UK / 74 minutes / bw / Hammer, Exclusive Dir: Francis Searle Pr: Anthony Hinds Scr: Kenneth Hyde, John Hunter, Francis Searle Story: The Rossiters (1947 play) by Kenneth Hyde Cine: Walter Harvey Cast: Helen Shingler, Clement McCallin, Sheila Burrell, Frederick Leister, Henry Edwards, Ann Codrington, Dorothy Batley, Gabrielle Blunt, Eleanor Bryan, Ewen Solon, Robert Percival, Dennis Castle, Frederic Steger, Stanley Baker, Anthony Allen.
Everyone is colluding to hide it from Liz Rossiter (Shingler), gravely paralyzed ever since a car accident, that her husband Peter (McCallin) is having an affair with her superbitch sister-in-law, Honor (Burrell), the widow of Peter’s brother Christopher. (Most of the time, just as Liz is called “Mrs. Peter,” Honor is called “Mrs. Christopher.”) Complicit in this conspiracy of silence are Peter’s mother, Marty (Codrington), the old family GP, Dr. John “Ben” Bendix (Edwards), the maid Alice (Blunt), Liz’s nurse Westy (Batley), and even Sir James Ferguson (Leister), the specialist called in from London by Bendix to see what if anything can be done to cure Liz; Sir James dropped by the local pub, The Oak, to ask directions and saw Peter there with Honor.
Liz (Helen Shingler) undergoes Sir James’s medical tests.
It soon proves impossible to keep the truth from Liz—or for Liz to keep the truth from herself. Matters are brought to a head when Peter brings home a necklace as a gift for Liz but mislays it while with Honor; Honor finds it and brings it to the house, making the circumstances as obvious as she can. Matters soon go from bad to worse, as Honor’s behavior becomes ever more blatant. When Alice is sent down to Honor’s cottage to ask Honor up to the main house for a conversation with Liz, she finds Dr. Bendix there; Honor not only refuses the invitation but implies that the reason for Dr. Bendix’s visit was to confirm that she’s pregnant—with Peter’s child.
Peter (Clement McCallin) can’t quite bring himself to kiss his wife (Helen Shingler) on the lips.
Peter calls by soon after, and this time Honor is more forthright in her lie about the pregnancy. (Bendix was in fact treating her for a migraine.) Peter goes off to the pub to get himself spectacularly plastered. Meanwhile Liz persuades Alice to wheel her down to the cottage, then leave her with Honor.
Honor (Sheila Burrell) vents her spleen on Liz (Helen Shingler) in the final confrontation.
Honor produces a gun, and to her astonishment Liz discovers she’s regaining some control of her limbs; earlier Bendix and Sir James had indeed suspected that at least part of her paralysis might be psychosomatic. Liz picks up the gun from where Honor has thrown it; Honor tries to get it back from her; there’s a struggle; as in a thousand other movies, the gun goes off and . . . you’ve guessed the rest.
Using her steadily improving mobility, Liz is able to push her wheelchair back up to the big house, where she collapses on the terrace. When she recovers consciousness she’s ready with a collection of plausible lies, foremost among them that it was Honor who pushed her home . . .
The ever-sympathetic Dr, Bendix (Henry Edwards).
This movie has a very great deal to recommend it, not least a uniform excellence among the cast. If anyone stands out it’s Burrell, who manages the transition from beauty to vileness—almost monstrosity—and back with extraordinary smoothness; we can see exactly how she’s managed to fascinate and ensnare Peter, while at the same time it comes as no surprise when someone blurts out that the reason her husband, Christopher, is dead is that, serving his country in WWII, he preferred to stay at the Front than come home.
Some of the actors in minor parts are good too, like the cops Sergeant Cosgrove (Percival), Constable Briggs (Castle) and the unnamed detective inspector brought in from Lunnun (Solon). There’s a tiny role for the young Stanley Baker as pub habitue Joe.
Peter (Clement McCallin) reacts to the news of Honor’s baby the way he reacts to just about everything: he gets stocious in the pub.
Also of note is Harvey’s cinematography. In one superb little piece of perception, as Alice pushes Liz in her wheelchair down to Honor’s cottage through evening shadows, the trees dapple the light falling on them. The pair take on almost the aspect of water creatures swimming though the shallows; with each step Alice appears to break the surface and gasp in a new breath. Another fine piece of work—this time of direction/editing—occurs when Alice’s sister Agnes (Bryan), maid to Honor, discovers her mistress sprawled dead on the living-room floor. Agnes draws in her breath for the de rigueur scream . . . but instead what we see and hear is the phone shrilling in Bendix’s home.
Alice (Gabrielle Blunt) wheels Liz (Helen Shingler) through dappled shadows to the cottage.
The ending, in which in a sense nothing is settled—except that, for Liz, there’s a most ideal denouement—has attracted some flak; it’s certainly unexpected. I personally found it completely satisfying, with nothing more needing to be spelled out—it reminded me in this respect of the similarly controversial ending to Paolo Maurensig’s novel La Variante di Lüneburg (1993; vt The Lüneburg Variation)—but I can understand completely how others might find it infuriating: the story has perfectly completed one plot arc while leaving the other wide open for the viewer to complete.