Four Sided Triangle

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(4/10) In a nutshell: Hammer’s first real deep plunge into science fiction in 1953 has two men cloning the woman they are both in love with. Skipping lightly over anything that might require any deeper thought, the film squanders nearly all interesting concepts of the premise, and instead settles for a dull melodrama. Terence Fisher was still awaiting his breakthrough as horror auteur, and does a good job with filming and direction, and the British movie stars American scandal starlet Barbara Payton and Liam Neeson’s doppelgänger, both doing a good job in their roles.

Four Sided Triangle (1953). Directed by Terence Fisher. Written by Terence Fisher and Paul Tabori. Based on the novel 4-Sided Triangle by William F. Temple. Starring: Barbara Payton, James Hayter. Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen. Produced by Michael Carreras and Alexander Paal for Hammer Film Productions. IMDb score: 5.8

Stephen Murray, Barbara Payton and John Van Dyke in Four Sided Triangle.

Stephen Murray, Barbara Payton and John Van Eyssen in Four Sided Triangle.

Before Hammer Films found their great money cow in the colourful, lewd revamps of classic Universal horror films, the small British movie company took a few stabs at science fiction, which was increasingly popular overseas. The studio had already dabbled in sci-fi in the proto-James Bond films Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949, review) and Dick Barton at Bay (1951, review), but Four Sided Triangle, released in May 1953, was the studio’s first all-out sci-fi movie, although still rooted in the old horror tropes of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Poster.

Poster.

Although Hammer Productions existed as a company in the thirties, it was resurrected in the late forties as the ”quota quickie” studio Hammer Film Productions, focused on making cheap films to satisfy the government-mandated quota for British films in cinemas. These films were often short (an hour or a little longer) so-called support films that were shown at double features before a bigger movie, in effect the kind of films that were called B movies in the States. One of the up-and-coming directors of these support films within Hammer was a former editor called Terence Fisher, who would later become the mastermind behind the studio’s horror franchise.

4-Sided Triangle first published in Amazing Stories in 1949.

4-Sided Triangle first published in Amazing Stories in 1949.

Someone at the studio had caught an interest in author and space science editor William F. Temple’s 1949 novel 4-Sided Triangle, named for the central love ”triangle” between two male scientists, a beautiful woman and the clone of her that one of the scientists create. Temple wrote a number of sci-fi novels and short stories, of which 4-Sided Triangle is the best known because of the movie. Other notable stories are his juvenile Martin Magnus trilogy (1954-1956), his moon fiction parody Shoot at the Moon (1966) and the space opera The Fleshpots of Sansato (1970). In 1940, Temple wrote a semi-autobiographical novel about his time sharing a flat with someone who was at the time also a big sci-fi fan and budding author: Arthur C. Clarke. It was published posthumously 2000. Temple was also a member of the British Interplanetary Society, a group that promoted space flight and astronautics, and the editor of its popular science magazine.

To adapt the book into a script, Hammer hired Hungarian-born journalist and author Paul Tabori, who had dabbled somewhat in semi-sci-fi and alternate future stories. Director Terence Fisher also made major contributions to the script, and received his first of only two script credits of his career (the second was for another Tabori-scripted film, Mantrap, released a few months after Four Sided Triangle). Tabori had only dabbled slightly in sci-fi when he wrote the script, mainly through future and alternate history, and wouldn’t really spring out as a sci-fi author until he wrote the script this movie and for Hammer’s and Fisher’s Spaceways (1953, review), adapted from a radio play. It wasn’t until he started writing biting social satire in the sixties that he really got into sci-fi. Tabori also translated Hungarian novels into English. In the early sixties he became a well-known debunker of psychics and pseudoscience, and wrote a number of books on the subject, as well as on sexuality, eroticism and taboos explored in folk tradition and fairy tales.

Barbara Payton as Lena and James Hayter as Dr.

Barbara Payton as Lena and James Hayter as Dr. Harvey.

