Paranoiac (1963)

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*. The title is obviously just a throwaway, but it still bugs me. There are lots of crazy people, but who in the film is paranoid?
*. I’ve always had a special fondness for this film and think it’s perhaps the best of Hammer’s “contemporary” efforts. Why do I enjoy it so much? I think just because it’s such silly fun.
*. In most respects it’s very much of a piece with other films that Hammer was making at the time. Directed by Freddie Francis and written by Jimmy Sangster, it has a plot that I’ve elsewhere described as Boileau-Narcejac. I call it that because the French authors of the source material for Les Diaboliques and Vertigo basically trademarked this kind of story involving people who may or may not be dead and schemes to drive other people insane. Other Hammer films of this same period, like Maniac and Nightmare, stuck to the same script.
*. Paranoiac is actually based, very loosely, on a Josephine Tey novel, Brat Farrar (which was in turn loosely based on the real-life Tichborne case). And the basic plot involving possible ghosts and driving people over the edge can be traced back even further (Rebecca comes to mind). But I think the French influence is the most direct. The scene where “Tony” rescues Eleanor from drowning herself is a direct steal from Vertigo.

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*. But Paranoiac gives us another turn of the screw. In the first place there’s Oliver Reed, driving his Jag through the flower bed and generally doing everything but chewing the furniture. I thought I remembered him actually chewing the drapes in one scene, but on re-watching it I guess he only lifts them to his mouth. And the way he goes into spasms and babbles incoherently when making his final descent of the staircase is still there to be amazed by.
*. Then there’s Aunt Harriet. She really is quite obliging, dressing up like a little choir boy for Simon’s mad organ playing, isn’t she? Is everyone in this family bonkers? There’s also a suggestion of something more than family loyalty in her affection for Simon (“Simon belongs to me!”), which is echoed in the faux-incest between Eleanor and the fake Tony. This movie is demented.
*. I wonder if Reed’s fascination with the nurse’s shoulders is one of those stand-ins for a kinkier obsession they couldn’t show directly. It has that feel to it.
*. The story is hard to credit. Just how the hell does fake Tony figure out what happened to the real Tony? It’s beyond intuition. And it’s hard to credit anyone being fooled by the pretender anyway (or him passing the far more thorough legal investigation that must  be pending).
*. It’s all nutty as hell, but it’s nicely turned out and wraps up quickly. Like all of the best Hammer films, it’s a piece well played in a minor key.

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