FRAGMENT OF FEAR(director: Richard Sarafian; screenwriter: Paul Dehn; cinematographer: Oswald Morris; editor: Malcolm Cooke; cast: David Hemmings (Tim Brett), Gayle Hunnicutt (Juliet), Flora Robson (Lucy Dawson), Wilfrid Hyde-White (Mr. Copsey), Daniel Massey (Maj. Ricketts), Mona Washbourne (Mrs. Gray), Derek Newark (Sgt. Matthews), Arthur Lowe (Mr. Nugent), Glynn Edwards (C.I.D Superintendent), Mary Wimbush (Bunface); Runtime: 95; Columbia; 1970-UK)
“David Hemmings’ convincing performance gives this film a creepy mood to hang its hat on.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A strangely crafted cult-mystery story that is not resolved in a tidy manner, as it asks the viewer to decide if what they saw was the protagonist’s hallucination or something real!
Tim Brett (Hemmings) is an ex-addict, residing in London, who has turned his life around in the past year by kicking his drug habit and writing a best-selling book about his experiences. His fiancée is a stunning redhead named Juliet (Hunnicutt).
The film opens with Tim in a fancy Italian resort, visiting with his elderly Aunt Lucy Dawson (Robson). She appears as a kindly soul who shows a concern about his association with shady people and tells him that she wants to meet them, as ever since her husband was murdered she has done charity work to help the unfortunate criminals make a better life for themselves. She formed a secret society along with Mrs. Gray (Washbourne) and Mr. Copsey (Wilfrid Hyde-White), called “The Stepping Stones,” which secretly helps the ex-cons get jobs when they are paroled.
In a tourist grave site, Lucy is found strangled to death. The Italian police investigate for a week and come up with no motive for the murder or any suspects. While going back by train to London, Tim encounters an odd lady who gives him a letter to read when he gets home. She says it will help his murder investigation. Since the Italian police were so inefficient, Tim has decided to investigate his aunt’s death on his own.
The letter is a warning for Tim to drop the investigation or else! It was written on his typewriter, as his apartment was broken into and there is a phonograph record with cackling laughter and someone else’s stub of a gold-tipped cigarette in his ash tray. Tim’s about to report it to the police, when a Sgt. Matthews knocks on his door and tells him that an anonymous woman on the train accuses him of making sexual advances. Later she will be found dead after she has another conversation with Tim, asking his forgiveness for what she did.
It turns out that Tim theorizes correctly that Lucy was blackmailing the ex-cons she has helped become successful, and could have been murdered by any one of the 700 secret members of her “Stepping Stones.” Tim is now being setup to look like he’s going crazy so he will be considered an unreliable witness. It also turns out that there is no such a person as Sgt. Matthews. The real police find his story hard to believe without any facts to go on, and Tim retreats into a world of hallucinations as he gets threatening phone calls and can’t get anyone to believe him.
In the climax Tim marries Julia, but has a breakdown and can’t continue the investigation as he’s completely unbalanced and reduced to being in a wheelchair. He even suspects Julia as being a part of those who are persecuting him. The film ends up feeling like a case study for paranoia and madness, more than it does a mystery story. I was absorbed by the story up to a point, but didn’t feel satisfied with the vague way it was resolved. Though, David Hemmings’ convincing performance gives this film a creepy mood to hang its hat on.
REVIEWED ON 8/16/2001 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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