The film is narrated by the small town physician Dr. Harvey (James Hayter), who retells the remarkable story of the two best friends Bill (Stephen Murray) and Robin (John Van Eyssen), and their tangled relationship with love, science and their childhood friend and sweetheart Lena (Barbara Payton). He recalls how in the little, sleepy fictional town (never actually shown), the three grew up together, and how Lena moved to the United States and the two boys went off to study science in the city. But the story really begins with the return of Lena.

Stephen Murray as Bill.

Stephen Murray as Bill.

A disillusioned Lena returns as a failed artist from the States and informs Dr. Harvey that she intends to live a few months on a small inheritance, and then kill herself. However, Harvey tells her that the boys are also back, working on some invention in the shed they used to play in, and convinces Lena to begin work as their assistant, making them dinner and cleaning their test-tubes. Fortunately the script isn’t quite as stuffy when it comes to the role of women, but she in fact becomes something of a research assistant to the hot-headed, moody and ambitious Bill, and the calm, thoughtful Robin. They work in the lab, which is filled with mechanics and big things with buttons and lights, as well as neon tubes and lots of beakers and test-tubes with bubbly liquids.

After some narration and a long stretch of lab-work montage, the trio is finally ready to unveil the invention to Dr. Harvey. Robin and Bill unveil two identical ”boxes”, lit from beneath and capped by to plastic domes. This, they inform Harvey, is a reproducer or duplicator, and can copy anything in the world, as long as it fits under the dome. They demonstrate by putting Harvey’s pocket watch under one of the domes, and after some loud buzzing and blinking lights and twiddling knobs and shouting numbers, another watch appears under the second dome, a perfect replica, ”even the bent link”, Dr. Harvey gasps.

James Payton, Stephen Murray, Barbara Payton and John Van Eyssen.

James Payton, Stephen Murray, Barbara Payton and John Van Eyssen.

There’s some interlude where they discuss what to actually do with the machine, and Robin’s father Sir Walter (Percy Marmont) enlists his brother Lord Grant (Kynaston Reeves), who is highly placed in the government, to take control of reproduction. This, however, is quickly glanced over, as the central plot twist here is that Bill professes his love for Lena to Dr. Harvey, just in time for Lena and Robin to announce their marriage. In a classic mad scientist turn, Bill then decides to make an improved reproducer to make himself a Lena of his own. Astonishingly, Lena agrees to be reproduced for the benefit of Bill, and even Dr. Harvey goes along with the plan, despite some misgivings. Said and done, and a ”Helen” is born.

Barbara Payton as Lena, ready to have a lobotomy.

Barbara Payton as Lena, ready to have a lobotomy.

Initially everything seems to be going well, and Bill and Helen go off on a ”honeymoon” of their own, but after some weeks Helen grows depressed and tries to drown herself. Turns out that when reproducing another human being, you also reproduce their memories and feelings, and just like Lena, Helen is also in love with Robin. And as Robin is already married to her doppelgänger, there seems to be no solution to her predicament other than the final one. That is, until Bill supposes that they use a sort of electric lobotomy to erase all her memories, so that she and Bill can start from a clean slate. Again, she agrees, and they go back to the old barn. Out of curiosity, Lena also tags along, and Bill begins the procedure. But just as he has finished, the machinery short-circuits and sets the shed aflame. Of the three, only one person survives – and no-one is sure whether it is Helen or Lena.

When Helen/Lena wakes from her coma, she has indeed lost all her memories, but according to Dr. Harvey that may be because of a blow to the head, rather than the procedure. And, he points out, Helen should have a scar in her neck from the memory-cleansing procedure, and if she does not, it is indeed Robin’s Lena. In the last shot of the movie, Robin checks her neck – but I won’t reveal the end, if you haven’t seen the film.

William F. Temple.

William F. Temple.

