[box cover]

Seance on a Wet Afternoon

Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) and her husband Bill Savage (Richard Attenborough) are very bad people. And very confused. After all, it's not easy getting over the death of a young child, and the couple's dark London home has been a tomb of sorts for their young Arthur. The boy's bedroom has never been used since his death. Myra believes she talks to Arthur from beyond the grave. And as a spiritualist medium, the childless mother holds weekly seances with fellow believers, using her link with Arthur to reach the other side. The only problem is that Myra doesn't think she gets quite enough recognition for her unusual gifts. After all, is it possible she could just be ignored by folks? It's a problem easily solved however — all husband Billy has to do is "borrow" a child. In this case, Amanda Clayton (Judith Donner), the young daughter of a wealthy couple (Mark Eden, Nanette Newman), is selected, and before long she's spirited away to the Savage's home, locked into a room made to look like a hospital, and told she's quarantined with the measles. With a ransom scheme underway, Myra then offers her psychic services to the Claytons, insisting that she can locate their kidnapped child. But the police tend to follow all leads in kidnapping cases, and before long they think there's something not quite right about Myra and Billy Savage. Bryan Forbes' Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) is one of the most celebrated British thrillers from the '60s, and it remains a compelling film to this day. Adapted by Forbes from the novel by Mark McShane and produced by star Richard Attenborough, it's a small picture that was shot on a limited budget, deriving a lot of its power from a remarkable cast. Foremost among them is Kim Stanley. Seance is her film, chronicling the mental instability and gradual breakdown of Myra Savage, and the actress handles the role with a light touch. She's all sweetness and light in the film's first half, but there's something a little off about her — her breathy inflections, her childlike tone-of-voice, the calm stability that belies her tormented psyche. As the downtrodden, meek Billy Savage, Richard Attenborough likewise gets a plumb part as a man so completely controlled by his domineering wife that he agrees to kidnap a child in order to placate her. (In addition to the terrific performance, Attenborough also wears a prosthetic nose in the film, perhaps to ensure Billy would not be as handsome as Attenborough actually was). Ironically, it's only by kidnapping young Amanda that Billy manages to stand up to Myra, surprised by his own tenderness towards the girl and finally aware that Myra is far off the deep end. A pair of clever police inspectors (Patrick Magee, Gerald Sim) and a tense ransom-drop in the London Underground keep the plot humming, and Seance has just enough Hitchcockian touches to make one wonder how The Master would have handled the material. Of course, Hitch barely made a film this good in his waning years — Forbes clearly was the man for the job. Home Vision Entertainment's DVD release of Seance on a Wet Afternoon offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in the original mono (DD 1.0). The black-and-white source-print has strong low-contrast details and is pleasant, although it has not been restored — flecking and a few blemishes are notable. Keep-case.
—JJB



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