Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A better movie than I had expected

Anatomy of a Psycho (1961)
Starring Darrell Howe, Ronnie Burns, Pamela Lincoln, Michael Granger, Frank Killmond, Judy Howard, and Don Devlin
Director: Boris Petrof
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

An emotionally unstable young man (Howe) is driven over the edge when the brother he hero-worships is executed for murder. He embarks on a campaign of revenge against those he blames for his brother's death, starting with assault, moving onto arson, and ultimately murder.

"Anatomy of a Pyscho" is one of those juvenile delinquent dramas that seemed to be very popular fare during the 1950s and into the 1960s, but which I have only seen a precious few that weren't either so deadly dull and/or bone-achingly preachy that I wanted to start hitting myself over the head with a hammer just to make watching less painful. Either I have been unlucky in my picks, or this film genre saw a higher quotient of crap than most others because the fact that I have to count "The Violent Years", which was written by Edward D. Wood Jr. and directed by a fellow not much more competent than he was, as one of the best examples of the juvenile delinquent drama. (Even if most of the juveniles seem to be in their early 20s, as is usually the case with these movies.)

So, given my past experience, it was a pleasant surprise to find this film to be quickly paced, decently acted, and refreshingly free of heavy-handed messaging. The dialogue is awful--vacillating from over-the-top 1950s hep-catness to old-school over-the-top melodrama, but the effort put in by the cast of the film goes a long way to proving the adage that a good actor can save a lousy script as everyone featured elevates the material to a level beyond its natural worth. Heck, Pamela Lincoln and Michael Granger must have been downright acting geniuses, because they manage to make their cheesy, stilted lines sound completely natural.

Still, not even the greatest actors of them all can overcome the shortcomings of indifferent cinematography and lighting, and a weak director who seems to lose his grip on the movie in the final few minutes. After building to what promises to be an explosive finale with the titular psycho going on a rampage that will at the very least destroy himself, the filmmakers chicken out at the last moment and we're left with a badly edited, boring and repetitive closing scene.

It's a shame the film's director and/or screen-writers (which some sources claim include Edward D. Wood Jr. working under the pen-name Larry Lee) couldn't keep it together for the 70-minute run-time, because the weak ending drags this one to the very low end of average.

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