Thursday, January 31, 2013


In the 50s and 60s, there was a lot of interest in Edgar Cayce, known as the "Sleeping Prophet," a psychic who would go into a hypnotic trance and produce proto-New Age teachings on metaphysical topics. In conjunction with this craze, a man named Morey Bernstein published a book in which he claimed to have used hypnotism to send a neighbor back into a past life as a woman who lived in 19th century Ireland named Bridey (Bridget) Murphy. This film is a dramatization of the book, though using the word "dramatization" may be a bit of a stretch, as this mostly consists of scenes of Bernstein putting the woman (here named Ruth Simmons) into a trance on a suburban living room couch; he asks her questions; she, with eyes closed, responds; and we see misty flashback recreations—without spoken dialogue—of Bridey's rather uneventful life. The movie starts with the actor Louis Hayward as himself, strolling around the set and delivering a prologue explaining that they aren't making any reality claims for the story we're about to see. His character is a suburban businessman who has no interest in hypnotism until he sees someone at a party use hypnotism as a parlor trick. Hayward studies hypnotism and, though he himself is not susceptible to it, learns to use it on others. Soon he puts his neighbor (Teresa Wright) into trances, takes her back to her childhood and beyond, to her previous life as Bridey. Nothing much happens to Bridey: she falls in love with a young man named Brian, marries him, grows old, and dies, though she is able to give Hayward the names of people and places she knew and a brief description of the afterlife—she also speaks in an Irish brogue while in trance.

Aside from a brief debate among psychologists and religious leaders about the implications of Wright's experience, there are really only two dramatic complications. One is when Wright's husband (Kenneth Tobey, hero of the original THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD) begins objecting to the hypnosis sessions—he is talked into letting them continue. The climax of the film comes about when suddenly, Hayward can’t bring Wright out of her trance. As befits this rather passionless film, the suspense lasts about a minute. An online critic calls this a cross between a radio play and a stage play, and that's about right, though it also feels like a 50s TV drama. Wright does the most she can without going over the top in her trances. James Kirkwood Sr., father of the co-author of A Chorus Line, plays the older Brian in the trance visions. [Netflix streaming]

No comments: