pregnant and with the work going well and her relationship unconvincing she decides to abort without telling Ken.

Scott Hylands is particularly unsettling when his character is informed of the abortion and something, literally, appears to snap inside: a believable breakdown for a persona on the edge who cannot differentiate between rights and wrongs. Here was something undeniably good that, for him, was ripped away but, upset though he may be, his response will be anything but proportionate.

Scott Hylands
The relationship over, Cathy meets and marries Jack Byrnes (Paul Burke) a likeable businessman with political ambitions who has the easy-going zest that Ken distinctly lacked. We wiz through courtship and house-buying and enter another pregnancy, one that Cathy intends to go full term.

Strange things start happening, Cathy can sense Ken around and glimpses him working as a Santa Claus at a department store and then following her to a garage. She leaves without getting her car fixed and comes to regret it weeks later when her labour starts… she leaves the car only to find Ken waiting, she tries to run but he follows… she faints.

Danger in the waiting room
Waking up in hospital Cathy has no idea that Ken has brought her there. Nor can she see him talking with Jack in the men’s’ waiting room. It’s starting to get very creepy and worse is to come when Ken turns up at home intent on photographing the baby. Cathy doesn’t feel able to tell her husband who Ken really is and… his disturbing involvement in their world continues.

All harmless weirdness up to this point but when Ken kills the doctor who performed Cathy’s abortion and leaves him with his feet in his own stirrups – a very creepy flourish – we know he’s more than just a nuisance.

Toys in the attic and out of the pram...
Things escalate with mysterious signs at Cathy and Jack’s home and when they return to find the living room full of photographs of their baby and the – no-longer extant – cat occupying the tot’s place it’s time for the FBI to get involved.

Ken is out to balance the books and wants Cathy to kill her baby to even things up with regard to the first one she had aborted (I don’t know; its psycho logic, why should it make any sense?!). He’s applying such pressure and even with the amount of protection Jack’s political position affords, can Cathy ignore the threats she knows are very real.

It’s a breathless dash to find the baby before Ken finally cracks (even more) …

Carol White
Dusty verdict: Daddy's Gone A-Hunting takes a long time to get where it’s going and doesn’t always hit home.  Carol White is very watchable and even out of her natural context she performs well even though we could do with some south London grit in place of the civilized sheen of San Francisco.

The music’s from a chap called John Williams who I believe went on to find some success later in the decade with a film about a space war and some fella who can fly.

The film is available on DVD from Amazon and elsewhere. Not essential but for fans of Carol a very decent watch.

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