As part of my double feature for Furious Cinema’s: Scenes of the Crime Blog-a-thon.
Séance on a Wet Afternoon 1964 is an astonishing film by British actor/director/screenwriter Bryan Forbes (Whistle Down the Wind (1961) The L-Shaped Room (1962) King Rat (1965) The Wrong Box (1966) The Whisperers (1967) Deadfall (1968) The Raging Moon (1971) The Stepford Wives 1975) Forbes who also penned the screenplay was only nominated for a BAFTA but actually won the Writers Guild of Great Britain and the 1965 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Richard Attenborough was co-producer on the film as well. Forbes actually adds a slight spin on McShane’s novel by the way he introduces the presence of the Savage’s dead son Arthur. In an interview Forbe’s recalls, ” It was a paperback written by an Australian, a very good paperback but it had something we couldn’t use because in the book, I believe the child was killed and we weren’t going to go down that way.”
In the same interview Bryan Forbes talks about his original conception for the screenplay. “I was counting up the other day, I think I’ve written about 68 screenplays in my career not all of which have reached the screen but which I’ve actually written. And you start with a blank sheet of paper and I had trouble writing it and at one point… I don’t think I told this to many people, we couldn’t as I say, ‘get it cast’ So I turned it into a burnt out homosexual case, that the medium became a sort of Maurice Woodruff who was living with a young man and it was sort of burnt out. Now had we got away with that it would have been an absolute trail blazer of a movie in 1962, I offered it to Alec Guinness and Tom Courtney and Tom said yes and after a month Guinness said no. But that would have been something. And then I sat down and rewrote another version. And changed certain things and eventually as I say, I managed to get Kim Stanley.”
Séance on a Wet Afternoon 1964 is based on the novel by Mark McShane. Gerry Turpin received a BAFTA nomination for his stunningly riveting Cinematography. The incredible composer/conductor John Barry (Day of the Locust 1975, Somewhere in Time 1980) wrote the music for the film. Derek York did the outstanding editing with art direction by Ray Simm.
The marvelously significant Set design that placed the narrative down in the center of the proper mood was done by Alan Roderick Jones and Peter James.
Nanette Newman & Mark Eden are The Claytons.Gerald Sim is Detective Sergeant Beedle who first starts poking around the Savage’s London house, Patrick Magee plays Superintendent Walsh Margaret Lacey, Marie Burke, Maria Kazan are the women at the first Séance, Lionel Gamlin appears at the Séances, Marian Spencer is Mrs. Wintry, Godfrey James is Mrs. Clayton’s Chauffeur and Judith Donner is Amanda Clayton the freckled little girl who falls into Myra’s warped plot to achieve fame.
Much like Bunny Lake Is Missing , this film could be called a Post-Noir offering, yet it situates itself flawlessly into the psychological suspense-crime genre as well. And much like Bunny Lake the plot does revolve around an unseen child.
What lies at the core of the film is not the crime itself, and again while the film is seemingly a Post-Noir crime thriller on the surface it truly is much more of a psychological morality play about the depths of loss and alienation driving a soul, whose fragile psyche bends toward madness and it goes to the questions of maternal instinct and inherited destiny. It’s about human frailties and fractured human relationships that fuel both the alienation and the prevailing insanity.
Are these three women symbols as in the ‘three sisters’ from Macbeth signifying the ‘fates’?
Kim Stanley herself, mystically occupies the role of Myra Savage a professed spiritual medium who truly believes she’s the ‘real thing’ and who holds weekly Wednesday afternoon séances in her London home. The film opens with the camera framed on the lit candle burning in the dark blackness and holds itself there silently for a quite a few seconds, before it moves to a close -up on hands clasped together in silent obeisance to the moment. We hear a quiet, measured voice speaking. As the camera moves from hand grasped within hand. “What… what is it? No,no no no… later, later not now..” Myra whispers to her unseen companion, “A message, what? It’s a young face, he’s waving” The youngest woman sitting around the table begins to cry. Myra continues. “Peaceful, very peaceful” The candle crackles, threatening to burn out. “Oh no, no ssshhh, hush, ssshhh. No my darling, it’s alright my precious no more, no more, no more”
The candle flame cuts right up the middle of Myra’s face giving her an ethereal look of serenity. Yet the flame acts as as a declaration of the duality or paradox of Myra’s conflicted motherhood, denoting a split or fracture in her personality. A bit of symbolic camera play. And quietly as she begins to open her eyes, she snuffs the candle out with her fingers and we are in total blackness for a split second. It is also at this first séance that we see the presence of three women, which I infer as a signpost toward the symbolism of the three weird sisters or ‘fate’ from Shakespeare’s ”Macbeth’. Triggering a sort of marked destiny from this moment on.
As the séance guests leave the house, exiting into the pouring rain with their scarves and umbrellas, John Barry’s music is composed of trickling sparse notes like that of rain drops themselves, subtle, dripping and as moody and dreamy as the opening sequence. The sparse melody is as slow and drawn out, and starkly subdued and somber as Myra’s voice when speaking to her child spirit guide that no one else can hear.
The film’s titles begin to roll, as the camera catches little drops of rain on the lens, and frames the Victorian house in a small puddle in the street. A very effective way to bring us in to the dreary moodiness of the story. The house which drew Forbes to it because of it’s characteristic turret.