The film follows the book rather closely, but there are some differences. First of all, in Temple’s book, Lena is not the childhood friend of the boys, but rather a failed artist who buys a cottage in the little town. Dr. Harvey befriends her as he helps her recuperate from a botched suicide attempt by arsenic. In the book, the trio focus on reproducing great works of art for the general public. Like the film, the book doesn’t really go into the more intricate problems of a machine that can duplicate anything, and the tremendous impact such a machine would have on world economy. Like the film, it focuses more on the romantic triangle than the science fiction. The book doesn’t include any of the lobotomy. In fact, Bill is killed when a generator he is working on explodes. This leads Helen (who is named Dorothy in the book) to try and convince Robin to engage in polygamy with both women, which Robin refuses. An accident then occurs when both Lena and Dorothy are diving. One of the women die, the other is seriously injured, and can’t remember anything that has happened after the duplication, and thus does not know whether she is Lena or Dorothy, since both have the same memories prior to the procedure. This first leads Robin and Harvey to believe that it is Dorothy, whose new painful memories have been repressed by the shock. But Harvey finds Bill’s notes, which state that Dorothy has some marks on her neck due to the duplication process. Harvey tells this to Robin, who concludes that the surviving woman is indeed Lena. But in a final twist, Harvey divulges to the reader that Bill also wrote that Dorothy had her scars surgically removed – so in fact nobody knows who the woman really is.

Patrick and Holloway checking out Patricia Roc.

Patricia Roc as a robot in Perfect Woman, 1949.

Even though the theme of cloning was fairly novel at the time, the ingredients of this film are all familiar, perhaps too familiar. The doppelgänger motif goes back to old mythology, and was a popular subject in 19th century literature, explored by authors like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Fyodor Dostoyevski, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife Mary Shelley, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson. There’s also the theme of Pygmalion, the sculptor who falls in love with his statue, that has been drawn upon in numerous robot fiction, see more on that in my review of The Perfect Woman (1949, review). And of course, the old golem/Frankenstein myth itself, man’s creation of an artificial being.

You can’t escape the feeling that both author and screenwriters were heavily influenced by Frankenstein. In Shelley’s book, Frankenstein creates a wife for his creature, but destroys it out of guilt and revulsion, whereafter the creature murders Frankenstein’s wife. In the novel, Bill creates his won ”bride”. In the 1994 film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, screenwriters Steph Lady and Frank Darabont take the theme full circle, when Victor Frankenstein tries to resurrect his own wife by stitching bits of another woman onto her, only to have her commit suicide.

The lab.

Dr. Harvey (Hayter) and Bill (Murray) replicating Lena in the lab.

And even though Terence Fisher claimed never to have seen the ”original” Frankenstein movie (1931, review), he was most certainly influenced by both the film’s general atmosphere and the lab scenes, even if only through other, later, films. And the setup is so familiar, that halfway through the film one almost groans when it is clear where the story is going: yet another mad scientist/monster who tries to force a woman to love him through some science, hypnosis or magic. Yet another woman ”kidnapped” to be the lab rat for some insane experiment. This was the staple fodder for just about every gothic horror film in the thirties and forties, and it does feel redundant to have it dragged out again in the fifties, expecially when the whole thing happens in black and white in a decripit old, dark lab with bubbling test-tubes and blinking lights. The finale with the scientist/monster buried in a flaming building adds even more to the feeling of deja vu.

Stephen Murray as Bill preparing Barbara Payton as Lena of mind-swipe.

Stephen Murray as Bill preparing Barbara Payton as Lena of mind-swipe.

Cloning as such was a fairly new idea, even though themes close to cloning had existed in sci-fi for some while. Thea von Harbou wrote about a mad scientist making a robot, maschinenmensch, in the image of his late wife, which happens to be identical to his daughter, in the novel that served as base for her husband Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927, review). In 1940 Harry Bates wrote the short story Farewell to the Master, where the robot Gnut clones his emissary Klaatu, which of course became a central plot element in the film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, review). But Temple was one of the forerunners in clone fiction, that didn’t regularly start popping up until the late forties and early fifties, with authors like A.E. Van Vogt, Jack Williamson, James Blish and Jack Finney.

