Release Date(s)1964 (March 1, 2019)
Studio(s)Troy-Schenck Productions/Columbia Pictures (Powerhouse Films/Indicator)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
Many psychodramas from the 1960s and 1970s dealt with a variety of issues – many of them examining the lives of ordinary people put through extraordinary circumstances. Martial bliss, or lack thereof, was a subject high on that list. Enter 1964’s Psych 59, released two years after Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita stirred up critics with its take on implied infidelity. Obviously, Psyche 59 is not exclusively about a man’s obsession with an underage young woman, but considering the timeframe of both films, one can’t help but notice similarities between them.
After a tragic fall during a pregnancy, Alison (Patricia Neal) is rendered sightless. However, her doctor is convinced that her affliction isn’t physical and that some kind of trauma locked away in her mind is the key to regaining her vision. Meanwhile, she lives a seemingly happy married life with her two children, as well as her close friend Paul (Ian Bannen) and her sister Robin (Samantha Eggar). Returning home from a business trip, her husband Eric (Curd Jurgens) finds that Robin has come to stay with them, but also to toy with Paul who is smitten with her and is unsure of their future together. It soon becomes apparent that something has also happened between Robin and Eric, and that it could affect all of their futures, as well as Alison’s eyesight.
One thing’s for sure with this film and that is that it’s impeccably well-shot. Because of the frequent use of close-ups, it feels claustrophobic, which is appropriate for the subject matter. There’s often a general unease during scenes between characters, even getting extremely tight looks at their eyes and lips. Performances are good all around, but there is also a kind of tawdry quality to the film, chiefly anytime Samantha Eggar is on display. It serves the story and it doesn’t occur all that often, but one scene in particular of her modeling new underwear in a department store mirror is nothing but titillating for an audience.
The story itself builds and builds to a climax of sorts when the four take a vacation in the country together and all of the cards are laid on the table. The resolution feels a bit contrived, but at the same time, it could only really end one way, without resorting to bloodshed or extreme melodrama. It’s certainly a tough story to sit through, not due to being inadequate, but because it’s so well-executed that it can be squirm-inducing. There’s a truth to certain scenes, such as when Eric first returns home for the first time and fails to kiss Alison immediately; the look of disappointment on her face is heartbreaking, and we haven’t even gotten into the main story yet. In essence, Psyche 59 is most definitely effective in all of the right ways.
The Blu-ray release of the film comes from Indicator with a lovely black-and-white transfer taken from an HD master provided by Sony Pictures. Grain management is handled well with excellent fine detail, especially in those aforementioned close-ups when the slightest blemishes or stray hairs are fully visible, including the freckles on Samantha Eggar’s face. Blacks are deep, there’s good contrast to be had, and everything appears bright and well-defined. There are moments of instability, mostly during the middle of the film, as well as a couple of scenes where everything looks softer with leftover scratches – which were possibly taken from prints to complete the presentation if the original elements were damaged or unavailable.
The audio is presented in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. A narrow presentation, it doesn’t lend itself that much to any kind of sonic intensity since it’s primarily a dialogue-driven story. Even so, the dialogue is a bit too low in certain scenes, but still comprehensible. Sound effects and score don’t have much to offer, but they’re represented well enough. There’s also no damage left behind such as hiss, crackle, dropouts, or distortion.
Extras include The BEHP Interview with Walter Lassally, an audio interview conducted by filmmaker Roy Fowler with the film’s cinematographer in 1988, which acts as an audio commentary that runs the length of the film; Come to Silence, a 12-minute interview with actress Samantha Eggar; Intangible Visions, a 13-minute interview with composer Kenneth V. Jones; An Abstract Quality, an 11-minute interview with Richard Combs about the film’s director and the film itself; the original theatrical trailer, presented in HD; an image gallery featuring 20 stills of on-set photos, promotional shots, lobby cards, and posters; and a 32-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, The Darkest Corridors: Psyche 59 by Josephine Botting, The Tale of Cupid and Psyche, a reproduction of the film’s campaign booklet, a set of critical responses, the film’s poster, and presentation details.
Psych 59 is certainly one of those films that few modern film fans have heard of, let alone seen. It’s not ideal subject matter as it has little overt sensationalism to offer, but it’s a good film, and Indicator’s treatment of it is undoubtedly commendable.
– Tim Salmons