young music student Susan Roberts (Stefanie Powers) travels to
a secluded villa in France to visit the family of her idol, the
late composer Henry Ryman. She has grand plans to write a thesis
on the famous musician and has been granted total freedom of the
house by his widow Danielle (Margaretta Scott) to conduct her
research, including access to his personal papers. Also in residence
is the widow's wheelchair-bound paraplegic son Georges (James
Olson). While all seems pretty normal and pleasant at first, Susan
is soon faced with a household of odd activity and strange sights...
with matriarch Danielle smiling the whole time but clearly hiding
something. Georges, who is hopelessly addicted to heroin, has
reoccurring hallucinations about someone with his own face attacking
him whenever he's in bed with a woman.
Susan comes to realize that she looks a lot like poor Georges'
ex-fiancée Catherine (Kirsten Betts), who apparently once lived
in the house but is no longer around. Interesting. As Danielle
makes Susan's visit increasingly awkward, she comes to worry that
her ambitious writing project might be putting her into a nightmare
controlled by someone with dark designs on her life.
obviously one of the long line of psychological thrillers that
Hammer (and plenty of other studios) were cranking out by the
bucket load in the late '60s, Crescendo
elevates itself above the pack in several ways. The script,
co-written by Jimmy Sangster, is one of his more interesting efforts
in that, while stealing wholesale from earlier movies from his
own pen such as Paranoiac, Scream
of Fear, Nightmare
and Hysteria, he added enough things
to the stew to make it a bit fresher than it really should be.
After all — the plot is essentially the exact same damned thing
as three of the four movies I just mentioned! I used to wonder
if Sangster wrote a whole new screenplay each time Hammer asked
for one of these tales or just scratched out the old names and
replaced them. But this is film we're talking about here.
A certain amount of stealing is expected and even lauded if you
can make it somehow entertaining. From what I've read, the screenplay
was originally written by Alfred Shaughnessy in the mid 1960s
and at that time a young Michael (Witchfinder
General) Reeves became interested in directing the project.
But with Reeves' death the project got batted around until Sangster
was put on the case for a rewrite. Its possible the filtering
of someone else's work may account for this film's extra dollop
of interest or at least its entertaining divergences from earlier
stories of the same type. Of course, I'm tempted to give some
credit to director Alan Gibson as I've always been entertained
by his often mocked '70s twofer of Dracula
A.D. 1972 and The
Satanic Rites of Dracula but the truth is the director's
hand is only strongly felt a few times. Gibson does a good job
with this story but another competent filmmaker could have probably
done just as well.
are some real stand out elements on display that make this well
worth seeing. First — I loved the bookend shot-on-location sections
at the beginning and end of the film. As the entire center of
the movie takes place in the house/on a (good) set, having the
real locations there in those places made Susan's arrival and
departure seem very much like entering and leaving another world.
Almost as if her stay in the French house of her musical hero
and his bizarre family was a dream turned nightmare she was lucky
to awaken from. Recently a buddy pointed out the similarity of
this bracketing device to Mario Bava's Lisa
and the Devil (1972) and the movie certainly has a similar
feel even if it's a lot less supernaturally mysterious in tone.
Stephanie Powers (TV's Hart to Hart) is one of the best
things about the movie in my opinion. She turns in a completely
believable performance that makes the journey Susan takes sad
and scary by turns. It doesn't hurt that she was a stunning beauty
and I was not made unhappy by her extended time spent in a bikini
also enjoyed the sleazy aspects of the tale. There's drug addiction,
sexual deviancy of several types, blackmail and nasty jealousy
around every corner. I was almost relived when the matriarch of
this sick household revealed herself as not quite the sick puppy
I thought she might be as I had become sure incest was on the
plate. Another fine performance is provided by James Olson as
Georges. He has a tough job as he has to appear to be hiding things
(which he is) but also seem honest in his affection for Susan
at the same time. Attributing his swings of emotion and temperament
to his addiction is the obvious thing and it provides a solid
cover for the warring desires the actor has to play.
is necessary for any movie of this kind the mystery at the center
of it all has to hold a viewer's interest and Crescendo
succeeds beautifully on that point. I can honestly say that
when the answer to things popped up I was shocked and it was
just about the last thing I was expecting. The small hints toward
a supernatural element are almost always a red herring in these
movies so I had started to think (as I'm sure we are supposed
to) that Georges just went nonverbal in his drug induced fits
and pounded on the piano…. and maybe his mother, if you follow
my incestuous thought progression. I also liked the vaguely
sinister chauffeur/servant played by Joss Ackland and the evil/sexy
maid played by Jane Lapotaire. Her exit from the story is quite
well handled with the sight of the drained pool adding to the
mystery as well as the creep factor.
one story element that I didn't think worked perfectly was Susan
falling in love with Olsen's character. It was the one element
that seemed, in a way, too much... except... Powers had me buying
it. That's how good she is here, in my opinion. She's so visibly
giddy in her happiness and thrilled by her circumstances that
she pulls it off quite well. Also, the obvious emotional rush
Susan was feeling at her amazing opportunity to write about her
idol made it plausible (to a degree) that she would get swept
up in a romance. It wasn't until after the film was over that
I thought too hard about that aspect of the story which tells
me the movie worked better than it had a right to.
to the joy of Hammer Film fans Crescendo
has been released to DVD as a part of the Warner Archive series
of discs. These are 'burn on demand' DVD-Rs of a higher grade
than home burning allows for and can only be ordered online either
from Warner's directly or from Amazon.
general these discs are a good in-between buying option for movies
the studio consider too unknown to be profitable for a normal
release. At least collectors and film aficionados can actually
see some of the hundreds of movies trapped in the vaults even
if remastering isn't always in evidence. I might complain about
a lack of extras but that is silly considering we're lucky to
see the film on DVD at all but I do think the asking price is
far too high for something with no bonus material.
looks very good on this disc with sharp detail and bright colors.
The image is presented widescreen at 1.85:1 and is enhanced for
16X9 TVs. The single audio track option is also solid and quite
clear. Altogether, other than the price, this is a darned good
disc and film well worth seeing. 2/01/10