Herne (Emil Jannings) and his Bio Werks.

Emil Jannings as master of the world in Algol, a German film from 1920, dealing with economic collapse due to a miracle invention.

The main problem with the film (and the book), though, is that it toys with a lot of very interesting notions, but never makes anything of them. First of all the idea of the duplicator, and its horrific ramifications for the world order. What would happen to labour and economy if everything could be copied, without the need for raw materials or work? The value of precious metals would plummet, bankrupting banks and causing widespread inflation. Manufacturers and producers of all walks of life would suddenly become disposable. Materia, in effect, would lose all its value. Similar themes had been explored in earlier sci-fi films: fairly in Algol (1920, review), well in The Man in the White Suit (1951, review) and very badly in Red Planet Mars (1952, review). And then of course, there would be the question of autethicity. Is a perfect replica of a Rembrandt as genuine as a genuine Rembrandt? If you copy a human being, is there one original or are there two equals? These questions are completely ignored in the film – the only misgivings are that someone might reproduce atom bombs – well in line with the general debate of the era.

Director Terence Fisher with Barbara Payton.

Director Terence Fisher with Barbara Payton.

Then of course there are the very interesting questions of cloning another human being. What is a clone, complete with your own memories and feelings? Is it you, or another person? Do we have any right to create such a being, a person who, in a sense, is sprung into existence without the right to choose its own path in life, but with a past and a mind forcefully thrust upon itself? What if Lena would have had a crippling deformity or a painful illness? What if something would have gone horribly wrong in the cloning process, resulting in a sentient heap of badly put together flesh and bones – a theme gruesomely explored in Alien: Resurrection (1997)? And I won’t even go into the legal ramifications of the process. Will the clone get her own social security number? What of her possessions? Has she the right to the original’s possessions, and should they all also be duplicated? What of family and friends? Suddenly the clone wakes up and realises all the family members she remembers are not her family at all, but the family of her doppelgänger – just think of the mindfuck! One moment you think you are Lena, with all of Lena’s experience and memories of 25-odd years of life, just to realise after these 25 ”lived” years, that you are now no longer Lena, but her clone without a single family member or friend in the world. I really don’t blame Helen for trying to commit suicide. But, as mentioned, none of this is really explored in the film.

Barbara Payton and Stephen Murray.

Barbara Payton and Stephen Murray.

Even the romance story is hokey. First of all, you’d think that Bill at some point would have noticed that Lena and Robin were making out behind the shed. When three people work so closely together as these do, romance is not something you’ll be able to hide, especially if you know one of the people involved as well as your own brother. Second, where is the logic of Bill in creating his Helen? And his opinion of women? First of all, it should have occurred to Bill, as it immediately occurs to each and every viewer, that Helen will be ”born” with all of Lena’s memories and feelings – of course she’s going to be in love with Robin! Second, what makes Bill think that even if Helen wouldn’t love Robin, she would automatically love him? Or doesn’t he care? Does he consider Helen his property because he made her? These are serious oversights in scripting (and book-writing), and themes that could have produced some wonderful explorations.

If this would have been yet another Monogram Bela Lugosi mad scientist film, such considerations would of course have been superfluous. But since the movie presents itself in a very sombre and serious tone, never winking to the audience, never suggesting that it is anything else than a very serious drama, one also expects it to take a serious look at the topics it is dealing with. Instead the film brings up a plethora of interesting notions, skirts along the edges of all of them, and settles for a pretty mundane (and rather colourless) melodrama as the central point. Even the love story fails to produce any noticeable sparks, and is all rather prim and passionless.

1953 four sided triangle 012

The three kids in the beginning.

