Four Sided Triangle (1953)

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Director: Terence Fisher

In a quaint little village where “nothing ever happens,” Doc Harvey (James Hayter) tells us the story of the three little playmates he met one day. Even as children, Bill and Robin were vying for Lena’s attention, even when they were pretending to be knights fighting for her hand, Robin was the confident victor and Bill the loser who took it badly. Doc took the abused and orphaned Bill under his wing, guiding him through his wild, impetuous adolescence and nurturing his brilliant mind until the budding young genius went off to study science at Cambridge. Years pass and the adult Lena (Barbara Payton) returns from America a weary, cynical failure whose life plan is to spend her inheritance and then commit suicide. Her outlook improves when she reunites with Robin (John Van Eyssen) and Bill (Stephen Murray), also back in town and hard at work on their mysterious science project.

Their contraption is the Reproducer, a.k.a. the Duplicator. It consists of two domed pods that look like tanning beds, connected to an array of consoles with knobs, switches, meters and dials. After a flash of light and a tremendous zap, there appears in the second pod an exact replica of any item placed in the first. The immense potential of this gadget boggles their minds and they consider all the artwork, the rare drugs, gold and rubies and many other good things they could make reproduce. However, as Robin’s father Sir Walter warns, it can also make copies of atom bombs and therefore needs to be regulated by the government.

Before Bill can tell Lena how much he adores her, she and Robin get engaged, and before he can use the Reproducer for the benefit of all mankind as he intended, Sir Walter takes control of the project. Faced with these double personal losses, Bill becomes obsessed with duplicating Lena for himself.

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Unbelievably, when Bill shares his crazy plan with Doc and Lena, they show a bit of reluctance but are willing to help Bill create this twin. Bill marries the clone named Helen, but on their honeymoon discovers Helen doesn’t love him. She has Lena’s memories, her love for Robin, and her suicidal urge. After Helen promises to kill herself, Bill tries a mind-wipe and reprogramming which fails disastrously.

This first of Hammer’s science fiction movies was based on a novel by William F. Temple and co-written for the screen by Paul Tabori. It’s short and goes fast thanks in part to Doc’s narration as well as montages that telescope the passing years and track the development of both the Reproducer and the trio’s relationships. Doc warns against hubris with, “there’s less danger in the things we fear than the things we desire,” and Lena has the line, “I didn’t ask to be born so I have the right to die,” repeated by Helen who sees no reason to exist if she can’t love her creator, and the man she does love is already taken–by her original self.  The acting is a bit dull and I felt that more time could have been spent on, and drama wrung from, the ethical issues about cloning, and the existence of two Lenas, but even so, this was an interesting unrequited love variation on the mad doctor story, and you can see some things Fisher would later use in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

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14 thoughts on “Four Sided Triangle (1953)”

  1. Nice writeup of a movie I like!

    Sorry I’ve not been around much lately. I’ve been working flat-out to finish an editorial job while, with my other hand, doing research on my upcoming YA science-history book. And there’s more. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks, but I seem to be crawling out of the end of it.

    1. Oh, no apologies needed, always nice to have you drop by though! That sounds like interesting work, especially the YA book, and I’m glad you find time to do so many great movie/book posts too, I keep up in my rss reader (which makes me a poor commenter unfortunately!). I like this movie too, I hope I wasn’t overly blah about it, it was fun, just wished for some more depth, maybe?

      1. I haven’t readTemple’s original, but I gather the film dumbs down somewhat the original, which in itself wasn’t necessarily Temple’s best work (Tabori’s published prose is not first-rate, and some of that might be his fault).

        1. I see, it feels like one of those ok stories you just know could be more with a few adjustments. Especially with Hammer/ Fisher involved, it would have been fun to wring some more juice out of it.

  2. Thought this was a rather odd little film but quite liked it nonetheless. I did though always seem to be one step ahead of the plot which is never a good thing when I watched it on youtube early last year. Nice post as always.

    1. Thanks, yes it is likable and the Frankenstein/romantic angle is a neat one, there are a few places I would have liked it to expand on, but then so long as it didn’t bore me, I’m ok.

  3. Pretty much agree with your review Kristina,
    although the film does have a nice bucolic sleepy Fifties
    England vibe which I like more than the film itself.
    Fisher scored better with STOLEN FACE which had the
    advantage of Lizabeth Scott in the lead.
    The Citizen Kane of these early pre-Horror Hammer
    Thrillers is CLOUDBURST…now that one is really special,
    with a script (Leo Marks/PEEPING TOM) way above
    anything else Hammer did at the time.

    BTW my “Underrated ’45” is just up at Rupert Pupkin’s
    I made my choices very much with you in mind 🙂

    1. Yes I did like it, even though it feels like so much more could have been done with the concept, it kind of speeds along too quickly, but still a fun watch. I really like Stolen Face, and just did a writeup on it for The Dark Pages a couple months back that I might post sometime. Cloudburst I have to see, sounds great and I will be reading your picks, sure to be a few on there I need to add to the list! Thanks as always!

  4. Funnily enough I’ve just noticed a wonderful
    review of CLOUDBURST over at DVD Savant…..
    please check it out.
    Just click on the header photo of Robert Preston and
    Elizabeth Sellars.
    Jeepers! I’d buy a Blu Ray of this great film in a
    heartbeat. The rate at which Kino-Lorber are producing
    wonderful High Def versions from the MGM/UA library
    I should not have to wait too long.

    1. It is, might not be an “essential” but entertaining and a good early genre example from a studio that would make so much more. Thanks

  5. I remember watching this not too long ago. It’s definitely an odd little film… !!! You always manage to write about the coolest little obscurities…

    1. I do love those obscurities! Payton was an interesting choice for this type of role, and it’s fun to spot some things that popped up later in the Hammer/Fisher Frankenstein. Thanks!

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