This tale of psychological turmoil is fairly intriguing to start with but does get a bit bogged down before becoming thrillerish a bit too late in the game. It was the last in a run of popular films that writer-director Val Guest (1911-2006) made for Hammer, having put them ‘on the map’ with his Nigel Kneale adaptation, The Quatermass Xperiment. He made over a dozen films for the company and is second only to Terence Fisher as the most distinctive and successful director to be closely associated with the studio. Also known as Stop Me Before I Kill, this adaptation of Ronald Scott Thorn’s novel The Full Treatment is a melodrama about a man who, after a traumatic car accident on his wedding day, becomes irrationally jealous of his wife. Is he going mad – and will this lead to murder?
“You interest me. You are quite refreshingly rude”
The film is partly set in the South of France, like several Hammer productions of the period such as The Snorkel, Maniac and Taste of Fear, the latter also featuring Ronald Lewis, here elevated to the starring role (the part was originally intended for Stanley Baker, who had just starred in two films for Guest). He plays the remarkably disagreeable Alan Colby, a former racing car driver who on his honeymoon crashed and suffered very severe concussion. After several months in recovery he is trying to get his life back to normal, but one suspects his doctors weren’t as careful as they might have been from an early scene in which his physician is pressured to give the OK by the insurance company.
Indeed, Alan is now prone to irrational jealous rages and has a compulsion to strangle his wife Denise (Diane Cilento, reasonably convincing as an Italian). Ultimately with the help of a psychiatrist (the always sane and resolutely down-to-earth Claude Dauphin) he manages to discover a secret about the crash and apparently conquer his fears … but then his wife disappears and he believes he may have truly killed her in a fugue state without realising it. He runs away back to his friends in Cannes, where he keeps seeing women who remind him of Denise. And then, ten days after going on the run, he really does see his wife again …
Originally given an X certificate in the UK, the censor board apparently passed the film at 120 minutes according to its website, making it Guests’s and Hammer’s longest film to date. Most reference sources give a running time of 109 minutes however, which after Expresso Bongo (1959) still makes it the longest film Guest ever made as solo director (that is to say, excluding the Casino Royale spoof he co-directed). My DVD, from the Icons of Suspense box set (see below), runs just under 108 minutes and seems complete apart from one obvious deletion early in the film when Alan calls Denise out of her bath – which then cuts to both of them in the bedroom after something dramatic obviously happened in the shower (they refer to it in the dialogue later on). Either way, this is very long movie, spending far too long setting up Alan’s problems, restating things over and again, and then taking almost as long dealing with his psychiatric treatment, before going on for another 20 minutes for a belated surprise third act that takes the film into the mystery genre when Alan becomes convinced he has actually killed his wife. But has he?
This proved to be Guests’s last film at Hammer for a decade and it is among his least successful. If about 25 minutes were cut from the running time it would make a much better suspense thriller, though Lewis is rather too dour and one-note to make us understand quite why his wife would put up with him. However, there are some compensations as it is quite carefully put together. Guest’s handling of the opening crash sequence is highly impressive and the staging is always polished, thanks to the work of the great, late cinematographer Gil Taylor, who also worked with Hitchcock, Richard Lester and Roman Polanski and also shot the first installments in the Star Wars and Omen franchises. Guest was clearly intrigued by the psycho-sexual dimension, emphasising that Alan, though he clearly wants to, can’t sleep with his wife, terrified that he might hurt her. The intentions may have been honourable, but ultimately this isn’t really a serious enough film to warrant our attention and from a genre standpoint proves to be neither fish nor fowl. Ironically it would seem that in making a film about a person who is no longer sure who they are, Guest came up with a finished product that was equally unsure of its intentions.
The trouble is that this feels like three films glued together. The first starts as a honeymoon travelogue shot in sunny Cannes that grows increasingly sinister and bleak; then comes the extended sequences in which Dauphin breaks down Alan’s defences in their sessions together back in London. This section is very impressive per se, but seems to belong stylistically to another film entirely, a much darker and expressionistic one in fact. Shot with many expressionistic stylings such as heavy use of shadows, canted angles and POV shots, this is completely at odds with the rest of the movie. Then in the third act we get to an unexpected curve in the plot with Alan believing he has murdered his wife after being declared ‘cured’ and goes on the run. This gives the story a proper shot in the arm, but comes after nearly 90 minutes, just when the story should be winding down. Guest was always a very commercial director, but it’s possible that he was trying to go for something more subtle and serious without completely letting go of broader audiences – in which case he needed a much stronger lead actor and should have either dropped the final act, which feels like a leftover from a Hitchcock movie, or shortened the preceeding two sections. It’s all perfectly well-made, but sadly most audiences would be past caring by this point.
Val Guest at Hammer
- Family Affair (1954)
- Men of Sherwood Forest (1954)
- Break in the Circle (1955)
- The Lyons Abroad (1955)
- The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
- Quatermass II (1957)
- The Abominable Snowman (1957)
- The Camp on Blood Island (1958)
- Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)
- Hell is a City (1960)
- The Full Treatment (1960)
- When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)
- Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (1984) – TV anthology, 3 episodes
DVD Availability: The film is available in no frills but perfectly acceptable version in the US as part of the Hammer Icons of Suspense DVD box, which is very economical, easy to get and offers top-notch picture and sound quality for six films on three DVDs – the other titles are The Snorkel, Cash on Demand, Never Take Sweets From A Stranger, Maniac and Joseph Losey’s The Damned – you really should go and get it you know.
The Full Treatment (1960)
Director: Val Guest
Producer: Val Guest
Screenplay: Val Guest, Ronald Scott Thorn
Cinematography: Gil Taylor
Art Direction: Tony Masters
Music: Stanley Black
Cast: Ronald Lewis, Diane Cilento, Claude Dauphin, Françoise Rosay, Bernard Braden, Katya Douglas, Barbara Chilcott, Anne Tirard