Film: Hysteria

What happens when Hammer Films throws its hat into the Hitchcockian thriller ring? The answer, quite literally, is Hysteria (1965), a modest but deliciously executed psychological mystery that layers infectious mod-sixties vibes over its Twilight Zone look. Robert Webber deploys his considerable charms as “Christopher Smith,” which may or may not be his real name: an amnesia victim, Smith is released from a mental hospital with two clues as to his former life. One is the largesse of an anonymous benefactor who’s financed his medical care and set him up in a posh London penthouse, for reasons unknown. The other is a photograph of a woman he can’t remember, Denise Ryan (Lelia Goldoni). With the aid of a seedy private investigator, Smith attempts to leverage these clues toward uncovering the mystery of his past. His journey of discovery reveals a tangled skein of crimes, schemes, and psychological disturbances.

With a reasonable budget and unassuming cast, Hysteria is light on spectacle and isn’t liable to attract a massive modern audience, but for fans of twisty, black-and-white mysteries in the vein of Hitchcock or early John Frankenheimer, it delivers just what the doctor ordered. Webber makes for a compelling protagonist, Goldoni an intriguing love interest, and the straightforward filmmaking is classy and effective. Unfortunately, the ending doesn’t quite live up to the build-up, but overall it’s great weekend matinee material for the right kind of film buff.

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