Blind Terror (1971) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

Blind-Terror_spanish-smallNews of a possible remake (see here) made me to look again at this suspenser in which Mia Farrow plays the resourceful heroine on the run from a killer. Released in the US as See No Evil, this underrated thriller benefits from a taut script by Brian Clemens and well-calibrated direction from Richard Fleischer and has a great leading lady in Farrow, who brings resilience and vulnerability to her playing of Sarah Rexton, who after being blinded in an accident returns home to recover but becomes the target of a psychopath.

I offer this review for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Movie meme at his fab Sweet Freedom blog.

“Keep your eyes on what she cannot see” – poster tagline

A number of thrillers over the decades have featured blind protagonists, and tend to come in two categories: the less common has the hero also as an investigator, such as (and yes, they’re all male – hmm), Edward Arnold as the private eye (sic) in Eyes in the Night (1942) and its sequel, The Hidden Eye (1943); Van Johnson as the writer and amateur sleuth in 23 Paces to Baker Street (1955) and John Gregson in the Boileau-Narcejac puzzler Faces in the Dark (1960). More often than not though it is used within the framework of a woman in peril narrative, such as Uma Thurman in the still under-regarded Jennifer 8 (1992) and Madeline Stowe is the rather less terrific Blink (1994); Bryce Dallas Howard in M Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004) and probably best-known of all, Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark (1967), adapted from the popular Broadway and West End play by Frederick Knott. Blind Terror / See No Evil falls squarely within this second category and was designed as the kind of film that Hitchcock might have made (or at least produced for his TV series).

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90 minutes in length, this compact movie is subdivided into three almost exactly 30-minute sections. The first serves to set up the main characters and establish a man only identified by his distinctive cowboy boots as an external threat. We first see the man (or anyway, the legs and boots – until the end we never see the face, so could be a woman) coming out of a cinema showing a horror double bill and then walk past newspapers with headlines about terrible murders and shops selling replica guns. Clearly this man is surrounded by violent images and very shortly will act on them when a passing car, driven by Sarah’s uncle, splashes his boots. Seemingly innocuous, this proves to be a serious faux pax, with the car later being scratched and then, as the retaliation escalates, leading to multiple murders. Which is to say that the scenario is pared to the bone, to focus as much as possible on creating suspense by putting out leading lady in a succession of difficult situations.

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Then film really kicks into high great after this first half hour with a highly memorable middle section that runs some 25 minutes in which Sarah returns from a ride with her old boyfriend to what she thinks is an empty house. Told with virtually no dialogue, we slowly but surely come to realise that everyone inside (her aunt, uncle and cousin) has been murdered, only she doesn’t know this – not until, in a superbly realised slow tracking shot down a hallway, we head for the bathroom where she is planning to have a soak and where we know she will eventually find a dead body. Fleischer stretches this superbly before breaking the tension when Sarah comes hurtling out of the room in fear and we back track at furious speed as she looks for help. But who is responsible? The surly gardener, the labourer who works for her old boyfriend who has rather  a bad character, or a Roma traveller who we see near the house? By keeping the identity a secret (the only clue is a chain bearing a name which was left at the scene of the crime by mistake and which she gets hold of), we are partly able to share the heroine’s ‘darkness’ about what is going on, a neat little device that works very well. Indeed, compared with the likes of Wait Until Dark, the story here is kept deliberately simple but is all to its benefit, keeping toe focus on Farrow and how she will get out of her deathly peril.

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This is a good looking, well shot and very capably executed film – the one area where there apparently was some trouble was the music. The original score was composed by Farrow’s then husband, Andre Previn, but was rejected, as was a replacement effort by David Whitaker. Eventually Elmer Bernstein came in at the last-minute, and seemingly tasked with giving this fairly small film a greater sense of scale than it really possessed, he produced a score  that is frequently over-emphatic, right from the bombastic opening titles to the bucolic sequences of horse riding in the country, which are very pretty but which can’t quite match the majestic sweep of the score. You can listen to that title track here:

DVD Availability: The film is available in no frills but perfectly acceptable DVD all round the globe sporting a superb transfer of the US version of the film under the See No Evil which is a few seconds longer than the UK cut.

Blind Terror (1971)
Director: Richard Fleischer
Producer: Martin Ransohoff
Screenplay: Brian Clemens
Cinematography: Gerry Fisher
Art Direction: John Hoesli
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Mia Farrow, Dorothy Alison, Robin Bailey, Diane Grayson, Brian Rawlinson, Norman Eshley, Paul Nicholas, Michael Elphick,

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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45 Responses to Blind Terror (1971) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. I’ve always rather liked Mia Farrow, Sergio, and I think she’s quite good in this role. You’re right, too, that the suspense builds quite effectively as the film goes on. It’s a really fine little example of this sort of plot, and I like the fact that it’s not full of ‘frills.’ I think that makes it more effective.

    • Thanks Margot – I agree, it is a modest movie but gets the best out of it without getting overblown! One can imagine how a more recent movie would extend it wildly!

  2. realthog says:

    I seem somehow never to have managed to see this one, Sergio. Many thanks for the tantalizing reminder!

  3. Colin says:

    We mentioned this the other week and I’ve had it on my radar ever since. I’m pleased you did a write up on it so soon and I think I’d like it – the premise is one that appeals and I like a lot of the people involved, although ‘ve always had a hard time with Mia Farrow on screen as there’s something about her that turns me off.
    Wow, that opening score is a bit powerful, isn’t it! More than a bit OTT for this kind of movie.

    • I know what you mean as she can seem a bit chilly – her best work has undoubtedly been with Woody Allen but she needs to be tough and resourceful and vulnerable and does it very well here.

      • Colin says:

        Yes, I can believe that – I’ll definitely be making an effort to catch up with this one.

        • Review of AND NOW THE DARKNESS to be posted fairly soon (well, July), followed by DOCTOR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE – Oh yes, am on a Brian clemens kick …

          • Colin says:

            DJ&SH isn’t at all bad, a different spin on the old tale, but I’ve never been fond of And Soon the Darkness – mind you, it’s been a very long time (25+ years) since I last saw it.

          • I prefer the others to And Soon the Darkness, I agree with you there, but I enjoyed watching it again none the less. Have no idea if the remake is any good though … (probably not, lets face it, the odds are not good)

  4. Todd Mason says:

    No matter how overmatching the score, having come here from seeing the execrable trailer for Hammer’s production of STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING, everything in the world seems subdued…possibly excepting Donald Trump.

  5. Blind and hunted does sound Hitchcockian, as also evident from the look of near terror on Mia Farrow’s face. That’s a lot of films with “blind protagonists.” Sergio, I have probably seen just one of her films and I think it was HANNAH AND HER SISTERS.

  6. Patti Abbott says:

    Pretty sure I saw this because I was a fan of hers back in the day. I would choose ROSEMARY’S BABY as my favorite performance. But she did well for Woody in all of those films.

  7. Bradstreet says:

    Clemens has some interesting movies on his CV. It’s only sad that he was active in them at a period when the British movie industry was at a bit of a low, as they would probably have been better remembered had they been made in the ’60s. I saw the movie once, donkey’s years ago, and the fact that I can still remember so much of it says a lot. It’s interesting that you mention the fact that it’s split into three sections, as I can recall Clemens and his friend and sometime co-writer Dennis Spooner talking about the importance of the ‘three-part-structure’ or ‘dramatic W’ in writing thrillers—Hook the audience, give them some plot. hook them again, ,more plot, move up to rip-roaring climax. They then went on to show how HAMLET is structured in the same way! The Bernstein is a bit of a mis-match (although I’m a big fan of Bernstein) and it’s telling that Clemens normally stuck with Laurie Johnson, who seemed to understand Clemens style better.

    • Thanks very much for Brad and great to be reminded of the great Dennis Spooner. Clemens apparently sold this as a spec script so had less control over the post-production one would imagine (though like you, I love much of Bernstein’s work – the theme from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD still makes me blub).

      • Bradstreet says:

        Not really part of the main topic, but it is rather criminal that some of Bernstein’s soundtrack work isn’t commercially available. He did a Lionel Jeffries flim called THE AMAZING MR BLUNDEN back in the early ’70s, and his music is achingly beautiful. As far as I know it’s never been released in any format.

