Among my favourite not-so-guilty pleasures is watching the early films of television's most iconographic heroes. Before his image congealed into sterling saintliness on the small screen, Raymond Burr was one of the toughest thugs you will ever find on the late, late show. And you haven't lived until you've seen William Talman play a vicious killer or a religious maniac. Although it sickened him, Basil Rathbone was chillingly effective as mean Mr. Murdstone, brutalising little Freddie Bartholomew and delicate Elizabeth Allan in "David Copperfield".
Rathbone's contemporary successor as Sherlock Holmes, the late Jeremy Brett was the most monastic of Victorian sleuths. Not even a marginal hint of attraction to the opposite sex crept into his interpretation. Like a chess master at the top of his form, he was, rather, dry, brittle, precise and obsessed. What a surprise, then, to discover "The Very Edge", a dark little British film from the year 1963 in which Brett, then 27, played a full-fledged sexual psychopath, terrorising gorgeous Anne Heywood. She was 'happily' married to Richard Todd until Brett, who had been stalking her for some time, attacked her in her home while her husband fiddled helplessly with the latch key. She lost the baby she was expecting and tried hard both to cooperate with the police and to rebuild her shattered marriage. Her wonderful husband, it seemed, expected her to recover instantly from the incident without a mark. If she couldn't, well, there was always Nicole Maurey, his stunning French secretary, lurking in the wings.
The intriguing element about "The Very Edge", under Cyril Frankel's assured direction, was that Heywood had more of a psychic bond with her attacker than she did with her own husband. It wasn't that she wanted him or anything like that, but she had a compassion for his illness and she was, ironically, less of a victim around Brett than she was around Todd. both men desired her for their own reasons, but in a life-&-death situation, her fighting spirit emerged with her obsessed stalker in a way that it never did within her marriage. Brett was riveting as the tortured psycho and his character was developed in such a way that I actually ached when I watched his inevitable swan dive into eternity. Your real hisses were reserved for Todd & the so-called normal life to which Heywood must return, and it was a tribute to her expert performance that I could appreciate why her struggle with Brett gave her such an authentic grip on life.
The ending was SO British: The audience knew that the poor tied-up Handyman played by Patrick Magee was quite alright, but the police focused all their energies on the folks from a higher social order.
Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan
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