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Hypnotic Eye, The (DVD Review)

8 Nov, 2010 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Jacques Bergerac, Allison Hayes, Marcia Henderson, Merry Anders.

A good-looking woman, the first of several we subsequently see or hear about, disfigures herself under what turns out to be hypnosis. One of them sticks her face into a fan, and another takes a hot, scalding shower in an apartment building that must have one hell of a water heater. But the victim in the opening scene massages something into her hair that we assume is some kind of conditioner yet is actually a flammable liquid. She turns on a gas burner, and her skull bursts into flame.

After all these decades, I have never forgotten this scene, which kicks off a 1960 Allied Artists ‘B’-pic which before too long became a favorite on Friday night “Chiller Theaters” (or whatever they were called in your town; every good-sized market had one) on local television. The “spell” perpetrator is a nationally known hypnotist  — though portrayed as a quack, we see his character on a Life magazine cover — played by Jacques Bergerac. A onetime lawyer in real life, this heavily accented actor never really cut it in pictures and was more famous for his real-life marriages to Ginger Rogers (No. 4 for her, and she was 16 years younger) and Dorothy Malone — as well as for his subsequent tenure as the head of Revlon’s Paris office. Overall, not a bad life.

But on screen here, his character seems vaguely dominated by a statuesque wife or girlfriend who acts as his assistant (played by Allison Hayes, the actress immortalized by her title role in the original version of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, also from Allied Artists). The script doesn’t make a big to-do of it, but one gets a sense from the very beginning that their relationship is twisted. For reasons that remain mysterious until the movie’s climax, this woman is a lurker.

Investigating is one of the dullest detectives in movie memory (Joe Patridge), though the psychiatrist buddy helping him on the case (Guy Prescott) is kind of a stitch. We know this guy is a shrink because he has a mustache, smokes a pipe and wears a silky housecoat while playing the piano (which even has a placid dog crapped out on top of it) at home. But this isn’t why, even beyond the queasy premise, the movie keeps you watching.

For one thing, there are some weird cameos: Fred (“The Great Imposter”) Demara shows up in a bit as a doctor about a year before Tony Curtis played him on screen in a fairly high-profile biopic — and there’s also Lawrence Lipton (father of "Inside the Actors Studio" host James) spouting Beat poetry in a shoehorned-in coffee house sequence right out of an early Roger Corman movie. There’s also the mayhem-making hypnotic “device” — probably a $10.98 special effect with lights but kind of cool nonetheless. There’s also a long, so-called “Hypovision” scene that stops the movie cold in the late going: Bergerac performing his stage act (and rather convincingly) in front of a live audience that’s a surrogate for us. A sequence that would have been much more effective were it plunked earlier into the film, it’s fairly unique in my screen experience. The only other one I can think of that’s anything like it is the Pat Collins hypnotism set-piece (played for laughs) in 1967’s Divorce American Style, a well received and still dead-on comedy with Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds.

As if this movie weren’t weird enough just by itself, the credits of its director (George Blair) included eighth-cousin TV work (twice removed) on “Superman,” “Highway Patrol,” “Bonanza,” “The Gene Autry Show,” “The Roy Rogers Show” and “Lassie” — plus big screen work (so to speak) with the Bowery Boys. An on-demand release from Warner Archives’ made-to-order arm, Eye remains a passably resourceful cheapie I first saw in 1964 in what may have been the greatest single movie weekend of my life — when I also saw the then recent Oscar winner Tom Jones, Hitchcock’s Vertigo and To Catch a Thief, Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon, George Cukor’s The Actress and Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal all for the first time. Yet I never lost memory of the trashy horror melodrama that kicked off this marathon on a Friday night. For a long time it kept me sticking to Vitalis with V-7 as a hair product.


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