I THANK A FOOL(1962): I had never heard of this film until I discovered it in a $5 sale bin in my local shopping centre. What immediately attracted me to this film was the cast, which includes some of my favourite actors – Susan Hayward, Peter Finch, Diane Cilento, and Cyril Cusack. Also in the cast is the extraordinary Athene Sayler whose influence on contemporary acting training is still very strong, notably through the book she wrote with Steven Haggard The Craft of Comedy (1944), one of the very best on the subject of playing comedy.
The film was based on the novel by Audrey Erskine Lindop, directed by Robert Stevens with a screenplay by Karl Tunberg. Robert Stevens directed many episodes of the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as the pilot episode of Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone. Karl Tunberg is credited with writing the screenplay for William Wyler’s Ben Hur (1959), although Gore Vidal and Christopher Fry also made significant contributions to the final script. I Thank a Fool was originally meant to star Ingrid Bergman, but the role eventually went to Susan Hayward – how and why I do not know.
The film was not well received at the time – in fact it was a complete ‘flop’. This is a shame as it is actually quite good, particular so because of the acting. Susan Hayward, Peter Finch, Diane Cilent, Cyril Cusack, and Athene Sayler are all terrific. I’m not going to dwell in the plot too much, but it centres on a doctor, played by Susan Hayward who at the beginning of the film is accused of a mercy-killing/murder of her lover. In the subsequent court trial the prosecuting lawyer, Stephen Dance, is played by Peter Finch. Susan Hayward’s character, Dr Christine Allison, is convicted and sent to prison for 18 month. On her release and finding it difficult to find a job she finds herself suddenly employed by Dane (Finch) to look after her bi-polar wife, played by Diane Cilento, who is seemingly unbalanced due to murdering her father (Cyril Cusak). However, about half way through the film Cyril Cusak suddenly turns up – not dead at all – and the mystery deepens even further when Diane Cilento’s character suddenly dies after being given some pills by Susan Hayward’s character….
As I was completely unfamiliar with this film I found myself thoroughly absorb in the unfolding of this quite taunt drama. There are a number of reasons why this film is worth viewing. It is not really a ‘courtroom’ drama’, despite the few court room scenes and Peter Finch’s character being a lawyer, and furthermore, it has cross-overs with other psychological thrillers, including those associated with a mysterious ‘old dark house’; another type of dramatic genre that I intend to explore. The production design, cinematography, costumes and soundtrack are all good; for example, one rather fun scene in a 1960s record shop with Susan Hayward and Diane Cilento having an important and secret conversation in an booth, listening to a new pop album and hiding from Athene Sayler. In doing some research for this film I was also quite taken with some of the European posters, which in many ways are a lot more imaginative than the conventional UK and American ones.
The best thing about this film, however, is the acting. I’ve always been a big fan of Susan Hayward, particularly in I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) and I Want To Live (1958), and of course one of the best ‘trash’ films ever Valley of the Dolls (1967). I am also a big admirer of Peter Finch who began his acting career in Australia – a truly extraordinary and inspirational actor. The other Australian connection is Diane Cilento, who is absolutely terrific in this film.
To be honest, it is not a great ‘film’, and the ending is a little bit anti-climatic considering the build-up of mystery. Having not read the book I don’t know if the screenplay decided to remain completely faithful or not. Nonetheless, as an example of a good old fashioned 1960s English drama, with the added bonus of having a number of truly excellent actors in the cast, it is well worth a look.