Tuesday, December 29, 2015

THE COUCH (1962)

From behind his shoulder, we watch blandly handsome and seemingly mild-mannered Charles Campbell (Grant Williams) call the police from a pay phone and tell them he will murder someone in five minutes. Sure enough, as he walks down the street, he stops at a small crowd watching a toy vendor's street demonstration, pulls out an ice pick, stabs a man from behind, and escapes unnoticed. He goes immediately to his scheduled appointment with his psychiatrist, Dr. Janz. We learn that Charles was in jail for some reason and his appointments are court-ordered as part of his release arrangement. Now he has quit his job because a secretary alleged that he made a violent pass at her—he tells Janz that she made the pass—and the doc tells him that he will never get better until he faces up to his resentment against authority figures. The one bright spot in Charles's life seems to be his growing relationship with Janz's receptionist Terry (Shirley Knight); though she's breaking the rules about fraternizing with clients, she slowly falls for him, especially after he tells her about his past—he says he was in jail after his beloved sister died in a car accident for which he was held accountable. But after he calls the cops and commits a second random killing, we find out even more disturbing things about him.

Co-written by Robert Bloch, this plays out like a less-interesting version of Bloch's story for PSYCHO. Charles is very much like Norman Bates: a handsome, high-strung young man with some mildly effeminate shadings and a very troubled background. Instead of a mother fixation, Charles has daddy issues (hence his problem with authority) and, we learn by the end, buried incestuous feelings for his sister, who it turns out is not dead after all. The movie has an effective noir look—I can recall very few daytime scenes in the movie—and the acting is good, especially from Williams and Knight. Unfortunately, things are never quite as tense as they should be, maybe because of the randomness of the killings, or the plain backgrounds which look like TV show sets (though there are a few location shots), or the unexplored plotlines. Williams' backstory is parceled out in small bits but it's all told rather plainly instead of shown—I guess the same thing happens in PSYCHO, but Hitchcock was a master of suspense, and director Owen Crump is not. A potentially interesting situation involving the sexpot young daughter of the keeper of the boarding house where Charles lives goes nowhere—except to provide a bizarre punchline at the very end. Generally this movie deserves its relative obscurity, but fans of Williams (THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN) will want to see it as he had very few leading roles in his short career. [DVD]

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