        • Oh I agree, I love that film, a really complex ghost story for children that can stand many repeated viewings. Bernstein did a great job there – he was/is fairly well represented on LP / CD overall I would argue (including those titles he put out on his own label, albeit in very limited numbers). Apparently tapes of the Blunden score to exist, at least, but there are licensing issues sadly …

  8. John says:

    Like Brad I’ve seen this movie only once (on TV when I was about 14 or so and under the US title SEE NO EVIL) and it’s one of those rare instances in my lifelong love affair with cinema in which one viewing left an indelible mark on my memory. This movie scared the beejesus out of me. Mia Farrow plays the terrified victim better than any actress I know of. She has that secret talent of making the viewer feel he plight and suffer along with her. It’s truly rare in any movie that deals with fright and terrorization at this level. When she turned to comedy under the tutelage of Woody Allen we all got to see what a truly versatile actress she really was. Great movie to highlight. I’m sure a lot of people know nothing about it.

  9. Sergio – I saw this film many years ago. Time to find and it and watch it again. Thanks for the reminder that it was written by the great Brain Clemens and directed by the underrated Richard Fleischer.

  10. Extremely interesting; I’ll look out for it. Brian Clemens was a very talented storyteller. I’m slightly baffled about the idea of a score by Andre Previn being rejected…

    • Thanks Martin – I have no idea what happened with the score, it may just have been a power play behind the scenes, but if I had to guess they probably thought his approach too modernist / esoteric and wanted a bigger name with a score that was more obviously commercial.

      • Todd Mason says:

        Just found another contender in the Overmatching Score competition, in another citation this week, A COLD WIND IN AUGUST, which overcompensates and overanticipates its tale of a “cougar”‘s seduction of a “young” man (supposedly 17, actor pushing 30 and Aw, Shucks-ing like nobody’s business)…but Lola Albright is good in it as the (not really enough) older woman. (Trying to be SUMMER OF ’42 in 1961 was even trickier, I guess.)

  11. Todd Mason says:

    Though the score to beat is for the Belushi/Ackroyd film NEIGHBORS, where the actively obnoxious music is trying to be a laugh track.

    • Was than Bill Conti? Of course, quite often you have no idea what you are listening to – in the climax to Die Hard, after Gruber’s fall, we get nothing further by credited composer Michael Kamen and instead get extended pieces of music from John Scott (from his score of the 1980s version of MAN ON FIRE) and James Horner (from KRULL), all three gentlemen having completely different styles and approaches to music.

  12. I’m very impressed by your ability to list so many films with this theme – you are like Margot with the crime books!

  13. tracybham says:

    i like Mia Farrow, but this definitely seems like a movie designed to scare me, which I don’t like. I can take action and violence, but when I get really tense, I don’t have fun. But I enjoyed your review.

    • Well, obviously it is meant to get you all worked up once the suspense kicks in, but is not violent or bloody – the approach is very restrained – I think the rating was always PG.

  14. Pingback: And Soon the Darkness (1970) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Movie | Tipping My Fedora

  15. Colin says:

    Back bumping another oldish thread since I’ve just watched the movie. I really liked this one, and though Farrow was excellent and most convincing in the difficult title role.
    I thought the first half hour a tad dull; I know the situation had to be set up but it still dragged somewhat. However, my attention has held firmly from then on and I can see myself revisiting it again. Good pick and I’m delighted you brought it to my attention.

    • Really glad you liked this one – I know what you mean about the opening third of the film, the pace is so much slower than the rest – just as well the rest works so well but maybe they could has the killer do other terrible things before getting to the house but the you would lose the contrast. What we probably need more are details about Farrow’s old life maybe in the form of flashbacks? Nothing like backseat filmmaking is there 😆

      • Colin says:

        To tell the truth, I was waiting for a flashback to kick in, there was at leas one natural point for this. That aside, it was a very enjoyable movie, so small criticisms only.

        • Well I think we agree they missed a trick – maybe it was cut it?

          • Colin says:

            Perhaps. You know the bit I mean – when she lies down with the music on and the camera zooms in on her eyes. I don’t think a flashback was essential, the accident was addressed, just not in a very overt fashion, and nothing major is missing as far as I can tell. It’s just the early pacing, and a few other matters, that suggest something like that may have been in the script at some point at the very least.

          • I think you are spot – I wouldn’t want the film to be longer but if there was a flashback I wish they had kept that and tightened the opening section instead.

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