Psychological thriller with a love triangle (actually a quadrangle). Starring Kurt Jurgens, Patricia Neal, and Samantha Eggar, as husband Eric, wife Allison, and her sister Robin, plus mother Mrs. Crawford (Beatrix Lehmann). Making things more interesting is Paul (Ian Bannen), who has an interest in both sisters. The first part of the movie is set in London, then we move to a seaside cottage for the rest.
Allison has been blind since a traumatic event five years before (in 1959), which she doesn’t recall. While she struggles to recover her memory, her eyesight eventually improves. Meanwhile Robin indulges brother-in-law’s sexual appetite. Unsurprisingly, Allison’s disability has psycho-sexual origin.
We start off with Paul tooling around town with Allison in his Jaguar, and then back to the Crawford’s, where Allison’s two young daughters are waiting. Eric comments on Paul’s closeness to Allison. She tells Eric “would you like us to be lovers?” They discuss Robin, who just left her husband. “Waiting for her?” asks Eric of Paul’s interest in Robin. No. “Once bitten, twice shy.”
Eric and Allison get smooching pretty nicely. Then we meet Robin, looking fetching and flirty, obviously making herself at home. “I’ll have my old room back, if you don’t mind.” Eric isn’t so keen on the whole visit, and refers to some mysterious “it” that he doesn’t want to happen again. Although she insists that she loves her sister, Eric thinks “hate” is more appropriate–no room for nuance there.
Next morning, we discover that Paul has spent the night, at Robin’s behest. Robin to Allison: “Eric insists that I’m a bad influence on you.” They discuss Paul. At a clothing store, the difference in their personalities is apparent in a small aside, to a clerk. Allison says to the person “You’re very kind.” Then Robin dismisses the compliment by saying “You’re getting paid, aren’t you?”. Oh, I see.
After admiring herself at great length in a dressing room, Robin gets a slinky dress, on Allison’s dime. At lunch, they talk about Allison’s blindness. Very poignantly, she tells Robin, “One of my children I’ve never seen.” She does know that the condition is psychosomatic. After holding one of her napping children, Eric tells her that her mom is having issues with her place; he suggests that she go down there with the kids.
Just then, Robin pops in wearing her new dress, letting Eric ‘do it up.’ Allison asks Robin if she wants to go the country with them. Well, no, she’d rather hang around with Paul. She starts to flirt openly with Eric; when he tries to get her to bag off, she grazes his hand with scissors.
A bit later, Allison tries to get Robin to talk about the accident. Nothing new about that, but Robin agrees to go to the mom’s after all. The next thing, they’re on their way. Of course, the “cottage” looks more like a mansion, albeit a dilapidated one.
Alone in her old room, Allison’s got the nostalgia going. She wants to talk to Mom about Eric; she has an odd hallucinatory sort of parallel conversation with a menacing, accusatory version of mom. Some intense sibling rivalry stuff. Meanwhile, back in London, guess who Eric and Paul discuss? “These Crawford girls have something, as you know” remarks Paul, conspiratorially, but almost as an accusation.
Eric adds “Don’t talk about women as if they were wine.” Strangely, they agree to go down to “Granny’s.” No surprise that Robin is making sport with two local guys. Nasty conversation in the car with Eric suggesting that Paul beat Robin to straighten her out. Eric confesses he looks on Robin as more of a daughter instead of a sister-in-law (her role is similar to a Lolita). “What really happened?” between them, asks Paul.
Then the two women discuss Eric. Allison almost seems to gloat by teasing her sister that she took Eric away from her. Allison is obviously jealous of Robin. For good reason, as Robin reveals “you never knew how your ravishing sister was ravished–on your wedding night.” Wow, take that, sister.
Back at the cottage, the sisters come back riding two-up on horseback. Robin goes sneaking off in the woods with the kids; actually they’ve been stealing currants. It’s hard to know what this portends, as Robin gets in the old guy’s face. Paul was gonna reimburse him, but she gets snippy nonetheless.
Allison excuses her automatically, insisting that Robin needs them. Back outdoors, Robin and Paul roll around; they discuss love, or, from her point of view, his lack of it. She admits that she “worshipped” Eric. That night, Paul comes out to chat with Allison. He’s afraid the situation with Robin is “hopeless.”
Granny has a great line: when Allison lets on that the guys have gone skin-diving, Robin objects that men shouldn’t do those sorts of things together; Granny says “unless it’s with you.” She doesn’t take the hint, again implying that the guys are gay. As Allison figures, Robin, by impugning both Eric and Paul, is bent on humiliating her sister.
The crux of Robin’s argument is that by faking blindness, her sister got Eric by sympathy, not from love. Hmm. Robin stomps out, the guy’s are back. Eric, realizing she’s miserable, he says they should go away together for their anniversary.
On horseback again, Robin seems to lose it–what’s she up to? Well, knocking down Allison before being thrown from the horse. Robin seems to be ok. For Allison, now it comes back: she’d caught Robin in bed with Eric. But Robin has already told her so–does she have to draw a picture? (Not such a bad joke, as we next learn) Robin comes to, and demands that Eric leave Allison and the kids for her.
Viola! Now Allison can see. She tries to tell Eric, but he either knows, or is just preoccupied. I would think the first thing she’d do is go take a nice look at the younger daughter she says never seen. The kids go off to see their cousins (?). Allison’s very uneasy. Robin then hope on Paul’s knee and announces that they’re going to be married.
Then she sort of snuggles up to an obviously sad Eric. Allison is basically left in no-man’s-land, as are the other two: Eric, because he won’t get Robin, and, ironically, Paul, because he will. At least Allison, perenenially miserable, can now see. There’s tons of ways this could’ve ended, most alternatives featuring at least one death. Maybe it’s good that the end is rather quiet, as it suits the suffering that’s been simmering throughout.
This was very promising, but not so satisfying. It was drawn-out like salt water taffy; for a talky movie with a simple plot, that’s almost an unpardonable sin. Eggar is perfect for this vixen role (but not exactly as a teenager). The acidic remarks between the sisters are great. It can’t be said that either guy gets along very well with either of the women. In fact, the only good relationship here is between Eric and Paul.
I’m confused about the chronology: at one point Eric says that Robin’s 17; but that’s impossible, since she was had supposedly been gone for three years, and been married–what, at 14? Maybe she was 17 before she left. What doesn’t help is that Eggar looks to be in her mid-twenties already.
I also don’t get why catching Robin in bed with Eric would be the triggering event for Allison’s blindness; Robin has already told Allison that she also did it with him on their wedding night.
I’d think that would be much deeper of a stab in the back than the incident shown via flashback, when she was pregnant with her youngest daughter (that is, in ’59). It goes without saying that neither moment, or any moment, would be ‘acceptable’.
Psyche 59 looks great, establishes a moody, tense atmosphere right away, and wraps it up with plenty of snippy, nasty, and witty dialogue. Even with all that going for it, the movie sabotages itself with some plot holes and time-consuming readjusting of each person’s angst. I suppose that’s the downside of exploring psychological themes so rigorously.
Farmermouse thought Paul’s XK-150 was swingin’, but he’s completely befuddled by Eric’s dark sleek sedan (maybe a Lancia?). Anyway, he says seven kiddie swim floats for Psyche 59. 7/10.