Monday, May 7, 2012

Stop Me Before I Kill!/The Full Treatment (1960)

So what's to like about Hammer's 1960 thriller Stop Me Before I Kill! aka The Full Treatment? 

This was Ronald Lewis' first starring role in a Hammer movie. He would later also feature in Taste of Fear and The Brigand of Kandahar. None of those parts would ultimately set the world on fire but in Stop Me Before I Kill! he has the notable honour of arguably playing the rudest and most obnoxious leading man ever filmed in a Hammer production.

Following a car accident during his honeymoon his race car driving character is left not only physically but also mentally scarred and living in fear of wanting to murder his wife. He is compulsive, insulting, constantly flies off the handle and looks a lot like Errol Flynn.

During a party scene we have a black female character playing a French Baronesse and society lady. Absolutely nothing is made of her skin colour and she fits neatly into the dinner table round. While this may no longer raise an eyebrow it is remarkable for a film of its time.

Of course, it would have been even more remarkable had this character actually been played by a black actress but researching this blog post it appears that Barbara Chilcott, the actress playing that role, was Canadian and white.

Unless I am very much mistaken Stop Me Before I Kill! features Hammer's first nude scene. Diane Cilento, today better known as the woman who once was Mrs Connery, graces us with a nude swim and a blink and you'll miss it so press the darn pause button quickly topless scene, the first of many more to come for Hammer.

Eight years prior Cilento had one of her first roles in Hammer's Wings of Danger though genre fans will always remember her as schoolteacher Miss Rose in The Wicker Man. She was Oscar nominated for her supporting role in Tom Jones.

Here she plays the long suffering wife – and potential victim - of race car driver Alan Colby. Given her character's name (Denise) and the location this movie is partially set in I guess she is meant to be French, however, in some early scenes she speaks fluent Italian and for the most part sports a very convincing Italian accent. In actual fact she is so good in it that it is hard to imagine that she is not one of Hammer's Continental discoveries but indeed Australian born.

Wow indeed. No wonder someone spies on her.

And that someone playing Peeping Tom is Claude Dauphin as a psychiatrist who suspects that smoking may cause cancer (so much for this being a new discovery) but still smokes and spends more time brusquely interrupting his patients and being argumentative rather than listening to their concerns. He is obsessed with murderous instincts (even when seeing a spider) and goes as far as treating his patients with CO2.... even if it nearly kills them.

And, hey, and did you know that you don't need an iPod or even a Walkman to listen to music on the go? All it requires is to hang a portable radio smoothly around your neck while admiring your collection of surgical instruments.

All in all Stop Me Before I Kill! is an enjoyable enough early piece of non-horrror entertainment from Hammer Films. Director Val Guest generally keeps this from getting too dull but the production does dabble far too much into then-fashionable psycho babble. One of the bigger issues is that for the most part until the end there is no real threat yet this production still has enough in its favour to make it worth a watch.

The UK version of the film (and the one currently available on DVD) clocks in at a little under two hours which for a classic Hammer movie is practically monumental but for the material available is far too long. The cinematic version in the US was apparently a good bit shorter and quite likely better paced.

All the actors play remarkably well even when their characters are often meant to be quite non-chalant about dealing with a guy with murderous urges. It is also surprising to hear quite open discussions about sexuality in a film of its vintage.

Don't be surprised if you don't see any reference to Hammer in the credits. Falcon, the production company, was one of Hammer's subsidiaries and for financial reasons the powers that be decided to erase any reference to its far more famous parent company.

Stop Me Before I Kill! is available as part of the ICONS OF SUSPENSE COLLECTION that was released in 2010.


Radio London said...

Good overview as always, Holger.

I sort of enjoyed the movie, but the characters and situation were so ridiculous that it took me two sittings to get through it. Missed Diane's scene somehow - I'll have to go back and check on that!

For my money, Val Guest was the best of the Hammer directors (although maybe not the best writer). He gives this one a hell of a great opening title sequence.

Holger Haase said...

You mention a great point: That intro scene is superb! Val Guest definitely is at the very least Hammer's #2 director. I shudder to really kick Terence Fisher off the #1 spot though have to admit that Fisher would probably not have been able to make the weak premise of this film as appealing as Guest did. It was because of Guest's stylish direction that this ends up a very watchable if overlong production.

Radio London said...

I have to admit that I don't hold Fisher in quite as high regard as many, although he did a fine job on many terrific movies.

On reflection, though, Fisher probably does have to take the #1 spot at Hammer due to the high number of high-quality horrors he made with them.

But overall, I'd still rate Guest as a better director. You can't beat the inventiveness and pacing of QUATERMASS 1 & 2, ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, YESTERDAY'S ENEMY, and HELL IS A CITY.