Thursday, 14 April 2011
Review: Four Sided Triangle
Four Sided Triangle (1953)
What would you do if you had a machine that could duplicate anything? And I mean anything? How would it alter our world? What would the implications be for the economy? The arts? Defence? Daily life? What if it opened up some very unpleasant possibilities–like duplicating people?
Hammer Films's first science fiction film before it took the plunge with The Quatermass Xperiment in 1955, Four Sided Triangle is a foreshadowing of greater things to come. Directed by the legendary terrance Fisher and based on William F. Temple's popular novella by the same name, the film revolves around Lena, Bill, and Robin (Barbara Payton, Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen); childhood friends who are drawn back together in adulthood by Bill and Robin's new invention, which turns out to be a matter duplicator. During the intense, inward-looking work of perfecting their machine, the trio's success is marred when they discover that both men have fallen in love with Lena. Normally, this is the cue for some powerful jealousy and impossible frustrations, but when you've got a matter duplicator on hand, certain alternatives begin to present themselves. In this case, its a matter of, if two men love one woman, then why not duplicate said woman? It seems like a reasonable solution and Lena is willing to go along with it, but they overlook one detail that causes the arrangement to rapidly disintegrate as the duplicate Lena discovers that she still loves the man the original has married and that she's as cut off from her desires, too.
This isn't your usual science fiction epic. There's neither the antiseptic laboratory nor the Frankensteinian ruins. Instead, the plot in Four Sided Triangle takes place in an idyllic little village where the laboratory is an old barn while the action is underscored by the musical direction of Muir Matheson. The film is even introduced by our narrator, the village doctor (James Hayter), leaning against a five-bar fence and delivering his lines in a way that makes the audience expect him to start selling them loaves of bread. It's a clumsy structure and gives the film the feel of a bad documentary blended with a magazine short story. However, you can see the beginnings of Fisher's talent that shines through his lack of confidence in his story telling abilities. He feels too much of a need to show back story in painful detail, but his visual style is already strong and when he lets the camera do its job, it does it well. This is especially true in the laboratory scenes where Fisher actually exploits the minimal budget by giving the place a ramshackle, jerry rigged appearance that is both dramatic and suspenseful–mostly because you expect it all to blow up at any second. As the matter duplicator is built, Fisher shows the exuberance of industry and invention as well as the developing romantic triangle. If Fisher trusted his own talents, these scenes would have been classic.
The cast is also strong and help to sell the story in a way that the basic special effects couldn't hope to. Susan Payton, as an English girl who's been living in America to explain her uneven accent, is a competent actress who manages to make us forget that her career and personal life were already in a terminal dive while Murray and Van Eyssen manage to make enough contrast between their roles that we believe them as friends both divided and united by their love of the same woman.
In the end, Four Sided Triangle is a story of good intentions of well-meaning people leading to tragedy. The film version lacks the plot twist and irony of the novella, and the ending is clumsier than it should be, but
it's still a bit Hammer history worth the effort of tracking down.