Saturday, 28 February 2015

Frankenstein and Malcolm Arnold

Sir Malcolm Arnold and Hammer Horror : a marriage made in Heaven  Four-Sided Triangle (1953) is a great classic, from the time that Britain had a thriving cinema industry. Three kids, Bill, Robin and Lena, grow up in Highdene, a perfect village, the epitome of Olde England. It's actually Hambleden in South Oxfordshire, still preserved almost intact because it's owned by a billionaire, the cottages rented to rich yuppies. Delight in the glories of the British countryside, for this is part of the story. The two young men are like twins, they've grown up together and even look alike. But Robin's dada is a millionaire, while Bill's was a feckless ne'er do well. Since Bill managed somehow to go to Cambridge with Robin, perhaps we should admire him, as does the village doctor. Very quietly, beneath this rural idyll, beats angst. Bill will never be Robin. Both love Lena, an impossibly blonde beauty who left the village for the US, but escape didn't help. She's come home to kill herself.

Robin and Bill rig up an elaborate laboratory in a shed, as one does. They're transmutating matter so they can duplicate things like gold, watches and rabbits in their own backyard. As one does.  When Lena agrees to marry Robin, Bill feels he has to square the triangle. So he decides to uses the machine to duplicate Lena. Sure enough, the experiment works. Lena now has a perfect replica Helen.  Bill and Helen go off to Dorset where they sit on the beach at Lulworth Cove. But Helen carries Lena's death wish, further complicated because she knows she's an unnatural creation and, like Lena, does not love Bill. When Helen attempts suicide, Bill tries to fix her in the machine, but it explodes into a ball of fire. Only one woman survives, but which? Fortunately class superiorty reigns, even in sci fi land. Lena and Robin live happily ever after, free of usurpers.

This film is way above the standard of later Hammer Studios horror flicks. The script was by Paul Tabori, who wrote books on the occult, which might explain the undercurrent of perversity which flows beneath this rural idyll. Snappy dialogue, well delivered by a good cast who don't ham for Hammer. The director was Terence Fisher who later made Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee into icons of the genre. Four-Sided Triangle is way above that.  The music was composed by Sir Malcolm Arnold. Muir Mathieson conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.  The bizarre plot gives Arnold a chance to experiment with sound effects he might never have dared to explore in non-film music. Wonderfully discordant sounds, woven into a background which suggest tension and violence beneath a lyrical surface. The music works particularly well for the mad scientist scenes. "I'm a physicist!" shouts Robin, "not a biologist". The duality in the music reminds us that no right-minded physicist or biologist would be doing stuff as crazy as this.

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