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cast: John Turner, Heather Sears, Ann Lynn, Peter Arne, and Patrick Troughton
director: Robert Hartford-Davis
88 minutes (12) 1964
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Odeon blu-ray region B
review by J.C. Hartley
The Black Torment
I first saw this film on late-night TV, years ago, and it's always educational to revisit old haunts. It certainly looks like someone threw a pot of money at it. There are great outdoor locations,
plush interiors, and a recognisable cast - although no one in there with 'star' status. John Turner, wearing a beard that loses him marks as a matinee idol, had a healthy career in TV and cinema but
who is he exactly? Why, he's the odious Roderick Spode from the Fry and Laurie TV iteration of Jeeves and Wooster, that's who! He gurns and hams it up a treat in this, and once or twice reminded me
of William Shatner as James T. Kirk when called upon to do his 'acting', but convince he does not. Part of the problem with his stint as the put-upon Sir Richard Fordyke is he's such a bad-tempered
sod from the outset it's hard to feel any sympathy with his plight.
The film begins with a terrified girl fleeing through woods at night-time. No wonder she's terrified, her bodice can barely contain her bosom, and, despite legging it as fast as she can, the slowly
walking man pursuing her is still managing to keep up. Just as she thinks she's safe she's throttled.
Sir Richard Fordyke (John Turner) is returning to his ancestral home with his new bride Elizabeth (Heather Sears). His reception at the local smithy is less than cordial and the blacksmith Black John
speaks of the evil in the Fordyke family. Black John is played by Francis de Wolff, who provides the feed for one of my favourite jokes in Carry On Cleo, as Sid James introduces him to Kenneth
Connor, "This is my cousin, he's Agrippa." "Oh yeah," says Connor, "well I've got a few holds of my own." Francis de Wolff was a Hammer horror favourite and his presence
just serves to highlight what this film lacks; the Hammer pace and style.
The film introduces some exposition; Richard lost his first wife, and his sister-in-law Diane (Ann Lynn) still lives at Fordyke's, tending Richard's father who has suffered a stroke, but these explanatory
passages seem to flatten the drama when the film should be building up an atmosphere of dread. Hammer does this so well with economy and style, as does Roger Corman in his Poe adaptations, particularly
in The Tomb Of Ligeia. Also, in the early part of The Black Torment there's some annoying 'period' harpsichord nonsense going on that provides as much gravitas as a Benny Hill sketch.
The girl who was murdered at the beginning died uttering Sir Richard's name, and there are stories that he has been seen in the neighbourhood despite him living in London at the time. Richard tells
Elizabeth that his first wife Anne committed suicide over her inability to provide a Fordyke heir. The rumours among Sir Richard's tenants claim that he rides through the village at night pursued by
his dead wife calling out 'murderer'. One of the chambermaids from the hall is murdered in the stables after a nocturnal frolic with her fiancée, and the boy accuses Sir Richard of being responsible
for her disappearance; bizarrely the body is never discovered which makes for a bit of gratuitous plotting.
There are clues aplenty, of course. Richard's sister-in-law Diane looks suspicious from the outset, people claim to have seen Richard and talked to him, and both Richard and Elizabeth wonder why his
father chose to name him Richard when it was tradition that the eldest son be christened Giles. So, it's no great surprise to discover that Diane and her cousin Seymour (Peter Arne) the faithful family
retainer, are in it together along with Richard's deranged brother. The plan is to drive Richard mad, kill Elizabeth, and somehow circumvent English inheritance law and grab the hall. The plotting,
which proceeds at a convincing although stately pace up to the midpoint, rather goes off the rails at the end, as there are some inconsistencies and un-likelihoods, and an interminable swordfight finale
in a desperate attempt to inject some excitement.
Director Robert Hartford-Davis made some off-kilter movies often dealing with sensitive and controversial subject matter. He was the creative force behind 1965's rock 'n' roll/ science fiction mash-up
Gonks Go Beat, a futuristic spin on the Romeo and Juliet story which bizarrely teamed Kenneth Connor, Lulu, and the Graham Bond Organisation featuring Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. Later in his
career, he made the blaxploitation picture Black Gunn, and an American TV cop show featuring Kim Basinger.
This blu-ray release includes a featurette interview with actress Annette Whiteley, who, as maid Mary, is the homicidal Fordyke brother's second on-screen victim; and Roger Croucher who, as Brian, is
her on-screen boyfriend. Whiteley remembers the film as originally being a star vehicle for her, as good and bad twins, until the producers chickened-out, which is a nice memory for her to have as she
didn't have a particularly massive career. Croucher remembers doing everything in one take.