Tuesday, July 7, 2009
An exceedingly odd but sort of compelling offering from Hammer Films in 1970, Crescendo has recently been granted a nice widescreen DVD release from the online Warner Archives Collection. Starring a gorgeous pre Hart to Hart Stefanie Powers along with James Olson, Margaretta Scott, Joss Ackland, and Jane Lapotaire, Crescendo is not one of Hammer’s better offerings from the early seventies, but the cast is exceptional and the film is well worth rediscovering.
Powers stars as Susan Roberts, a young music student who is invited to a mysterious French manor to write on a late composer that was the master of the house. Roberts soon finds herself embroiled in a particularly sordid affair involving a wheel-chaired young man whom she develops feelings for, and his overwhelmingly dysfunctional family who all have something to hide.
Crescendo had its origins in a hodgepodge screenplay from film veteran Alfred Shaughnessy, a man who had worked in a variety of roles ranging from Producer to Director. Shaughnessy’s script was reworked by Hammer icon Jimmy Sangster in the late part of 1969, and the film was ready to shoot by early 1970 with director Alan Gibson on board.
Mostly associated with British television, Gibson was an interesting talent who is probably best known for the two undervalued early seventies Christopher Lee Hammer Dracula pictures, Dracula A.D. 1972 (a personal favorite of mine) and the strange The Satanic Rites of Dracula a year later in 1973. Gibson’s work on Crescendo is fairly solid if slightly uneven, as the film never feels completely developed or delivered.
The best thing about Crescendo is Stefanie Powers, whose work here is quite splendid. Powers had been working steadily since the early sixties, and her performance in Crescendo is one of the best in any of the many Hammer films from the seventies. She’s totally believable in what is a difficult role, and her performance elevates what would be a very average film without her at every turn.
The rest of the cast is also strong, with special note going to veteran Margaretta Scott whose delivers a rather menacing and mysterious turn as the mother who runs the manor. Hammer favorite Kirsten Lindholm (better known as Kirsten Betts) also appears in a small but memorable role.
Crescendo is finally a slightly limp work despite the superlative performance by Powers. The overbearing and extremely melodramatic score from Malcolm Williamson might be thematically a good idea, but it feels shipped in from another film and it never matches the action on screen. Thankfully the look of the film (which was shot in a British Studio and on location in France) is quite well done, thanks to cinematographer Paul Beeson, and it achieves a suitably dreamlike haze throughout.
Warner Archive’s release of Crescendo is, like all of their online releases, pressed on a DVD-R and it contains no extras. Thankfully the film is presented uncut (for years this film has typically just been seen in a severely edited TV versions) and the widescreen print is fairly solid and colorful. While not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, the film is an obvious must for Hammer aficionados and it has enough good qualities about it to recommend for casual viewers.