Hysteria, 1965. 9.5/10

English murder mystery thriller involving that good old device, amnesia. Robert Webber plays unlucky American Chris Smith, a car accident victim who can’t remember who he is. Only a newspaper photo found on him provides a clue. The mystery intensifies, as he finds he has an unknown benefactor; then there’s a murder. Is Chris possibly connected to it? Or has he been set-up/framed? We’ll see.

Filling out the cast are Anthony Webber, Celia Goldoni, Jennifer Jayne, Maurice Denham, and Peter Woodthorpe as, respectively, Dr. Keller, Denise James, Gina McConnell, Hemmings, and Marcus Allan.

For openers, we find Chris talking to his doctor: just to humor him, Chris makes up a story about his past. Now we hear about the “anonymous benefactor” who’s paid his medical bills. He’s discharged; the nurse Gina gets his belongings together, including the magazine photo of an attractive girl.

It’s obvious that Gina thinks she’s his ‘girl.’ He’s off to–find out who the hell he is. First stop is at the detective’s, Hemmings; to find out who the girl in the photo is, and the identity of his benefactor. Chris finds a flat (where he lived before the accident). He’s bound to find out more about himself now.

Awakening, he hears neighbors arguing, and a woman screaming for help. When he investigates, he finds a deserted, but vandalized apartment. In fact, the whole place seems deserted. Back at his place he finds another photo of the mystery woman. It’s got a photographer name on the back.

That would be Marcus Allan [not the former Oakland Raider]. Marcus is busy with a model; but, the girl in question was murdered six months ago. In the messed-up penthouse apartment he just explored, no less. Well, not really, as she just blows by in a TR-4.

Looking for answers, he goes to see Dr. Keller; the doc is skeptical about the reborn girl in a Triumph thing. Chris can’t stop bumping into her though, at his (and hers?) weird apartment building. Guess who he runs into? No, not the girl, but Hemmings. So far, Chris is the only one who’s seen her. Is he going nuts? Gaslighting in Swinging London?

Hemmings says that he agrees with Keller that Chris has had “side-effects” err, “hallucinations.” So, he’s off the case. Strangely, the next night, Chris hears the same couple arguing: this time he finds two clues in the penthouse–running shower, and a bloody knife.

The real shocker is Denise, the undead woman, materializes. Very swank and elegant, she relates that he was a passenger in her husband’s car when it wrecked. Which sort of explains the photo Chris had of her. “You’re supposed to be dead!” Yeah, and she said she’d just that day arrived in London. Maybe Chris isn’t done hallucinating.

Well, she was the benefactor, as she assumed that the accident was her husband fault. And, her presence there? She owns the building. Good time for the straight-arrow Gina shows up. Why doesn’t he encourage her to stay. At any rate, Chris takes Denise out to dinner.

A Hitchcock-type snooper watches them leave the restaurant. Same drill with the spectral arguing couple that night. The good old recurring nightmare device. Like finding a cereal box toy, it’s going to be fun finding the latest clues. Just maybe not this time.

He might’ve made a mistake taking pills that Denise gave him. Maybe the French lady’s apartment, and her bed that he finds himself in, qualifies as both a surprise and a mistake. What I didn’t notice the first time around is that he’s been abducted to France. I missed the boat, as it turns out, on this entire sequence.

Anyway, he’s a scam victim. He lost his wallet and shakes her down for it. A rough looking guy, then a couple of them, try and ambush Chris–an obvious set-up. Pretty good derring-do scene as he jumps out a window into an open car below, and escapes.

Very adventurously, the driver (Sandra Boize) takes him along to her hotel; she plans to fly to England the next day with car (didn’t know they had an Air Ferry). She lands, with Chris in the trunk. All’s well, but who is this woman? Wisely, he ditches her at first opportunity; getting a lift from a guy in a Bentley Continental. That guy is in fact Denise’s husband.

He’s got to scrape together yet another story for this guy. Omninously, they approach a waylaid car and two kids playing by the roadside. Well, they avoid the kid, but in doing so, run off the road, and basically replay the wreck that gave birth to the plot.

Back to the present: Chris’s looking for clues at the crash site. Maybe this is too clever. The way this plays at first seems to imply that Chris hallucinated the entire sequence. Finally, it dawns on me that this is a flashback.

At his place, Chris and Denise argue about his ‘identity crisis.’ A tidbit doesn’t fit: she’s using a cleaver that he’s never seen before. Now the argumentative voices chime in even as he continues talking to Denise. He goes into a sort of trance, then collapses.

He crawls along, brandishing the knife. Denise screams. Has he killed her? The shower’s running, a bad sign. Sure enough, Psycho-style, he finds her stabbed to death in there. That doesn’t mean, of course, that this really happened. In fact, maybe nothing after he left the hospital really happened.

There’s a thickening of suspense, as it’s impossible to tell what will happen next. My cereal box surprise deal… open the box, and…It’s, oh, someone at the door?! Just Gina. He tells her what he did; bet you a hundred quid that there’s no body there. There is! But not Denise, it’s an older woman. She runs to get Keller.

They return together, but no body, no Chris. He calls. Weirdly, Keller says Gina’s not there. She tries to get to the phone, but, out of left field, Keller punches her. Keller is the mastermind, of something. He plans to meet up with Chris at a pub.

Aha! When Keller hangs up, who walks in but sleek, svelte Denise. “What’s gone wrong?” she asks, obviously in cahoots with Keller. Oh, so the older dead woman was Keller’s wife. It’s all about Denise wanting to eliminate Keller’s wife to marry him.

They got to move fast: put Gina in the shower and call the police. That’s to frame Chris. But having arranged Gina’s body, Denise is surprised by Chris. Me too. “Seen a ghost?” he asks. He goads her by saying that he thought he’d killed her. He now claims that he recovered his memory shortly after the accident.

He figured that Keller’s pills were hallucinogenic. The voices at night were tape-recordings. She pulls a gun on him; then on the balcony, she hits him with a bottle. Hemmings appears and saves the day. There’s Keller calling from the pub. He suspects nothing, and returns. Chris fakes death, letting Keller plant a knife on him.

Onto the shower stall; is he going to stab Gina? No, it’s the dead wife he stabs. A revived Chris disarms him, as a revived Gina looks on. Hemmings turns the unhappy couple in to the law. Chris comes out ahead, as Gina’s solidly in his camp. I liked her better than shiftly old Denise anyway.

What an incredible mystery! I’m never been fooled so much by so many sudden shifts, twists, and turns. The last half is especially riveting. The only issue I’ve with the casting is Keller’s character. Who would believe that Denise would be interested in him? I can certainly see that she would have an ability to manipulate him, however.

I’m still struggling to comprehend the segue into the French interlude and its aftermath. Coming as it does immediately after Chris takes the drug Keller had prescribed, we’re tricked into thinking he’s hallucinating this, or that he has flipped into a parallel universe and everyone here is along for the ride.

The hallucination angle makes even more sense given Denise’s complicity with Keller. They both want Chris to get as drugged as possible; that will only serve to increase his hallucinations, which will drive him off the deep end more rapidly.

The plot already plunges us into a game of blind man’s bluff, it’s way too much to expect us to play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. There’s only so much elasticity available to help suspend our disbelief. Despite this rather large reservation, I liked this movie so much that the overall experience wasn’t tainted more than a little.

A must-see for ’60s mystery/thriller fans in particular, and mystery fans generally. 9.5/10

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