Bryan Forbes (director)
Network on Air (studio)
13 January 2020 (released)
20 January 2020
An oddball and sombre psychological thriller from 1964 starring Richard Attenborough as a sickly husband whose dominating wife, a rather unhinged medium, persuades him to kidnap the young daughter of a wealthy family so she can gain respect, fame and… a good income.
Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) lives with her devoted husband Billy (Dickie Attenborough, sporting a prosthetic nose) in an exceptionally large house in a leafy London suburb (Wimbledon in actuality). Myra is a not overly successful medium who sincerely believes she has the second sight. More often than not she feels ‘guided’ by the spirit of her stillborn son Arthur. Billy is an asthmatic, thus unable to work for most of the time. In order to better the cash-flow situation (the upkeep of the large house is one of the reasons they need money) the pair come up with an ingenious and apparently foolproof plan, namely to kidnap (Myra prefers the word 'borrow') a little school girl named Amanda Clayton (Judith Donner) whose parents (Nanette Newman and Mark Eden respectively) are very wealthy indeed. After the girl is kidnapped the Savages demand a ransom, and a high one at that. This however has nothing to do with their actual motive as they aren’t crooks. In fact they intend to give the money back (quite how is another thing never properly explained here). The idea is that Myra will go to the girl's parents and inform them she has been receiving psychic messages as to her whereabouts, of course her main motivation is the (hopefully) ensuing publicity, meaning a more stabile income. Initially everything goes accordingly to plan and a nervous Billy, despite being an amateur kidnapper, pulls it off very well: disguised, he abducts the little girl with comparative ease from her school and drives off in her chauffeur's Rolls Royce having told the chauffeur that the headmistress has a personal letter for him. After anaesthesizing her with chloroform he places her into the sidecar of his motorbike and returns to his wife’s house. Billy and Myra keep the little girl in a spare room pretending to her that she is in a private hospital being treated for 'double' German measles and thus is under strict quarantine. That said, how the little girl (who is far from stupid) can actually go along with the charade knowing that she was kidnapped doesn't quite tie up. As planned, Myra visits the Claytons and succeeds in arousing the curiosity of Mrs. Clayton who is in a pretty desperate state. On her way out a police constable – keeping an eye on the house – stops Myra and asks for the reason of her visit, stupidly she hands him her business card.
Meanwhile Billy is busy rushing between Leicester Square and Piccadilly tube station where he manages quite guilefully to relieve the distraught Mr. Clayton of an old B.O.A.C. bag containing the ransom money. These scenes are deftly handled by director Forbes. Then things start to go wrong when the inevitable happens and the police knock on the Claytons’ door who, as a precaution, have temporarily hidden the girl in another place. The ransom money is hidden in the garden. Detective Sergeant Beedle (Gerald Sim) believes Myra Savage to be innocent and leaves. A short while later Myra holds one of her séances and to her surprise Mrs. Clayton attends. When Billy realizes she is the mother of the kidnapped girl he grows very nervous indeed…
During the séance Myra has one of her 'turns' and falls to the floor. Alarmed by the sound Billy, who has been tending to Amanda, rushes downstairs to her aid and forgets to lock the door. The guests, including Mrs. Clayton, leave the house. That’s unfortunate as a few minutes later Amanda stands on the staircase, curious about the commotion. As a result she sees them both (hitherto they wore medical outfits and face masks supposedly to protect them from the measles virus). Now the Savages are in trouble! Myra, increasingly unhinged, tells Billy that their stillborn son Arthur wants them to kill the girl so he can have company in the afterlife. Myra is in fact so haunted by the spirit of their dead son that she has become mentally unbalanced. Billy, on the other hand, has no wish to commit murder and comes up with a solution of his own…
This really is an intriguing and unusual film that simply could not be made nowadays in an age in which ‘subtlety’ hardly exists. Attenborough is his usual dependable self and rightly won a BAFTA for ‘Best Actor’. Kim Stanley (the third choice for the role) had only been in one feature film before this and was a die-hard method actress. So ‘method’ in fact that shortly after filming had ended she had to be committed… Need one say more? Director Forbes drops subtle hints in his interview. It is, however, precisely because of this that Kim Stanley's performance (she won ‘Best Actress Award’ from the New York Film Critics Circle) is really quite memorable. Considering the running time there is little sag. A sombre yet telling b/w effort from director Bryan Forbes (who also wrote the script) based on an obscure and little known novel by an Australian author Mark McShane. It is much enhanced by a truly atmospheric score by the great John Barry and is finely photographed by Gerry Turpin (making his debut).