Seance On A Wet Afternoon

Lawrence Russell

Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964) dir. Bryan Forbes star. Kim Stanley & Richard Attenborough score John Barry

Seance begs to be compared to Sunset Boulevard although it is clearly the lesser of the two films. There's nothing wrong with the direction or the cinematography, but the script just doesn't have the ironic power of the Wilder classic.

Once again we have a study of a middle-aged woman whose insecurity and eccentricity lead her into madness and murder. Once again the implication is that impotency is the root of our neuroses and inevitable self-destruction. And once again the obsessive ritual of our lives leads to our nemesis: for Norma Desmond it was her desire to return to the magniloquence of the Hollywood screen; for Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) it is the realization of her mediumistic talents in a final seance.

The interior sets have the appropriate claustraphobic atmosphere for both the unreality of the clairvoyant's world and the naturalism the film carefully maintains. Outside locales usually reinforce the concept of decay and impotency: an abandoned racetrack which is the exchange spot for the kidnapping; and the backyard littered with gutted autos where the little girl rests in the motor cycle sidecar anathematized as Billy (Attenborough) rendezvous' for the ransom money.

Billy is a familiar role: the submissive husband with a dirt phobia who is in awe of his 'sensitive' wife. Myra Savage is really the major role, the woman who cannot escape the memory of her stillborn child Arthur and who has constructed her identity entirely by contact with him ('Arthur') in death.

The kidnapping and ultimate murder of the business man's 10 year old daughter is predicated on the desire for an ultimate seance as much as it is for 'Arthur's' benefit. The easy complicity of Billy here is suspect: after all, the girl saw his face during the kidnapping, so her 'amnesia' is somewhat convenient.

One could criticize the final seance scene as being too predictable and lacking the conviction of, say, Norma Desmond's fantasy. The confession of Myra comes too easily; the vanity she invests in her mediumship is not sufficiently established. The confession occurring during a seance is an interesting innovation on the stock murder mystery climax scene, however.

But... a well-formed and well-acted film nonetheless. The bleak atmosphere associated with the spirit world is reinforced by the dreary winter landscapes shot in journeyman black and white, typical of the British films of the period.

© LR 4/3/83


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