Friday, June 19, 2009

Straight On Till Morning (1972)

... aka: Dressed for Death
... aka: Til Dawn Do Us Part
... aka: Victim, The

Directed by:
Peter Collinson

Hammer Studios can't be accused of never trying to branch out and try new things, and this horrific drama (billed as a "a love story from Hammer") is one good example to illustrate that. Plain, wide-eyed, very awkward oddball Brenda Thompson (Rita Tushingham) is a young woman with a pitifully low self-esteem and some major psychological issues. We first meet her at home, telling her lonely mum (Clare Kelly) she needs to fly the nest to find a husband for her upcoming baby. Truth is, she's not really pregnant, she just really, really wants to be, because she's that desperate for love and companionship. Off to London she goes, finding a job at a clothing shop, scouring the streets for a potential father-to-her-upcoming-child and becoming roommates with attractive blonde social butterfly Caroline (Katya Wyeth). Thinking her stay at Caroline's pad will lead to interactions with all kinds of eligible men, she's saddened to realize most are more interested in bedding her roommate, who seems quick to oblige with just about any guy who shows her interest. Guys just seem to find Brenda weird and overbearing, because quite frankly, she is. Watching her cluelessly interact with guys, smacking of desperation and subservience, is pathetic and embarrassing. But thanks mainly to Tushingham's balanced portrayal, you can't help but feel for her even when she's annoying the piss out of you. In many ways, she's almost a precursor to Sissy Spacek's CARRIE and Angela Bettis' May; well-intentioned, offbeat, lonely but generally misunderstood by everyone around them. In other words, young women who may not have ended up where they ultimately do if not for a cruel, superficial, self-involved and judgmental society driving them to desperate measures.

After finding Caroline in bed with Joey (James Boland), a guy she has a crush on, Brenda goes out, kidnaps a dog named Tinker, takes it home, gives it a bath and then returns it to its owner, Peter (Shane Briant) the next day. He senses something in Brenda and decides to strike up a bargain. If she lives with him, cares for him, cleans for him, cooks for him and changes her name to Wendy, he'll give her the baby and the relationship she desperately wants. Peter has many problems of his own. For starters, he's aimless, jobless, insecure and seems to detest beauty. Secondly, he's a psychopath with some major abandonment issues who has a habit of stabbing his lady loves with a box cutter when he senses they're about to leave him or the relationship isn't working out. While Peter and Wendy begin to learn more about each other, Brenda's mom and the police are out searching for her, as well as Caroline when she also turns up missing. Things basically lead where you think they are going to lead, but it's the journey itself, the offbeat characters and the lead performances that keep you watching.

Tushingham (best known for her award-winning role in A Taste of Honey) is very effective in this role, displaying a wide variety of emotions throughout and so painfully shy and awkward that she wears her hair in her face the majority of the movie. Sure she can be very frustrating and just as perplexing, but that's precisely what this role requires. Briant, with his golden blonde hair, is also very good as the troubled psycho with an angelic, almost androgynous look that fits the part perfectly. Which comes back to all of the Peter Pan references; the title itself, Peter, Wendy and Tinker, etc, alluding back to a man who's essentially still an emotionally stunted little boy.

I have to admit, the quick editing style is really going to turn many viewers off. It turned me off at first, as well. Many scenes are overlapped and cut within seconds as it flashes back and forth between two sets of characters. Flashbacks used primarily to provide insight into the lead characters, are incorporated in the same dizzying fashion. Sometimes it doesn't work, sometimes it does, but it's a decidedly different direction for Hammer. Ditto for the script, which goes in a unusual direction for a Hammer psychological chiller and is quite insightful at times. Annie Ross appears in a small role and sings the title theme.



Richard Cross said...

Hi Bloody Pit,
Nice review of an unusual film (especially for Hammer). The editing was a bit much, as you say, and I'd like to have seen them do more with the Peter Pan/ fairy tale comparisons with Brenda and Peter's story, but otherwise a pretty decent movie that deserves to be better known.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Yep, I enjoyed it too but I think we may be in the minority there. I know a lot of Hammer fans who detest this movie for some reason.

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