Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Four Sided Triangle
Truth Or Square?
Four Sided Triangle
Directed by Terence Fisher
Anchor Bay Region 1
I took a look at a movie called Four Sided Triangle the other week. I was surprised to find that it’s an utterly charming film and not at all what I was expecting from an early Hammer experiment in science fiction with shades of horror. I’d heard, after all, that the film can be considered a dry run for the same director’s breakthrough Hammer hit The Curse Of Frankenstein but, asides from a few of the normal references about man tampering with God’s work, I found the comparison to be a rather forced one myself.
It’s also very English.
Indeed, it wears its Englishness proudly on its sleeve and feels almost like something my country’s movie makers might have turned out in the war-torn mid-forties rather than a film made in 1953. It seems out of its time in many ways but you can see that there wouldn’t be that many more movies made with this kind of flavour to them around this era. The days of this kind of “cosy” film-making were definitely coming to an end around this time, methinks.
So, in much the same way that Dr. No is a James Bond film which is not quite a James Bond film... Four Sided Triangle is a Hammer horror which isn’t really quite a horror movie as yet. It has elements which, if the director had exploited them in a specific way, would have pushed the movie’s atmosphere well into the kind of territory which is more familiar to modern Hammer fans. I’ve not read the novel this movie was based on myself (yet... I’v recently managed to pick up a first edition for cheap, which wasn’t absolutely falling to pieces, from Abe Books) but my understanding is that the final sections of the novel are a lot more sharp and acidic than the scenes that are played out in the screen version. I don’t really care, though, because this movie is a wonderful little film to spend an hour or so of a peaceful afternoon with.
The film starts off in a very English manner by having the venerable James Hayter breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience by way of narrating the story. I’ve liked James Hayter since seeing him play Friar Tuck in The Adventures Of Robin Hood and especially when he was helping out Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat’s pirating shenanigans with his scientific skills in The Crimson Pirate (I even seem to remember him playing the rotund Mr. Pickwick at some point in his career). Here he tells the tale of three young companions (Bill, Robin and Lena) who he becomes friends with and who grow into three work colleagues working on a unique science project... as Hayter’s address to the camera continues into the film as voice-over narrative.
The classic love triangle of two guys who both love the same girl is played out here but the fourth side of the titular triangle is a mystery until later, a while after the invention these three are working on is revealed. What this mysterious invention is, you see, is basically a pair of “cabinets” which go through a brief process of on-screen “scientification” which allows for an object placed in Cabinet 1 to be completely copied out of nothing in the second cabinet, in exact detail (a cheque for an order of money would have exactly the same serial numbers as the original placed in cabinet A, for example). So, basically, this machine can copy anything in a matter of minutes... rare medicines, gold, jewellery etc. Obviously, this invention would change the world but, as luck would have it, while the British Government are negotiating the use of the machine with Robin, after his wedding to Lena, the tortured and lovesick Bill reveals to Lena that he also desires her as his lifelong companion and persuades her and Dr. Harvey (the character played by James Hayter) to help him to conclude his experiments of copying “living matter” by making a perfect copy of Lena so he can have a Lena too. Grudgingly his two friends help him with this while Robin is still staying in London, continuing negotiations with the British government.
It’s not long before Bill has himself a Lena to call his own (well, actually he calls her Helen) who he takes off for a romantic holiday but, as most viewers will realise a bit before Bill does, being a perfect copy of Lena means Helen is also in love with Robin... which is bad news for both Bill and Helen, since neither of them can have what they want. Bill’s realisation of this simple truth is triggered when Helen tries to commit suicide... so Bill formulates a plan to wipe Helen’s memories.
Will he succeed or will something happen to cast a spell of death and depression in the sleepy village in which this story takes place?
Well, yeah, you can probably guess that one for yourself but I have to admit that I was thoroughly entertained by this brilliant little gem of a movie. It really doesn’t play out like a horror movie at all and, though it does slightly touch upon themes of dark obsession, it probably wouldn’t even make it as far as a PG rating these days.There’s some nice black and white photography throughout and the characters, and performances of those characters, are all really great. You may not be horrified by this movie and you may even find it sentimental and corny, but you may also find yourself a little moved or at least touched by the innocence of the characters portrayed on screen. Definitely an unsung classic and certainly a film that deserves to be a little more well known in the great scheme of things. Four Sided Triangle is now one of my favourite Hammer movies and definitely worth tracking down if you’re into gentle, less complicated films and have a passion for post-war British sci-fi movies.