He can’t remember his past and will want to forget what happens next.
In Hysteria (1965), Robert Webber plays an American amnesiac recovering in an English hospital from serious injuries sustained in a car crash. During his months of treatment, all his medical bills were paid by an anonymous benefactor, and now that he’s ready for release, that same mystery person has rented him a luxurious penthouse flat in a brand new and otherwise unoccupied highrise. Webber hires a private investigator to find this sponsor, with his only clue a picture of a model, torn out of a magazine and found on him when he was brought to the hospital. Webber can’t get much sleep in that penthouse suite, because next door he keeps hearing a couple’s argument ending in bloodcurdling screams. The first time he goes to look, there’s nothing there but a vacant, half constructed flat, the second time he finds the shower running and a bloody knife on the floor, and the third, well, that would be giving too much away.
Those strange events fit what he learns when he tracks down the model’s photographer. The woman in the photo was murdered at his penthouse suite months ago, stabbed and left in the shower. What doesn’t fit is that Webber spots the same woman (Lelia Goldoni) speeding around town, and soon meets her in his apartment. Goldoni explains that her husband was the drunk driver in the accident that cost Webber his memory, so now she feels responsible for him, not to mention strongly attracted. Since she’s a glamorous and wealthy widow, Webber doesn’t mind her company either. She explains away the other discrepancies and soon helps him regain memory of events explaining how he got to England and ended up in the wreck, but still nothing revealing who he is.
Hysteria is nothing terribly memorable or special, but it’s just fine, a solid thriller. It plods along and gets talky in places but it’s short. It twists and turns in several directions, but feeds you enough details to avoid confusion, and maintains the disorientation and paranoia throughout. I liked it and enjoyed Webber’s strong presence in a relatively rare leading role. He’s cool and charming, weary and skeptical, frustrated and almost driven crazy by voices and visions, and starts to wonder if his unknown past or increasingly weird present is the bigger mystery. He may be the patient with the brain injury, but once we see there’s a gaslighting going on, he looks like the most lucid one in the story. Who stands to gain by torturing this blank slate of a man: the mysterious and pouty Goldoni, Webber’s nurse and disappointed romantic interest Jennifer Jayne, his prim and pessimistic doctor Anthony Newlands, or the private detective (Maurice Denham) who drops the case when he discovers Webber is unstable and given to hallucinations? None of them fit those descriptions for long and all will surprise you as the plot unfurls, especially Webber, who figures out more than he lets on. The mystery holds interest and the solution satisfies, leaving few loose ends (I have one about that photographer). Clues and memories complicate more than they solve, until the timeline folds over so that Webber finds himself repeating the argument he overhears, finds a body in his shower and a bloody knife in his hands, or does he? Just like the murder that happened months before. Or did it?
Jimmy Sangster wrote and co-produced and Freddie Francis directed this spin on Hitchcock and American thrillers of the Sixties. Any movie with a stabbing and body in the shower and blood swirling down the drain is bound to evoke memories of Psycho, a lookalike mystery woman will suggest Vertigo and one IMDb reviewer sees a little of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Webber and Goldoni. I found enough of the spirit of the best of those movies mixed with enough originality to keep Hysteria from feeling like a cheap or blatant ripoff of any of them. It was the third and last of Francis’ psychological thrillers at Hammer Films (I recently reviewed the first, Paranoiac, 1963) and it was also the last of that type made by Hammer until the 1970s. The photography in Hysteria (or Wisteria, as Sangster jokingly called it) is nice; one scene that stood out for me was the zoom down from way up high, to Webber standing alone in the freshly painted and empty parking lot. The opening credits’ spinning spirals and flashes of “important” scenes to come (some red herrings too) are trippy, fit with the jazzy score, and film’s overall feel of dizzy suspense.