Title: Seance on a Wet Afternoon
Genre: Crime, Drama
Director: Bryan Forbes
Music: John Barry
Cinematography: Gerry Turpin
When Ms. Myra Savage (Stanley) self-professes that she is a professional medium, it does make me chuckle is there any definitive method to determine the word “professional” in this line of business in this cynical world? But Myra’s believes her gift, but paradoxically in order to establish her reputation, she hatches a scheme of kidnapping a rich kid Amanda (Donner), and so she can her “gift” to correctly predict the whereabout of the kid and the ransom, to stage a sensation for her benefit.
But it is a risky plan, as the parents of Amanda doesn’t know Myra, she must proactively visit them and lure their attention, which will inconveniently raise the suspicion from the police (which is a sure thing after the kidnap has occurred), so a further police investigation is inevitable. Also it is an implausible plan, one may wonder even if she pulls off the subterfuge, how she can sustain her reputation after that? Keep rigging everything in advance? I fail to foresee what this one-time deal can really boost her career? As it is under one condition, she is a sham. But is she?
Also kidnapping requires field work, so she must manipulate her weak-minded husband Billy (Attenborough) to carry out more physically-taxing procedures, including kidnapping, receiving ransom and transferring the hostage. This vintage black-and-white drama from Bryan Forbes hinges heavily on the play-off between Stanley and Attenborough, both are superb and tellingly affecting, although we can never morally take their stand, the scenes of their interactions register a sublime psychological mind-game of control and defense between a married couple. Stanley is righteously honoured with an Oscar nomination, Myra is shown simultaneously as a perpetrator with cold-hearted conviction and a victim of her own delusional obsession of their stillborn baby. Her so-called gift is the only connection (whether imaginary or uncannily tangible) to him which she clings to devotedly. A tour-de-force from Ms. Stanley, whose screen roles are rather scarce and here, it is a performance of a lifetime, she is resolute, calm, crafty and projects her towering presence with pitch-perfect note, until the ending, that ending which powerfully strengths the emotional impact by giving Stanley a show-stopping vent of truth and also masterfully veils the fact whether it is a guilt-driven confession or in a more eerie interpretation, she really reconnects with her dead child and gains her gift but at the same time, beans also been spilled so that she can never get away with her crime, simply brilliant!
Attenborough, with a fake nose (which seems to be an odd option), didn’t get enough credits for his equally excellent performance, he is the one audience is rooting for, his has doubt in their scheme from the very first, and he is compliant but we know when things reach the threshold, he is the game-changer can alter the entire plan, because he is not a psychopath, Attenborough instills great credibility into Billy, equips him with a humane touch which subtly subverts Myra’s indefatigable madness. In cliques mainly composed with male chauvinists, we can see how easily his poignant acting can be easily snubbed.
The truth is, occasionally the film’s one-dimensional and predictable story development tends to be a shade bland, and the procedural account of getting the random is too archaic to believe (a deliberate mockery of the police force?); but the performances are gravitating enough to ensnare viewers into a compelling human tragedy with its expressive chiaroscuro, a must-see for everyone.