Despite these misgivings, Four Sided Triangle is not a bad movie, even if it isn’t particularly good, either. The movie was made on a slightly larger budget than the usual Hammer quickies, 25 000 pounds, which would equal about half a million today, or around 800 000-900 000 dollars, pocket money for Hollywood today, and at the lower end the scales even in 1953. But it was still more money than for example Monogram or PRC put on their Z films, and would have made many independent producers quite satisfied. Most of the extra money was probably put into the creation of the lab and all its gadgets, and the lab is quite an extraordinary little set. Apart from this, there is little extravagance in sets or indeed effects. The movie is mostly filmed indoors at Bray Studios, the legendary home of Hammer, and in a hilly countryside – as mentioned, we don’t really see anything of the actual town we’re supposed to be in. The scenes of Helen’s and Bill’s ”honeymoon” were shot at the picturesque beach at Lulworth Cove in Dorset.

What is clear from this film is the talent of Terence Fisher. The movie looks like an A film, despite the small budget and production team. Fisher knows how to handle the camera, but never does anything unnecessary, and never strives to shock and awe the viewer through camera acrobatics. His style is restrained but never static. The locations are beautifully filmed, from the wide open shot looking down a wooded hill onto a peaceful, idyllic landscape of fields in the beginning, to the energetic close-ups of the frantic lab-work and the sandy beaches of Lulworth Cove.

Fisher also knows how to handle actors, always giving them something to do in the scenes, adding little items and quirks that flesh out a character or a scene. Like when the boys play with swords in the shed in the beginning, and chickens suddenly start raining down over them from the loft, or when the doctor removes a bottle of brandy that Bill keeps pouring into his glass. The doctor often pulls out his tobacco pouch to fill his pipe during long talky stretches, making the scene look more natural.

Barbara Payton as Lena/Helen.

Barbara Payton as Lena/Helen.

The acting is good, as is the norm in British films. First-billed Barbara Payton was an American film star down and out on her luck, and does a fairly good job of keeping up with the British character actors. She refrains from over-acting too much, but is perhaps a little un-nuanced. Her accent is somewhat odd, as she tries to fake a British accent. It’s not too bad an attempt, better than a lot of other Hollywood stars trying to pass as Robin Hoods and whatnot, but does at times sound a bit like a mangled Mid-Atlantic. The blonde bombshell was a real-life femme fatale, infamous for her alcohol and drug abuse, and for working her way through most of Hollywood’s leading men.

Headlines from the Payton/Neal debacle in 1950.

Headlines from the Payton/Neal debacle in 1950.

Payton caused a stir in Hollywood in her first prominent role as James Cagney’s hard-boiled grilfriend in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), praised for her charisma and acting talent. She followed up with lauded roles in A films like Dallas (1951) and Only the Valiant (1951). However, her partying and multiple affairs destroyed her career as quickly as it started. She was seen publicly with several leading Hollywood men, sometimes while engaged to actor Franchot Tone, and in 1950 went back and forth – all very publicly – between Tone and actor Tom Neal. The affair concluded in Neal assaulting Tone in Payton’s apartment, breaking his nose and cheekbone and leaving him in an 18-hour coma.

Barbara Payton staying cool for a magazine shot.

Barbara Payton staying cool for a magazine shot.

Payton became shunned by major studios, and made the B movie Bride of the Gorilla (1951), written and directed by Curt Siodmak. However, Hammer Films had made a deal with American Lippert Pictures, which stated that Hammer should have an American star in their films, and Lippert would distribute and promote them in the States. Timing was ideal for Payton to leave her troubles in Hollywood and try to start anew in London. She did another film, The Flanagan Boy, for Hammer in 1953, and then returned to the US, but her career never recuperated, neither did she lose her problems with addiction and affairs. After a handful of B films her career dried up completely in 1955, which led to homelessness, run-ins with the police and eventually she ended up as a prostitute. Despite offers to stay at a rehab, Payton refused to give up her drinking, which got even worse when she moved back to her alcoholic parents in the early sixties. She was paid 1 000 dollars for a blunt and honest autobiography in 1962, and passed away from multiple organ failure in 1967, only 39 years old.

James Hayter.

James Hayter.

