Sunday, April 17, 2011

STOP ME BEFORE I KILL (Val Guest, 1960)

A race car driver finds his life stuck in neutral after a terrible crash on his wedding night, his emotions twisted metal and impotent rage. Val Guest directs this thriller with the accelerator pushed firmly to the floor, a narrative that races through red flags towards a surprising climax.

Alan Colby is a world famous race car driver who can no longer run at full speed, suffering post traumatic stress that relegates him as a passenger to his docile wife. He must conquer the consuming fear of loss of motor control as his hands become weapons, murderous entities that seemingly act of their own accord. Unable to be physically aroused by his beautiful bride, he lashes out with unbridled violence, nearly strangling her with intimacy. Denise sticks by his side and seeks the help of a psychiatrist, but first Alan must swallow his pride and purge his guilty conscious.

Val Guest imbues the film with a riptide of dialogue as the characters trade barbs and malicious tirades, or collapse into crippled silence worn out from the maelstrom. Overlapping conversations heighten the sense of dynamic tension as Alan spins out of control while his wife stands by her man. Dr. Prade utilizes psychiatric gimmicks that would make professionals cringe (oxygen deprivation, drug therapy, hypnotic regression) that works well as a plot device, and finally gets to the root cause of the association between the crash and his urge to strangle his wife. It’s a clever link in the chain of events, as Alan is a man who controls his life with his hands, thundering horsepower his heartbeat…and it’s his hands that betray him. The suspense mounts between the trio: will Alan be cured, are Dr. Prade’s intentions therapeutic, and is Denise faithful?

Though the story relies on pop psychology (but so does Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND) the final suspension of disbelief becomes refreshing and enlightening. The film begins with a car crash and fortunately doesn’t end as one.


Final Grade: (B-)

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