Diagnosis : Murder (1974)
This nifty British flick serves as a reminder that Christopher Lee did not star entirely in horror films during the 1970’s though one shouldn’t expect him to play nicely in this Hitchcockian thriller that has our leading man involved in murder and deceit.
Directed by Sidney Hayers the film opens with a woman casually strolling in the English countryside. All seems peaceful until she’s set upon by a mysterious shooter who at first terrorizes her with well place gunshots via the scope on his rifle. As he lines up the final shot the film cuts to the credits that lists Lee alongside Judy Geeson and Jon Finch as the above the title leading players.
We’re to learn the wife of Lee, a noted psychiatrist, is missing and a message has been sent to the police accusing Lee of her murder. The case has been assigned to Finch who soon discovers that Lee has a cute blonde secretary played by Geeson. He correctly surmises that she’s doing double time as Lee’s mistress as well. Lee doesn’t seem overly upset about the disappearance of his wife and would appear to have a motive for killing her. Money. His wife holds the purse strings in the relationship and if Lee was to divorce her for Geeson he’d be leaving the cash behind.
As anonymous letters continue to point towards Lee as the man behind his wife’s disappearance, Lee knows he’s under surveillance from Finch and his partner played by Tony Beckley. He’s even teasing Geeson with “what if” scenarios giving her pause to wonder of Lee really has done away with his wife.
“Let me tell you something. Each year there are at least a half dozen unsolved murders. Tea?” he playfully tells her.
She’s getting suspicious and comes to believe he really has murdered her when she discovers the remains of a ladies belt and buckle in the wood stove down in the country estate’s basement. It’s at this point she’ll be forced to choose a side. When Finch arrives with a search warrant and checks the basement he’ll find the ashes in the stove have been recently discarded and the stove spot clean.
Lee apparently has an accomplice.
If only things were that simple. Not wanting to play spoiler I can’t really go any further without giving too much away so I’ll wander off in a different direction.
Like many Hitchcock films, this movie puts the problem or crime right in front of us so that we may enjoy just how the characters in the drama play their parts out over the course of the film’s running time. Finch himself had previously starred in Hitchcock’s Frenzy while Lee appeared in one of the Master’s television episodes on the Alfred Hitchcock Hour back in 1964. Lee and Finch will play a game of cat and mouse with some verbal sparring mixed into the proceedings. Lee of course always thinking he has the upper hand on his adversary. We’ll see.
I hadn’t seen this film in I’m guessing over 25 years and it had always stuck in the back of a my mind as an underrated Lee flick. What did this long overdue revisit tell me? Well I’d still say it’s a bit underrated or perhaps lost in the shuffle might be a better description considering Lee was at this time coming off his long association with Hammer and more specifically Dracula and starring in the latest Bond film in the title role of The Man With the Golden Gun. The Wickerman, The Musketeer flicks. Yes there is much to overwhelm this little British film that was originally intended as a telefilm that achieved a minor theatrical release at the time.
Leads me to wonder about the running time. The DVD release I acquired had a running time of 83 minutes while the IMDB lists the length at 95 minutes. Like the film itself, there’s a bit of a mystery here. If anyone has an answer, please feel free to share in the comment section below.
Back to my impression of the film as a whole. It’s a film that struck me as a near miss in the end. I say this due to a subplot that didn’t sit well with me involving an affair that Finch is carrying on with a married woman played by Jane Merrow. While it has some drama it almost serves to pad the running time and lastly the film gets a little too cute for my liking though I can’t elaborate too much without playing spoiler once again. I do believe there’s a superb mystery at the heart of this and while I don’t say this too often, I’d love to see this remade with a couple of today’s leading actors going toe to toe in the Lee and Finch roles. How about Gary Oldman in the Lee role as the arrogant psychiatrist who believes he has detective Finch or in this case why not Denzel Washington chasing his tail.
Can someone please get me their agents on the phone and a rewrite started. And who owns the rights to the original script? “Who’s baby is that? What’s your angle? I’ll buy that.”
It’s not only Lee that can trace his roots back to Hammer Films but Miss Geeson and Finch also stopped in at the Studio That Dripped Blood for a cup of coffee…. or shall I say tea? Judy starred opposite Peter Cushing in 72’s thriller Fear in the Night while prior to Frenzy, Finch, appeared in both The Vampire Lovers and The Horror of Frankenstein.
On Diagnosis : Murder, for starters don’t confuse it with the long running television series starring Dick Van Dyke and secondly if you can locate a copy give it a look and see if we’re in agreement. If you’ve already had the pleasure, what did you think?