The glue that holds the film together is the rotund character actor James Hayter as Dr. Harvey, a fatherly and grounded figure among the fantastic proceedings. Hayter, with his ”fruity” voice, as someone described it, had just come off his two biggest film successes, as friar Tuck in Disney’s live-action film The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men and as Samuel Pickwick in The Pickwick Papers (both 1952). He was equally famous for lending his voice to a British cake commersial in the sixties. The Pickwick Papers gave him a BAFTA nomination.

 

Stephen Murray.

Stephen Murray.

Stephen Murray does a great job portraying the calm, but tortured Bill. The actor, who has an eerie resemblance to Liam Neeson, and forebodes Peter Cushing as the mad scientist of Hammer films to come, was perhaps a tad unlikely a candidate for playing the lead in a B sci-fi. Murray was a respected actor on stage, and especially in radio, known for his prowess in Shakesperian roles. He did a handful of films, of which the best known is perhaps Fred Zinnemann’s The Nun’s Story (1959), where he had a minor part. Some may know him from the unique live action/stop motion 1961 version of Alice in Wonderland, a film that is both loved and hated much for the same reasons. Murray did the voices of Lewis Carroll and the Knave of Hearts.

John Van Eyssen.

John Van Eyssen.

If Murray resembles Neeson, then you can’t watch John Van Eyssen without thinking of Pete Postlethwaite. Van Eyssen is pleasant in his role, without getting all that much to work with, and graciously leaves the centre stage to Murray, doing the best a supporting actor can do: supports and listens. Murray would return to Hammer in 1954 to play Will Scarlet in the studio’s Robin Hood feature The Men of Sherwood Forest, and had a small role in the sci-fi horror film Quatermass 2 (1957). His best remembered role, however, is that if Jonathan Harker in the legendary film Dracula (1958), starring Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Van Eyssen quit acting in 1961 to become a literary agent, and later became a manager and producer at Columbia Studios, first in the UK, and later in the States. He is maybe best known to a broader audience as the companion of Swedish movie star Ingrid Bergman in her latter years.

John van Eyssen as Robin and Stephen Murray as Bill.

John van Eyssen as Robin and Stephen Murray as Bill.

The rest of the cast is equally good, and it is impossible to review old English movies without tripping over every cast member that has at some point played Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare company, so I’ll just now stick to the ones interesting for this blog. Sean Barrett who plays young Robin transitioned from child actor to appear in films and TV as an adult, but is best known for his voice work, which started with the English dub of The Twelve Tasks of Asterix in 1976. His best known voice work is probably Tik-Tok in Return to Oz (1985), and he had a small part in The Dark Crystal (1982). His most prolific genre, however, has been manga sci-fi, including the TV series X-Bomber (1982), Dominion Tank Police (1988) and the cyberpunk cult classic mini-series Cyber City Oedo 808 (1990). In later years he has also provided his voice talents to video and computer games.

Elderly character actor Kynaston Reeves had one of the major roles, as Professor Walgate, in the oddly fascinating jumping-killer-brains movie Fiend Without a Face (1957). John Stuart who has a small role as a solicitor is interesting inasmuch as he appeared in what may very well be the first science fiction film made for TV. Stuart had a role in the live-broadcast TV film R.U.R., made by the BBC in 1948, back when sci-fi hadn’t even hit TV in the form of kiddie shows in the States. In essence, it was a live broadcast of an adaptation of Karel Capek’s 1920 play with the same name, famous for inventing the word ”robot”.

Stephen Murray, producer Michael Carreras and Barbara Payton.

Stephen Murray, producer Michael Carreras and Barbara Payton.

Producers for the film were Hungarian-born Alexander Paal and British Michael Carreras. Paal was an obscure writer-producer, who is probably best known for marrying B movie star Eva Bartok to give her entrance into the UK in the late forties. Carreras was a Hammer mainstay who served as writer, producer, director and casting director. Carreras wrote and directed films like The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) and The Lost Continent (1968), and is probably best known for producing Hammer’s Dracula. He also produced a number of sci-fi films like Spaceways, X the Unknown (1956), Quatermass 2, The Abominable Snowman (1957), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), The Damned (1963), Moon Zero Two (1969) and Creatures the World Forgot (1971).

