ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Psyche 59 (1964) starring Patricia Neal Blu Ray (Indicator)
Blinded by the past
Patricia Neal plays Allison Crawford, the psychosomatically blinded wife of a wealthy businessman named Eric (Curd Jürgens). They live in a London townhouse with their two children. One day, her younger sister Robin (Samantha Eggar) comes to stay with them after fleeing her own failed marriage. However, while Allison is delighted to have the opportunity to catch up with her, Eric has his own concerns as her visit threatens to resurrect memories of an incident from the past.
Watch a trailer:
Strange and muddled
This adaptation of a novel by Françoise des Ligneris is certainly odd. Not in a particularly great or even good way, mind you, but at least arguably in an interestingly muddled way. It’s a melodramatic psychological mystery thriller where the main twist becomes pretty easy to guess by the time the first 20 or so minutes are up. However, it still tries its damnedest to throw the viewer off balance via deliberately confusing storytelling, pretentious dialogue, weird camera trickery, hazy flashbacks and a gratuitous free jazz soundtrack.
The acting - with the exception of a miscast Curd Jürgens (a man so perfect at playing gravelly-voiced Teutonic übervillains that he’s hard to take seriously in any other role) - is decent. Patricia Neal gives a fine, delicately vulnerable performance as a housewife who is trying to make the best she can out of her life despite her part physical/part psychological ailment. Samantha Eggar is wonderfully seductive and glacially creepy as her rather forward onscreen sibling. Beatrix Lehmann is a real highlight as her crumbly astrologist grandmother. Ian Bannen is ok as Eggar’s onscreen boyfriend but his character is ultimately peripheral and even superfluous despite the fact that he shares a good deal of screen time with the other main cast members here.
It’s quite an uncomfortable film to watch but not really in the tense, knife-edge way which it tries very hard to strive for. Perhaps it’s the bewildering stylistic tics. It could be the numerous seemingly purposeless scenes (of shopping, horse riding, tennis etc) thrown in here, there and everywhere. Or… maybe it’s the (nowadays) controversial underlying theme of mutual attraction between a barely legal adolescent and an older man. Possibly, it’s all of these things taken together?
Runtime: 94 mins
Dir: Alexander Singer
Script: Julian Zimet, based on a novel by Françoise des Ligneris
Starring: Patricia Neal, Curd Jürgens, Samantha Eggar, Ian Bannen, Beatrix Lehmann
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The image looks great with plenty of sharp detail. However, the dialogue (especially Patricia Neal’s) is very faint, necessitating turning the volume right up.
The British Entertainment History Project Interview with Walter Lassally
Filmmaker Roy Fowler conducted this lengthy audio interview of Psyche 59 cinematographer in 1988. While there is some interest to be had in learning about his upbringing (he was forced out of Nazi Germany with his father during WWII and they relocated to England), the rest offers little more than a lot of rambling and along and obscure name-dropping. If you’re not a Walter Lassally obsessive then you can safely skip this one.
Come to Silence
Samantha Eggar is makes for a lively interviewee as she recalls working on the film. She reveals that the main cast (herself, Neal, Jürgens and Bannen) got on very well “like a theatrical little group”. Patricia Neal became a guide and lifelong friend to her until her passing in 2010.
Composer Kenneth V. Jones discusses the film’s bizarre soundtrack and its attempt to evoke the world of its blind central protagonist.
An Abstract Quality
Film academic Richard Combs talks about Psyche 59 and the man who directed it, Alexander Singer. While Singer is little-known amongst cineastes, he did a lot of work on TV. This included numerous episodes of three different 1990s Star Trek series. Interestingly, he befriended one Stanley Kubrick at school and was an associate producer on his the latter’s early film The Killing (1956). He was also interested in making an adaptation of Homer’s The Iliad but it never came to fruition.
A trailer and collector’s booklet round out the extras here.
Psyche 59 doesn’t really work as anything other than a strange curiosity. The disc is merely OK, with somewhat hit-and-miss extras.