Monday, 11 May 2009

In a fix

Billed as a
‘phantasmagoria of fright’,
‘Fragment of Fear’ (1970)
never quite lives up to the hyperbole of that statement but is, nonetheless, a solid and intriguing thriller with an interesting premise, a great cast, and a fantastic soundtrack.

Tim Brett (David Hemmings) is a reformed heroin addict turned best selling confessional author who is pitched into danger when his newly discovered Aunt Lucy (Flora Robson), a kindly old woman known for her selfless work in reforming criminals is found murdered in the ruins of Pompeii. Eager to make some sense of the seemingly random killing (and with one eye to his next book) Tim sets out to find the truth, but soon finds himself the victim of those who want their secrets kept secret, and are prepared to use any means necessary to effect his silence.

Directed by Richard C. Sarafin (his next film would be ‘Vanishing Point’), ‘Fragment of Fear’ is actually a very cool little film, with appearances from British acting institutions like Mona Washbourne, Arthur Lowe, Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte and Dave from ‘Minder’. The screenplay (by Paul Dehn, writer of the four ‘Planet of the Apes’ sequels and, therefore, some sort of God in my eyes) is clever and literate, methodically setting out the steps by which the already edgy Tim is pushed to his very limits, and creating a paranoid world where appearances can not only be deceptive, but deadly.

David Hemmings was an interesting actor at his peak, in possession of a gravitas that belied his boyish face and small, slight frame, and with a calm, sonorous voice that veered between Received Pronunciation and Estuary English. He plays the brittle Tim to perfection here, making him insecure and naïve, but with more than a touch of petulance and arrogance, and a tendency towards the withering putdown and sudden burst of anger. He is particularly good when trawling the Late Night Chemists and dirty alleys where he served his junkie time, his expression a mix of disgust and longing as he joins a crowd gawking at a hapless junkie shooting up. Ironically, it is the character’s most defining characteristic: his addiction, recovery and subsequent success as a writer, that proves to be his downfall: he is too well-known as an ex-junkie to be taken seriously, and his reports of the intimidation he is subjected to are written off as the hallucinatory ravings of a drug fiend.

The music is by Johnny Harris, and is ridiculously good. The gently sinister title track can be found here, and the exhilarating and action packed flute freakout ‘Stepping Stones’ here. Primarily an arranger and conductor, working with Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Lulu (amongst many others), Harris should have become one of the great cinema soundtrack composers of the 1970’s but, sadly, seemed content to disappear into steady but unspectacular work as a Hollywood based TV composer, writing for ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘Buck Rogers’ and a long list of made for TV movies, but rarely displaying the musical gift evidenced by these two superlative tracks.

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