It should have been a half-hour Twilight Zone episode, but it's okay. I liked a lot of it. It would have been punchier had it lost twenty minutes of dream-looping, that's all.
Denholm Elliott is a small-town estate agent who fancies his secretary (Lucy Gutteridge) and wants to divorce his wife (Pat Heywood). The pre-credits sequence is a montage of imagery that may or may not be predicting future events, including a naked Gutteridge in a public phone box. The director's clearly a genius... but no, actually that's a danger sign. Admittedly I'm only halfway through the series, but I've come to associate nudity in Hammer House of Horror with the weaker episodes. Is this an exception to the rule? Nope.
There's a good story in here. I enjoyed it. I found it interesting, even occasionally intriguing, despite my general aversion to dream sequences and rubber reality. However in the second half I also found myself twiddling my thumbs a bit.
The story proper begins with Elliott getting in to work and fondling Gutteridge's breasts. She's wearing the first of a series of extreme outfits, all of which are distracting even if none of which are so bad that you couldn't wear them in public. She's our first indication that this might not be the real world. She's also extremely pretty and a reason to watch this episode. Unfortunately a possible client (James Laurenson) comes in before things can get X-rated, talking of a property he'd like evaluated. He represents the estate of the previous owner, who disappeared several years ago and has at last been pronounced legally dead, allowing him to have the house sold. Elliott goes to have a look, only to find that the episode is about to get goofy with Scooby Doo stuff that isn't scary but instead a faithful representation of dreams.
He then wakes up in bed. We meet his wife and discover that she knows about his infidelities in a stolid, unsympathetic way. "What time does she get there?"
After that, things get complicated. We realise that we're not sure where reality became a dream, or indeed if there was any reality in the first place. We might have nested inner dreams. This is actually cool, since the layers of intricacy are complex enough that the truth isn't obvious. Furthermore Elliott soon cottons on to what's happening and at times is almost playing the system, while the performance gives us a detailed examinination of the character's evolving mental state. All this is good. Fundamentally I like this story. The ending's clever, the exploration of the idea is imaginative and there are intriguing questions to think about if you start looking in detail about what must really have been happening. (Were the dreams precognitive?)
Unfortunately there comes a point where you're watching quite a long scene and saying to yourself, "It's obviously a dream. Why am I watching this? Come on, get on with it." It also doesn't help that Elliott looks ridiculous inviting himself into a stranger's house to tell them about his dreams, whether or not the lady happens to be a figment of his brain wave patterns.
Elliott's quietly rather good, as you'd expect of a man who won the Best Supporting Actor BAFTA three years running. It's his show, really, with the entire episode being told from his viewpoint and not a single scene that doesn't have him in it. His performance in particular rescues the story at the finale, giving it shape and a psychological focus after a second half that could be said to have been drifting. In case you can't place the face, he was Marcus Brody in the Indiana Jones films. Of the rest of the cast, Gutteridge is pretty. Laurenson has a strong face. Eleanor Summerfield shows up for an extended cameo in the middle and has fun, having been Aunt Dahlia in the BBC's The World of Wooster in the 1960s. That's about it, really. Oh, and the Doctor Who Crossover Count is low this week, with only Giuliano from The Masque of Mandragora and an uncredited Pat Gorman.
Overall, it's an interesting dream story that could have been even better with a punchier running time. I tend not to like dream stories, so the fact that I'm being even this positive about it has to be a good sign. Not much to say about it beyond that, since dreams and intricate plotting don't tend to go together (except in Inception
). It also has a few nice moments where its evocation of dreams is good enough to be enjoyable in itself, e.g. the surgery nightmare. That bit was good. Would I recommend this? Hmmmm... quite possibly, with only gentle warnings beforehand. I wouldn't be my first choice to rewatch from this series, but I wouldn't push you away from it.