Malcolm Arnold.

Malcolm Arnold.

Malcolm Arnold’s classical orchestral score is beautiful, evocative and effective, if somewhat generic. We get the boasting strings when introduced to the idyllic countryside, a typical swashbuckler theme during the science montage, foreboding oboes and clarinets during times of, well, foreboding, and the dissonant brass combined with high-pitched violins are old acquaintances from horror films and mystery thrillers, and is sometimes used to drum up a feeling of dread and doom, where the script fails to provide the right emotional cues. Very nice is a piece of subdued, ethereally lingering strings building tension during the cloning scene, leaving room for the sound effects, almost making them part of the score.

Arnold was an up-and-coming composer with a background as a trumpeter. He would go on to become a highly valued composer of light music, in a style sometimes compared with Jean Sibelius’, and during his lifetime wrote nine symphonies and a number of concertos, as well as scores for stage, film and TV. He first composed music mainly for documentaries in the late forties and early fifties, but soon moved on to feature films. He did some of his best films scores in the mid-to-late fifties, including Hobson’s Choice (1954), 1984 (1956), The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). His crowning achievement in film was the music for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which earned him an Oscar.

Cinematographer Reginald H. Wyer does a wonderful job on the film, suggesting he would have been cut out for bigger films than the B productions in which he was stuck for much of his career. The lighting is sublime, the camera moves smooth as silk and the framing and composition often imaginative – although the latter may have also been thanks to Fisher. Wyer also shot other sci-fis, like Spaceways (1953, although the contrast to this film is striking), Masters of Venus (1962), Unearthly Stranger (1963), Island of Terror (1966), Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon (1967) and The Night of the Big Heat (1967).

Stephen Murray and Barbara Payton.

Stephen Murray and Barbara Payton.

Editor Maurice Rootes also worked on Spaceways and First Men in the Moon (1964). Second assistant director Aida Young was one of the rare women behind the camera in the fifties, and worked as assistant director on a number of films for Hammer during the period, she later went on to become a producer. She worked on The Quatermass Xperiment (1955, review) and moved into TV in the late fifties, where she started producing a number of classic TV series, like The Invisible Man (1958-1960) and many TV movies. She kept working into the nineties.

Second assistant director Aida Young.

Second assistant director Aida Young.

For a science fiction film Four Sided Triangle is curiously devoid of special effects. The only real effect, apart from all the gadgetry, is the shed burning down. Helen and Lena are seldom seen in the same frame, and when they are, one of them is always turned away, suggesting a double. This hampers the story, as one would naturally like to see the two copies of each other interact at some point, but they never even say a word to each other. This is yet another opportunity to go someplace interesting, that the film throws away.

Another problematic aspect of the film is the casting. When we open the film, the three kids are all the same age. But when Lena returns, she seems markedly younger than the two guys. Murray was 41 at the time, Van Eyssen 31 (looking older, for some reason) and Barbara Payton 26. If we are to believe they are all somewhere around thirty, then the doc should also have aged 20 years, which he hasn’t.

All in all, a well shot and decently directed film with a very interesting premise that nonetheless fails to do much with the possibilities presented and dumps everything that might seem too brainy for a dull romantic melodrama.

Four Sided Triangle (1953). Directed by Terence Fisher. Written by Terence Fisher and Paul Tabori. Based on the novel 4-Sided Triangle by William F. Temple. Starring: Barbara Payton, James Hayter. Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen, Percy Marmont, Jennifer Dearman, Glyn Dearman, Sean Barrett, Kynaston Reeves, John Stuart, Edith Saville. Music: Malcolm Arnold. Cinematography: Reginald H. Wyer. Editing: Maurice Rootes. Art direction: J. Elder Willis. Makeup artist: Dick Bonnor-Morris. Sound recordists: Bill Salter, Percy Britten. Production management: Victor Wark. Produced by Michael Carreras and Alexander Paal for Hammer Film Productions.

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