This early curiosity from Hammer Films (one of the first to be shot at the company's then newly acquired Bray Studios) begins quietly enough in an unassumingly bucolic mood as shots of the sparsely populated, but picturesque little village of Howdean are accompanied by the strains of the Royal Philharmonic's sweeping rendition of Malcolm Arnold's sickly romantic score for the picture. In fact, one is reminded of that eccentric ode to English country life: Powell & Pressburger's classic "A Canterbury Tale", as actor James Hayter introduces the viewer to the simple routines and traditions of rural life via a syrupy voice-over. Hayter (who would become more familiar to British viewers as the voice of Mr Kipling of "exceedingly good cakes" fame!) then turns directly to camera to deliver the rest of his monologue, informing us that he, as village physician, Dr Harvey, is aware that Howdean has seen its fair share nightmares over the years despite its deceptively placid appearance!
These gentle beginnings are actually the prelude to a rather unusual new venture for the fledgling British production company -- whose output up until now consisted mainly of thrillers and straightforward melodramas. The film was an adaptation of a novel by science fiction writer, William Frederick Temple, and its bizarre plot-line -- in which two amateur scientists invent a "reproducing" machine and make a double of the woman they both love -- marked Hammer's first tentative foray into a brand new genre.
The film's director, Terence Fisher had already flagged an interest in this kind of offbeat material with the last film he'd directed for Hammer: the previous year's "Stolen Face" was about a plastic surgeon who remodels the face of a disfigured criminal psychopath into that of the married woman he has become obsessed with, and is then surprised to discover that she continues to display recidivist tendencies! It has hardly gone unnoticed of course, that both of these early Fisher films ("Four Sided Triangle's" script was also co-written by the director) feature similarities with the series of Frankenstein films that would become some of the most successful horror films to be associated with the Hammer name; the majority of them were to be directed by the company's most famous house director -- and Fisher has been quoted as having a weakness for "Four Sided Triangle" for this reason.
"Stolen Face" highlighted the more monstrous side of its genius scientist's meddling with nature; despite being rather sedate compared to "The Curse Of Frankenstein", its remodelled antagonist runs amok in a small-scale fashion by stealing an expensive necklace and generally behaving in a beastly and ungrateful manner to her gentleman surgeon saviour! "Four Sided Triangle" is equally well-mannered and sedate in its approach to its material: for instance, it doesn't really even have any bad, evil or even very unlikeable characters! Its importance for the future horror films of Hammer lies instead in its introduction of a fetish with the paraphernalia of the scientists' lab which is full of sparking machines, flashing light bulbs and bubbling tubes of liquid. Fisher tackles these scenes, where the two scientists put their reproducing machine into action, with exactly the same kind detail as would be evident much later in "The Curse of Frankenstein" and its numerous sequels.
These "futuristic" lab scenes take place in a converted country barn where the two scientist heroes of the film used to play with their young female friend, Lena -- back when they were all just children. Dr Harvey relates how, even then, young Bill used to come off second best to his friend, Robin when it came to winning the affections of their female companion in those childhood games. When the three go their separate ways as teenagers, Dr Harvey becomes a mentor and surrogate father to Bill, and quickly realises that his charge is a mini genius, who soon outstrips him in scientific knowledge. When Bill's former pal, Robin returns to Howdean, the two friends set to work on their reproducing machine and succeed in demonstrating the fruits of their labour by creating a reproduction of Dr Harvey's waist watch. When Lena also returns to the village after a number of unsuccessful attempts at making a name for herself, she ends up being reunited with her two former play friends at the old barn and is resigned to spending her days helping them with their work and being a companion to them.
As Bill and Robin continue their work, attracting interest from both Robin's wealthy farther and the military with their amazing machine, Bill falls in love with Lena; but fear of rejection causes him to say nothing ... until, to his horror, Robin and Lena announce they are to be married! Forty-year old actor, Stephen Murray plays the haunted genius, Bill with great sympathy. There is no "mad scientist" angle to the story; instead Bill is portrayed as a single-minded obsessive who has no inkling of how to approach personal relationships -- his plight and the crazy plan it leads to is more of a tragedy than anything else. His more worldly-wise friend Robin is played by John van Eyssen: an actor who every Hammer fan will instantly recognise, even if they cannot immediately place him. In fact, among his numerous roles for the company, he will most likely be remembered for the role of Jonathan Harker in "The Horror of Dracula".
While Robin goes off to London for talks with the military authorities and the Government who are to finance further research, Bill throws himself into experimenting on reproducing living things -- something his friend had always ruled against. Bill enlists the help of a reluctant Dr Harvey and soon they both overcome the problems with the process (as in David Cronenberg's remake of "The Fly", the reproduction process recreates the bodies of the various rabbits and guinea pigs Bill experiments with; the only problem is that the reproductions never survive!) and manage to recreate exact living copies of some small animals! Bill's lovelorn thoughts immediately turn to an obsession with reproducing Lena! He manages to persuade the object of his affections to go through with the scheme and succeeds in making a perfect reproduction of the woman, whom he names Helen. But disaster inevitably awaits!
It apparently occurs, neither to the kind-hearted yet bumbling Dr Harvey, nor the single-minded genius scientist, that creating an exact reproduction of a woman who is in love with somebody else might not actually solve any problems! The viewer will be several steps ahead of course, yet still, the film never really explores the full implications of the scenario it presents us with. Hammer still hadn't quite come to grips with this kind of material and the film plays more like a slightly odd melodrama than a horror picture -- despite the visual styling of the laboratory scenes. The film's American female star, Barbara Payton (who plays both Lena and Helen) is decent enough as the object of obsession, and strangely enough, Payton's Hollywood career had earlier been derailed after a Hollywood scandal involving two jealous boyfriends ended in manslaughter, forcing her to settle for small-scale fame in British cinema instead!
After Helen becomes suicidal and attempts to drown herself in the ocean at the seaside town of Weymouth, Bill invents a process that will wipe her memory of her previous life as Lena! Unfortunately, we never get to see what would result from this process as an impromptu fire in the laboratory brings events to an abrupt end! Hammer cannot really be judged successful in their first science fiction effort. For most of its running time, "Four Sided Triangle" is a gentle rural romance; when the macabre elements do finally surface, they are dealt with -- and then dismissed -- in such an arbitrary manner, that one feels like there must still have been an air of embarrassment surrounding such fantastical material for British film makers at this point. Hammer would adapt to this genre more successfully when they brought Nigel Kneale's popular rocket scientist, Bernard Quatermass to British cinema screens a few years later, but this film will still be of interest to fans of the famous company and DD Home Entertainment give the film their usual quality release here.
As well as the main feature, this region 2 UK DVD also includes an early Hammer second feature,"The Right Person" (1955). Unusually for the time, shot in Eastman Colour and Cinemascope, both seem wasted on this stagy, twenty-nine minute three hander. A newlywed is confronted by a stranger in a Copenhagen hotel, who claims that her husband was a collaborator who caused the death of a small group of resistance fighters during the war. At first, the woman has complete faith in her husband's innocence, but, gradually, the visitor causes doubts to emerge in her mind. Will the husband prove to be innocent after all? This interesting premise is completely drained of energy and really only consists of two people talking in a gaudily furnished hotel room for half-an-hour. Still, yet again, Hammer fans will be grateful for the inclusion of this rarity.
The disc also includes three photo galleries: Hammer press books and advertisements 1949-1956; early Hammer - behind the scenes; and Hammer glamour 1950-1954. Once again a twenty-four page booklet of viewing notes by Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby is included which also features many movie posters, publicity stills and behind the scenes photographs along with the text, as well as cast and crew credits.
Once more, DD Home Entertainment give British horror fans a fantastic DVD release of an early Hammer rarity.