And now for a slight change of pace here at Fedora, featuring real-life femme fatale Barbara Payton. She plays the object of everybody’s affection in this off-kilter melodrama that was one of the first of Hammer Studios‘ excursions into the weird and the bizarre that would soon dominate their output. It is also a precursor to the Frankenstein films that director Terence Fisher would make his name with at the studio just a few years later. We begin when the three protagonists were children in a small English village …
This review is offered for Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason Sweet Freedom
“An empty mind … and a new beginning!”
Shot at Bray Studios over five weeks in August and September 1952, the premise is one that will be familiar to fans of The Fly (based on George Langelaan’s 1957 short story) though the story by William F(rederick) Temple preceded it by quite some distance. In fact it originally appeared as a short story (‘The 4-sided Triangle’) in Amazing Stories in November 1939 before being expanded into the novel some 10 years later. Two scientists, Robin (Will in the short story) and Bill, develop a ‘reproducer’ that can copy any type of matter perfectly. Having worked on inorganic materials, Bill starts to focus on living creatures. The apex of the eponymous triangle is Joan (Lena in the film), a childhood friend of both boys who has been helping them with their experiments. Bill is secretly in love with her, but she and Robin only have eyes for each other and get married. It is then that Bill hatches the plane to duplicate Lena. He does this, calls her Dolly (like the cloned sheep 40 years later …), and marries her. But she’s not happy …
“I didn’t ask to be born. So I have the right to die”
The central idea is a clear variation on Frankenstein and as presented here is, on the face of it, incredibly obnoxious. Defeated in love, Bill just decides to make a carbon copy and just assumes that she will fall for him. Of course, because she is an exact copy, the opposite happens and the duplicate, named Helen in the film, is also in love with Robin. Ultimately there is a fatal accident and there is some doubt about which ‘version’ of the woman survives. This sense of ambiguity does in fact serve the story well since its existential concern, despite the daft premise, is quite nicely developed. In the film Lena comes back to her two friends having resigned herself to being a failure, assuming that she is not much longer for this world. Instead she finds a new purpose with their research and love with Robin (John Van Eyssen). Our sympathies are with Bill, played with great delicacy by Stephen Murray (who frankly is a bit too good for a film like this), but the plight of Helen is handled with some subtlety.
Credit is due to director and co-writer Terence Fisher for fashioning something that is much more interesting than one might have thought – certainly compared with Fisher’s earlier excursion into this territory, Stolen Face (which I previously reviewed here) this is a much more rounded and confident bit of filmmaking, very well-paced and its low-budget really not too obvious (there was even some location shooting in Weymouth). On the other hand the constant references to the bible courtesy of narrator James Hayter, clearly included to appease the censor and drum home the ‘man is not god’ homily, are so on the nose as to be pretty laughable. This is a fairly naive film in many ways, from its science to its sexual politics but that is also part of its charm, especially given the film has a sort of fairy tale feel. In addition the scientific sequences are well staged and dramatic, the acting is generally understated and the philosophical implications of cloning ever more timely, making this a little film that is well worth looking at.
DVD Availability: This title is now available as an extra on the new Blu-ray edition of Curse of Frankenstein, though it appears there in standard definition unlike the main feature. It was previously released in the UK by DD Home Entertainment, which after going into administration is now known as Simply Media. Copies are still available from them and provide the film in a decent print with a handsome booklet written by Hammer experts Jonathan Rigby and Marcus Hearn. The US edition from Image, without the notes, also still seems to be available.
My dedicated microsite on Hammer Studios and its thriller films is here. Hammer have officially made the film available online on YouTube right here:
Four Sided Triangle (1953)
Director: Terence Fisher
Producer: Michael Carreras, Alexander Paal
Screenplay: Paul Tabori and Terence Fisher (from the novel by William F. Temple)
Cinematography: Reginald Wyer
Art Direction: J. Elder Wills
Music: Malcolm Arnold
Cast: Barbara Payton, James Hayter, Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen