Tag Archives: Ian Bannen

Fright (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psycho torments a babysitter.

Amanda (Susan George) is a college student who earns money part-time by working as a babysitter. One night she takes a job with the Lloyds (Honor Blackman, George Cole) who assign her to watch after their sleeping toddler (Tara Collinson) at their isolated wooded estate while they go off to a dinner party. Once the couple leaves Amanda begins hearing strange noises and becomes convinced that someone outside is watching her unaware that Mrs. Lloyd’s ex-husband (Ian Bannen) has escaped from the nearby insane asylum and now looking to attack anyone inside.

While the babysitter-terrorized-by-a-psycho theme may now be considered a cliché with such popular films as Halloween and When a Stranger Calls having successfully done it it’s important to realize that this film did it first and to some extent does pretty well although it does veer off from the formula. I did like the creepy set-up where an extended amount of time is given to building up the atmosphere. Some of the best moments are seeing the shadowy images on the other side of the window and not knowing who it is. The film is most effective when it’s seen from Amanda’s point-of-view making the viewer feel trapped inside the home alongside her, but weakens when it cuts away to the outside, which lessens the tension.

Having Amanda’s boyfriend Chris (Dennis Waterman) arrive doesn’t help. The fear hinges on Amanda feeling that she is all alone in this big strange house in the middle-of-nowhere and entering more people into the mix takes that element away.

The film is unusual in that unlike the other thrillers with a similar plotline the parents here figure heavily into the story. Instead of just focusing exclusively on the babysitter the films consistently cuts between her scenes and the scenes of the couple at the party. In many ways its the mother that becomes the real star, which is fine to an extent, but the part is played by Honor Blackman, a very gifted actress, but at age 46 was looking way too old to be the mother of such a young child.

The film is also unusual in that when the police arrive it doesn’t just end in fact that’s when it starts to get going with the entire third act filled with this long protracted stand-off. To some degree I felt this made it more realistic as real-life hostage situations can happen with long ‘negotiating’ session between the police and the person inside. Police aren’t always able to immediately take control of a situation either and can sometimes be just as helpless as the victim, but in the process this approach takes away the confrontational element between Amanda and the psycho, which would’ve been more interesting at seeing how she could use her wits to outsmart the bad guy that never really gels.

Susan George really doesn’t figuring in as much of the action as you’d initially expect spends most of the time just crying and looking scared. The 3-year-old child, which was played by the daughter of the film’s director Peter Collinson, doesn’t help matters either. I found it very hard to believe that any child could remain asleep such as this one when Amanda and the psycho stood over her crib talking and at certain points even shouting. The child never screams or cries either even when a sharp piece of a broken-off mirror is put to her throat.

Bannen can be amazingly creepy, I enjoyed his work in The Offence where he played a suspected child killer being interrogated by Sean Connery, but here he’s given a bit too much latitude and becomes a caricature. Having him seesaw between being child-like to behaving aggressively comes off as manufactured and more strained than frightening.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, in which Amanda shoots and kills the psycho, does not work. For one thing Bannen had already handed over the child to the mother and at that point was completed surrounded by the police with nowhere to run, so killing him wasn’t needed. It’s questionable how and where Amanda got the gun, supposedly it was the one that an officer had put down earlier, but how she was able to sneak up and get it from him is never explained. Also, she had most likely never shot a gun before, in Great Britain most people don’t own guns, so she’d probably not have been able to hit him, especially in her shaky emotional state, at a long distance, which makes this scene dumb and unnecessary.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 18, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Collinson

Studio: British Lion Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Driver’s Seat (1974)

drivers seat 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazy lady goes traveling.

Lise (Elizabeth Taylor) is a middle-aged woman with seemingly no past who travels to Rome looking for someone to kill her. Her erratic behavior and weird motivations confuse those that she comes into contact with. She then meets Bill (Ian Bannen) a man who’s more interested in her sexually than anything else and he follows her around in a veiled attempt to get ‘lucky’ despite her repeated rebuffs.

The film is basically a mess that goes nowhere. It was based on a novel by Muriel Spark, who had written some acclaimed stuff in her day including ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, so I can only imagine that the book made more sense and only bits and pieces of it were taken to create this screenplay. In either case it was a highly strange career move for Miss Taylor who made a lot of weird movie choices in the 70’s, which helped to destroy her once megastar status and tainted her other stellar work.

Her performance by itself isn’t too bad and it’s the one thing that helps keep things watchable. The way that she can go from being passive and helpless to snippy and bitchy within seconds is kind of fun and on a purely camp level even enjoyable. The whole thing seems almost like an extension of the character that she played in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , which became her signature role during her later years.

Bannen lends good support as his leering Cheshire cat grin is a perfect counterpart to Taylor’s crazed glare and he effectively equals her nuttiness. I also loved his so-called macrobiotic diet in which he must attain one orgasm a day for it to work and if he misses one then he must make up for it by having two the next day, which ultimately gives him ‘indigestion’. Mona Washbourne a character actress noted for playing delightfully daffy old ladies is also on hand as one of the people Taylor befriends and their encounter inside the stall of a public bathroom is a gem.

Director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi manages to infuse some interesting visuals, which along with its fragmented narrative helps keep things cheaply alluring, but it eventually plays itself out and by the end becomes quite tiring and tedious. The biggest issue is that there never is any explanation for who this woman is or why she’s doing this, which makes the whole thing quite empty and pointless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Giuseppe Patroni Griffi

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video