I can always have some appreciation for a movie with a moronic premise, but when it's played straight and without a trace of intentional camp, it's all the better. This oddity comes from a Hammer Film Noir box set, starring Paul Henreid as a brilliant surgeon, and Lizabeth Scott in two roles: an American concert pianist, and a criminal slut with a cockney accent. It's directed by Terence Fisher, who is probably better known for trash horror flicks like The Devil Rides Out, and this one straddles the line between horror, film noir, and a bad round of stomach cramps brought on by British pub food.
Henried has been burning the midnight oil, providing free medical services to the poor (didn't Britain have socialized medicine in the early 1950s?), and the inmates at a nearby prison. One case involves a woman whose face was disfigured, leaving her right cheek looking like one of those volcanoes you used to see at junior high school science fairs. Paul promises to make things right, and the warden is convinced that tidying up mangled faces turns hardened felons into model citizens. But on the drive home, Paul falls asleep behind the wheel from fatigue and almost drives into a truck. His partner convinces him it's time for a vacation.
Checking into a rural hotel, Paul's sleep is immediately interrupted by some mucus saturated sneezing in the adjacent room. After exchanging a couple of notes under the door, Paul knocks on the door to offer a bottle of scotch and discovers Lizabeth Scott, down sick with a cold. Being a doctor, Paul nurses her back to health, using the opportunity to check out her cleavage. Of course they immediately fall in love, since nothing induces romance better than germs, airborne snot, and a guy who introduces himself as a doctor and launches into some enthusiastic chest groping.
Lizabeth Scott has always seemed kind of creepy to me, her sultry image notwithstanding, and her role as a concert pianist is a bigger stretch than Charlton Heston as a Mexican. But after a few days of her oozing sinus fluids and banging out etudes and pub favorites, Paul is obsessed and asks her to marry him. But she can't, since she's already engaged. Quel dommage!
Paul returns to his career, embittered by rejection. Lizabeth Scott returns to her passionless fiancÚ, and rips into one of those banal montage sequences with concert posters from all across Europe, adoring crowds, and newspaper headlines that blare about a topic that real newspapers wouldn't mention at all. Paul hits on the idea of reconstructing the female inmate's face to look exactly like Lizabeth Scott's, then proposing marriage to her. Meanwhile, Lizabeth realizes that she has made a horrible error and must call off her marriage and beg for Paul's forgiveness. Obviously, this sets up an awkward situation, and an unintentionally hilarious sequence in which Scott shows up at his office, emotes profusely, then notices that the picture on his desk looks exactly like her. Amazingly, she doesn't find this really fucking creepy.
Eventually, they manage to get back together, through idiotic circumstances, but by that time, an ending that actually makes sense would only be a letdown. It's not one you'll go back to for repeated viewings, but it's a decent enough distraction if you can get a laugh from watching the crap that blacklisted actors had to sink to in the 1950s in order to pay the rent.
Completely unrelated, but worth more than a mention is Multiple SIDosis, a homemade short film from the 1960s produced by Sid Laverents, a guy who I think should have his face carved into Mount Rushmore after they dynamite away all of those other assholes. The reason I bring it up is that Sid recently turned 100 years old, and is still alive and, last I heard, doing well. He began with a career in vaudeville, and eventually ended up working as an engineer in California. On the side, he has made numerous short subject films on a peculiar array of topics, and in my opinion this one may be the best short subject film ever produced. I won't try to explain it, but stick with it even if you find the first few minutes a bit dull (I don't, but some people tire of post-modern irony, even when it actually predates post-modern irony). And if you know anything about film making, you still might be hard pressed to explain how the hell he did some of this using 1960s home movie equipment. Technical details aside, this is the sort of thing that gives me the will to live.
Happy Birthday, Sid. May you have as many more as you care to have.