Fragment of Fear (1970)


While constructing last week’s post, I noticed a movie called, Fragment of Fear (1970), that at one point was exhibited as a double feature with The Brotherhood of Satan (see poster above.) A cursory glance at IMDb told me it wasn’t a horror film, but there is a murder, so I decided to feature it this week. It’s an interesting pairing. While I enjoyed both movies, this one not as much as the other, they are different enough that I can’t really compare them.

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On the surface, Fragment of Fear is a mystery about Tim Brett (David Hemmings), a former addict investigating the death of his aunt, Lucy Dawson (Flora Robson), while traveling in Italy. When the police don’t seem to pay much attention to the case, he starts asking questions on his own. Soon, he receives threatening warnings to stop nosing around. Thus begins a series of encounters with characters who are not who they claim to be, with escalating threats.

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Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s a character study of a recovering drug user living with the consequences of his past. His unbelievable stories are discounted because the authorities think he may be experiencing a relapse. Late in the movie, as events spin out of control, so does his emotional state. Tim isn’t sure that he’s not suffering from delusions and hallucinations, even though he has not starting using drugs again.

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As a viewer, my experience ran parallel to Tim’s. By the end, I wasn’t sure what was real and what was imagined. The movie is purposefully vague. For example, the woman who finds Aunt Lucy’s body is Juliet Bristow (Gayle Hunnicutt.) When Tim returns to London, he’s in a relationship with her. Then, out of the blue, their wedding is happening on the next Saturday. I thought they were in a relationship all along, that he was traveling in Italy with her.

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It turns out, if the internet can be trusted, that he first met her in Italy, began dating her, and then decided to get married. There are no plot points to demonstrate this. Their relationship is so matter of fact that there’s no reason to believe it wasn’t already happening when the movie began. It’s almost irrelevant except that all roads begin leading to the wedding and it becomes the pivotal event during the movie’s climax.

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By this time, I couldn’t tell you the details of Tim’s investigation, what he learned, and, most importantly, why Aunt Lucy was killed. There seems to be a plot there, but I didn’t understand it. When her husband was killed, she became an advocate for criminals, helping place them in jobs when they were released from prison. How does that make her dangerous enough to need to be eliminated? It’s like Tim asks:

Who kills a lady who’s spent her life helping criminals?

Based on a novel by John Bingham and written by Paul Dehn (Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), there’s some dialogue that marks milestones in Tim’s possible breakdown. He admits he’s become confused:

They think I've given up. But I haven't given up. As soon as I can think straight, I'll draw them out. They're somewhere.

Self-aware that he might be making something out of nothing, Tim succinctly summarizes his situation:

Either I am mad and all this isn't happening to me, or else I'm sane and it is.

I like the ambiguity in Fragment of Fear, but it wouldn’t have been as effective if not for the performance of Hemmings. The more movies I watch with him, the more I like him. He’s always unusual and exciting to watch; or, at least he has been in films like Unman, Wittering & Zigo and Deep Red. He’s had a long, diverse career not only as an actor, but also as a director, producer, and singer-songwriter. He also co-founded the Hemdale Film Corporation.

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Director Richard C. Sarafian exercises calm control, then lets loose as Tim unravels. He started out as an actor, then added directing to his resume. After Fragment of Fear, he made Vanishing Point, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, and the perplexing-but-I-have-to-love-it-because-it-stars-Farrah Fawcett Sunburn. Don’t expect any of this to coalesce into a coherent story; that doesn’t seem to be its point. Nevertheless, there’s enough to enjoy.

Written by Paul Dehn

From the novel by John Bingham

Directed by Richard C. Sarafian

Starring David Hemmings, Gayle Hunnicutt, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Flora Robson

RT 94 min.

Released Sept. 3, 1970 (London)

Home Video Amazon Prime (streaming)

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