Crescendo (1970)


Crescendo is directed by Alan Gibson and written by Alfred Shaughnessy and Jimmy Sangster. It stars Stefanie Powers, James Olson, Margaretta Scott, Jane Lapotaire and Joss Ackland. Music is by Malcolm Williamson and cinematography by Paul Beeson.

Susan Roberts (Powers) travels to the South of France to stay with the Ryman family as she researches the work of late composer Henry Ryman for her thesis. Once there at the villa, Susan finds that the remaining family members are a little strange…

Out of Hammer Films, Crescendo came at the end of the studio’s cycle of psycho-thrillers that had begun so magnificently with Taste of Fear in 1961. Filmed in Technicolor, Crescendo has more than a passing resemblance to Taste of Fear. We are in a remote French villa in the company of some shifty characters. A wheelchair features prominently, there’s spooky goings on, skeletons in the closet and our lead lady who is the outsider at the villa is in grave danger. So it’s Taste of Fear but in colour then!

Crescendo is not a great film, it’s ponderously paced by Gibson, meandering through the first half set up and it’s all a bit too obvious as to what is going to unravel. That said, the finale is a good pay off in its construction, the Ryman villa set is suitably designed for some creepy shenanigans, while the colour photography is deliciously lurid with the zesty oranges and ocean greens particularly striking the requisite campo composition.

Then there’s the cast! Powers is just dandy, having had her trial run in the disappointing Die! Die! My Darling! in 1965, she hits the required “woman in confused peril” notes even though the script does her absolutely no favours. Olson gets to don the worst hair cut in Hammer history as Georges, but the character is pungent with emotional disturbances. Wheelchair bound and having a penchant for hard drugs administered by the sultry maid…

Ah yes! Lapotaire as the housemaid Lillianne, she steams up the screen with her teasing sexuality, positively revelling in her ability to have poor Georges eating out of her hand. Scott handles the batty Ryman matriarch well enough, while Ackland does a damn fine Lurch impression. The film has some qualities that put it above average, but it’s a bit too bloodless to be a must see horror film, and much too laborious to be a thriller. It sits in some sort of Hammer Film purgatory, a picture that asks you to take the rough with the smooth. But all things considered, you probably should watch Taste of Fear instead.