Directed by: Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula)
Starring: Barbara Payton, James Hayter, Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen, Percy Marmont
Pre-horror Hammer, Terence Fisher’s Four Sided Triangle (1953) is essentially an OK little science-fiction opus that is more interesting in terms of what it portends than for what it actually accomplishes. When all is said and done, the film is a somewhat more scientific (and more budget-minded) variant on Bride of Frankenstein (1935) that finally comes across as a kind of insect-free forerunner of The Fly (1959). Considering the rather loopy premise—a device that can duplicate anything is used to duplicate the woman (Barbara Payton) the scientist (Stephen Murray) loves—the film is surprisingly sober. That, unfortunately, is not entirely in its favor, though it does give Four Sided Triangle a very unusual tone for 1950s sci-fi.
The basic concept is to approach a science-fiction story as a kind of character study. When you consider most of the sci-fi that had been made up to the time of Four Sided Triangle, that’s a pretty radical idea. The problem with it is that neither the main characters nor the actors portraying them are all that interesting. Put it this way, when your most compelling performer is Barbara Payton—best known for that sterling film Bride of the Gorilla (1951)—you have a problem. It doesn’t help that the male leads—Stephen Murray and John Van Eyssen (the latter best known as Jonathan in the 1958 Horror of Dracula)—are simply not very attractive. But the biggest fault is in the writing. Since the screenplay seems incapable of actually affording much in the way of characterization for the two men, it’s compelled to resort to a sympathetic narrator (James Hayter) to tell us what they’re like.
On the plus side, Terence Fisher gets as much out of the film—and a budget that somewhat aptly installs its “mad scientist” lab in a barn—as is possible (aided in no small degree by the Malcolm Arnold musical score). His laboratory scenes in particular do a good job of making it seem like something more impressive is going on than really is. But there’s only so much he can do with a screenplay that has trouble not making a scant 81 minutes feel padded. The film takes half its length to even get to the central idea of duplicating La Payton—which is tastefully, though very improbably, done with her fully clothed. Still, the film is interesting and considerably better than its relative obscurity in the Hammer filmography might suggest.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Four Sided Triangle at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 7, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.