Friday, July 23, 2010

'Stop Me Before I Kill!''
is flawed but watchable

Stop Me Before I Kill! (aka "The Full Treatment") (1960)
Starring: Ronald Lewis, Claude Dauphin, and Diane Cilento
Director: Val Guest
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A race car driver, Alan Colby (Lewis), recovering from a near-fatal car accident finds himself possessed by nearly uncontrollable urges to murder his wife (Cilento) whenever they are intimate. She convinces him to seek the help of a psychiatrist (Dauphin), but things go from bad to worse when the good doctor proves to have agendas beyond helping his patient recover.

"Stop Me Before I Kill!" (a far weaker title than the original, "The Full Treatment"), has the makings of an excellent psychological thriller, with a cast of characters who each seem simple enough on the surface, but who also each have enough murkiness in their backgrounds that they may be driven by motivations more sinister than the obvious. While it offers some clever twists, it ultimately the film ends up where you expect it to, but enough doubt is thrown on the outcome along the way that the film is still enjoyable.

However, a couple of key missteps keep it from being as good as it could have been.

First of all, the film is a bit too scattered as far as its point of view goes. While most of the film, correctly, is focused around our main protagonist--Alan, the strangely unhinged accident survivor--and events unfold as seen from his point of view, a couple of parts are focused around his well-meaning fiance. While the second of these isn't that damaging to the overall film, especially since it is part of the final confrontation between the film's main characters, the first one is feels like a detour from the rest of the movie that needed to be handled very differently.

Second, the creepy psychiatrist gets way too creepy, way too fast. He is so strange and unpleasant from the very outset that there is never any question in the minds of viewers that he is a Bad Guy. Partway through the movie, as he gains the trust of the protagonist, a little bit of doubt about whether we've misjudged him begins to creep in, but even before we're done second-guessing ourselves, the film proves that we were right all along: Not only is a he a Bad Guy, but he's a Very Bad Guy.

The film, which director Guest co-wrote the script for, would have been much better served if the psychiatrist had come across more likable early on, and then taken on a little bit of shadow and sinisterness as Alex grows increasingly paranoid and obviously nuts. It would have helped the film's overall "just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you"-vibe. It would also have strengthened the what-is-now a fairly half-hearted effort to make the wife look like she is out to get Alex, too. Her background hints that she may have reasons, but the way the film is structured never quite makes it believable that she may have it in for him. And in films like this, it's important that at one or more points in the story, the protagonist appears to be all alone and beset by enemies on all sides.

Fairly typical of the thrillers and dramas that were Hammer's bread-and-butter before the studio discovered full-color monsters and babes in flimsy nightgowns, "Stop Me Before I Kill Again!" is not necessarily a film I would go out of my way to seek out, but it's a bit of non-offensive filler in "Icons of Suspense," the multi-film DVD collection of Hammer's black-and-white co-productions with Columbia Pictures.

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