Seance On A Wet Afternoon, 1964. 6/10

Interesting crime/suspense drama. Myra’s (Kim Stanley’s) obsession with her lost child develops into full-blown madness once she gets her husband Billy (Richard Attenborough) to kidnap a young girl as a sort of surrogate child. The psychological tension builds between her growing delusion and the actual crime of the kidnapping. The seances are benchmarks of her mental state, as well as vivid descriptions of her stillborn son’s ‘life.’ Unfortunately, there’s so much going on with the kidnapping theme that the delusional aspect takes a back seat for most of the movie.

The kidnapping itself, as others have pointed out, is a bit far-fetched. Granted that we’re dealing with the more trusting standards of the 60s; still, the girl would not be left vulnerable for such a casual reason. It’s difficult to figure how long she’s kept by the looney couple, but keeping her drugged for most of that time would’ve been very dangerous; the more so because neither Billy nor Myra knows anything about medicine. And why did they wait to release her after they’ve got the ransom money? Again, it’s hard to tell how much time elapses, but to maintain our suspension of disbelief you would think her release in the woods should appear to be immediately after Billy gets the money bag. Why does he scout out the junky vacant lot unless he’s going to leave her there? The long chase sequence is nicely done, but I agree that the police should’ve brought the chauffeur along to point out Billy.

The girl is more or less a cipher throughout; the only really interesting moments for her character occur when she’s initially skeptical about the ‘hospital’ ruse, and, much later, when she comes down the stairs calling Myra ‘mom.’ If there had been more focus on the girl there would be all sorts of possibilities: she’s realizes what’s happened to her, maybe tries to escape, but falls into a (perhaps drug-induced) delusion that she really is at home. But she gets about as much attention as her teddy bear.

In a weird way, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Billy. He’s so hen-pecked and marginalized. He can’t do anything right as far as Myra’s concerned; the scene where he’s preparing the ransom note is agonizing. She’s taunting him about not thinking like a criminal, as though such behavior should come naturally. She actually takes few risks herself. He’s an enabler. At the end he finally asserts himself and tells her what she is: that her son was never alive, she doesn’t have memories of him, etc. The ‘shrine’ that she’s preserved for him is haunting.

Some reviewers have seen Hitchcock elements in this; maybe there’s some Tennessee Williams flair as well. This is fairly entertaining, but tedious. There’s too much lingering on Myra’s demeanor, and not enough on what’s behind that smug mask. 6/10.

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