News 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).
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.
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.
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,