Sunday, February 19, 2006

Brainstorm (1965)

'BRAINSTORM' (1965) Jeffrey Hunter, Dana Andrews

The heavier of the 'Killers' directs 'Laura's lovesick detective in one of noir's bleakest installments - neo, or classic. While driving home from work one night, middle-aged research analyst Jim Grayam (Hunter) stops to interrupt a lovely young woman's novel suicide attempt, and discovers that the depressed and desperate blonde is his employer's wife Lorrie (Anne Francis). Jim fights the attraction, but eventually allows a dangerous affair with her to begin - driving the powerful and psychologically abusive cuckold (Andrews) to excavate a harmful skeleton from Jim's closet - his history of mental illness.

Elaborate, insidious efforts to make Grayam appear unhinged take their toll - and fuel his ever-increasing desire to eliminate the husband from the equation - which he does within a complex 'murder equals madness' scheme -the desired end result being a temporary stay in the mental ward before starting his new life with the widow. All goes according to plan, but the hospitalization proves to be hellish - the atmosphere there thick with madness - the line between his insanity act and his sanity becoming increasingly blurred. A supervised visit from Lorrie only worsens matters when she surprises Jim by declining to cooperate in getting him out. Through a barred window he watches as she exits the building - and his life - to embrace and drive off with another man.

Turning to the sensitive, attractive psychoanalyst (Viveca Lindfors) who befriended him during his pre-murder/deteriorating mental health warm-up act - Jim is again denied assistance. She appeared to be aware of his ruse - but now denies him her favors - sparking a violent outburst from Jim who while attempting to break out is restrained by guards and dragged back inside - his stay now possibly permanent.

A 'Double Indemnity' for the psyche-scarred Sixties - 'Brainstorm' works from, modifies, and darkens that film's murderous-love-triangle template - while never sacrificing it's essence. Stripped of 'Indemnity's sultriness and first-person narrative technique (our protagonist remains elusive throughout - whether from Hunter's interesting, guarded performance, or his slim-to-none character development, or both) the film nevertheless succeeds at updating one of noir's most identifiable themes; boy meets girl - boy falls for girl - boy and girl plot to kill girl's husband. Thankfully though, director William Conrad eschews pastiche, and keeps his film fresh, linear, and free of needless frills.

Though not remembered for his acting chops - Hunter shines brightly here, inhabiting his complex, off-balance character with apparent ease - his clear eyes and angular brows helping him appear quizzical or intense with little effort. Gone is the goofy, gangly cowboy from Ford's 'The Searchers' - his Jim is a staid, urbane Fortysomething - until his lover and his boss fan the flames of his long-dormant neuroses - and twist him into noir's dupe du jour.

Andrews, Francis, and Lindfors lend typically strong support - as do Strother Martin as a (what else?) chatty, short-fused freak; Richard Kiel (007's metal-mouthed nemesis 'Jaws'); and John Mitchum (Robert's brother, and a recurring character in 3 'Dirty Harry' films) - the latter three filling small roles as psych-ward psychos.

Also worth mentioning are 'Brainstorm's memorable technical triumphs - among them the sharp black and white cinematography; the hip, jazzy soundtrack; a disorienting 'whirlwind' editing device; and the heartbreaking final image of Jim being strong-armed away. Shot from an ascending helicopter - the perspective could belong to a neutral higher power - turning its back on a broken, hopeless soul.

Written by Dave

Brainstorm (DVD)

Brainstorm (DVD)


Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave for explaining this film so well, but tell me do you think Jim Grayam was a little off kilter to begin with and then full tilt when they drug him away?

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