The Full Treatment (1960)

 

full2So here we go with the fourth film in Indicator’s second Hammer box, The Full Treatment. If I were to be brutally honest and ranking the four films in preference, this film would be third on the list, but nonetheless this has quite a lot going for it. In essence it’s a very odd and strangely ‘modern’ film regards its sensibilities, with all sorts of subtext, intentional or otherwise.

The film begins quite brilliantly, really grabbing the viewer with the immediate aftermath of a road accident, depicted in some graphic detail. Immediately following their wedding, racing driver Alan Coulby (Ronald  Lewis) and his Italian wife Denise (Diane Cilento, who is quite brilliant in this film) have been involved in an head-on collision with a truck, killing the truck driver and throwing Denise clear into the road with superficial injuries. Alan Coulby, however, has suffered severe head injuries. Several months after the accident, Coulby is released from treatment and attempts to get his life back on track by taking the honeymoon that was originally curtailed by the accident.

Unfortunately Coulby is something of a broken man- he is too traumatised to drive, which, considering his earlier prowess as a racing driver, would be doubly emasculating (Denise has to drive them to their honeymoon destination, with Coulby a frustrated passenger) and is rendered impotent by an unnatural urge to strangle his wife whenever they attempt to be intimate or share physical contact. He stares at his trembling hands, compelled to do his wife harm whenever aroused, as if his hands belong to someone else. Driven (sic) to distraction by all of this, he is prone to violent outbursts and rages. This proves to be a difficulty for the film, the character as written is a pretty unlikeable lead which impacts the films ability to foster much sympathy for his predicament. Instead we feel for Denise and view Coulby almost as a villain, which is likely not the films intention.

The film does feel quite subversive with the sexual undertones of his murderous urges and jealous rage, I would think someone like Verhoeven or Cronenberg could fashion a quite riveting modern thriller from this material. Its quite surprising to see a Hammer film of this period having some nudity, too- we see Denise swimming naked in the sea or having a bath infront of her husband, quite clearly liberated and confident of her own sexuality and body, which again is at odds with her husbands feelings of emasculation and his horror at his body betraying him when he loses control of his hands and they do Denise harm.

There is a wonderful twist towards the third act, in which Alan and the viewer actually believe that he has indeed possibly killed Denise and he goes on the run, following a blackout. While I doubted that a films of its era could actually follow through with this possibility, its nonetheless an unnerving moment of the film pulling the rug from under you and subverting expectations. For that alone, I rate this film quite highly. Maybe i’m ‘seeing’ too much in its subtext and themes, and the film does become somewhat pedestrian at the end with its fairly formulaic denouement but it isn’t enough to detract from its achievements before.

And of course the film has its interests beyond the film itself- the unfortunate fate of actor Ronald Lewis, which I dwelt upon in a recent post here and Diane Cilento who was soon famous more for being Mrs Sean Connery than her own acting career (which arguably suffered from that marriage).  Neither of the two really reached the heights they might have, but this film is a tantalising glimpse of a moment when both of them had all sorts of possibilities ahead of them.

 

Who was Ronald Lewis?

Ronald_LewisWatching old movies, it’s like looking through the lens of a time machine, and can become a rather sobering experience at times. I’ve written about this before- watching an old film, being curious about an actor that I’ve just seen, looking them up on the internet, suddenly reading of an entire life and career summed up in a paragraph. How can an entire life be summed up within a few lines? Of course it can’t, it just leaves us with a tantalizing glimpse, and its human nature to just try fill in those gaps, haunted by those images from films, of lives frozen at that moment, actors/actresses unaware of the futures ahead of them that we can read now, looking back. In some ways it offers a horrifying perspective. Not every story ends well.

Last night I watched The Full Treatment (review coming later), another Hammer film from the recent Indicator Hammer boxset, and I was fascinated, somehow, by the performance of Ronald Lewis in the lead role. To a degree it was one of those have I/where have I seen him before? moments, but I must say I was very impressed by him in The Full Treatment, hamstrung slightly by an awkward script, and thought he looked a good leading man for the time. In looks he reminded me a little of the great Jack Lemmon. I suppose I was just curious why I hadn’t seen him in any other Hammer films, as Hammer seemed to have a group of actors that it used in so many films (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing perhaps the most famous, but many other actors continually resurfaced in minor roles), and it seemed odd that Lewis didn’t  get used by them in other films (as it turned out, I learned that he turned up in another two Hammer films, The Taste of Fear, which I haven’t seen and is apparently superior to The Full Treatment and was much more successful. So Hammer did use him again, Lewis later appearing in 1965’s The Brigand of Kandahar, another Hammer I have not seen).

There was something, though, seeing The Full Treatment, and Ronald Lewis in his presumed prime, frozen in time over fifty years ago. So here again, obituaries offer glimpses of entire lives: Ronald Lewis, born 11 December 1928 in Port Talbot, Glamorgan (which would make him about 31 when he was filming The Full Treatment) died 11th January 1982, aged just 53, having committed suicide-  a drugs overdose, likely connected to having been declared bankrupt the year before. His life summed up as being a Welsh actor most famous for his work in the 1950s and 1960s, his films and television appearances listed. Its inferred he suffered from a drinking problem, with bad press from having allegedly assaulted his wife in 1965, and his career suffered a decline arising either from his bad image or his drinking affecting his work. IMDb alleges that  ‘he was known as an aggressive and perhaps unstable man, with a history of violence towards others, including women’. Two marriages, one child.

So who was Ronald Lewis? Of course, I have no real idea, and after so many years most of those who knew him are likely gone, too. Just the clues left, his life beyond those images from The Full Treatment summed up by a few scant lines. With The Full Treatment his career was still on the rise, a leading man in British film, a career soon to take a bad turn into slow decline, bankruptcy and suicide. But somehow he lives forever in film, frozen in time- in The Full Treatment, it will always be 1960.

In 1962, Lewis appeared in Twice Around the Daffodils, with Kenneth Williams, who in his diary dated 12th January 1982 reflected on the news of Lewis’ passing: “The paper says Ronald Lewis has taken an overdose! He was declared bankrupt last year! Obviously nobody offered him work & he was driven to despair. I remember Ronnie… and that drinking session at the White Horse all those years ago… he was a kind boy & people used him. He was 53.”

Watching old movies, it’s like looking through the lens of a time machine, and yes, it can be a sobering experience, measuring those years, catching glimpses of the lives on that screen.