Mostly my musings on things vintage hardboiled and noir, literary and filmic and other things that take my fancy. Down these mean streets this man must go...

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Games (1967) (Universal Vault Series) 100 mins.

Paul and Jennifer Montgomery (James Caan and Katharine Ross) are wealthy socialites who live on New York's East Side in a house decorated with pop art paintings and sculptures and Victorian paraphernalia. The keep themselves amused by staging quirky soirees and playing games, and soon involve an enigmatic older woman Lisa Schindler (Simone Signoret) in the latter when she is taken ill in their house and invited to stay. However, the games escalate from practical jokes and take an apparently deadly turn. But who is playing for keeps?...

Finally released on DVD in the US, albeit as a movie-on-demand DVD-R, this twisty 1967 thriller is an enjoyable, effective and suspenseful thriller. Much of the film takes place in the Paul and Jennifer's house, which lends the film a claustrophobic air but also occasionally feels studio-bound and rather stagey. That said, there are some effective twists (well, they worked for me, anyway) and although the presence of Simone Signoret as the mysterious Lisa intentionally evokes her ambiguous role in the earlier superior Les Diaboliques (The Fiends) and she is given less to do than her top billing suggests, a youthful James Caan and Katharine Ross effectively convey the sense of louche moneyed boredom that underpins the couple's desire for excitement and adventure.

Director Curtis Harrington handles the suspense effectively, with a body that won't stop bleeding as it rises and then gets stuck in an elevator being a notable Hitchcockian highlight. There's little here beyond an oddball opening party, the occasional modish pop art trappings and some playing around with mirrors and the notion of reflections to remind one of his avant-garde underground origins as this is by and large a slick studio thriller; albeit one with an ending that foreshadows cynical 70s film-making rather than seeming of a piece with 60s genre filmmaking. Nevertheless, it's a reminder that Harrington was one of the more underused talents of the times and one whose other cult films (e.g. Night Tide, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?, What's The Matter With Helen?, The Killing Kind and Ruby) are well-worth seeking out.

VERDICT: Worth playing.

AFTERWORD: $20 or thereabouts for this movie-on-demand DVD-R is a high price which is just about worth paying for this bare bones catalogue title that would probably otherwise not be seen as worth releasing (although an off-air recording from, say, TCM would yield a similar product for far less outlay). There's also a seemingly common movie tie-in paperback by acclaimed 50s juvenile delinquency specialist Hal Ellson (see cover scan above) - although I have yet to read the book.

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