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  Games Diabolical PursuitBuy this film here.
Year: 1967
Director: Curtis Harrington
Stars: Simone Signoret, James Caan, Katharine Ross, Don Stroud, Kent Smith, Estelle Winwood, Marjorie Bennett, Ian Wolfe, Anthony Eustrel, Eloise Hardt, George Furth, Peter Brocco, William O'Connell, Ena Hartman, Joanne Medley, Carmen Phillips, Luana Anders
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The wealthy, young Montgomerys, Paul (James Caan) and Jennifer (Katharine Ross), like to hold soirees in their swanky Manhattan town house, but they don't put on music, they instead prefer to play games. Such as tonight, when they demonstrate to their friends the power of electricity, and straghtfacedly joke that it is this which has sustained them all these years as they pass around neon tubes and rings which light up apparently magically. It's a trick, of course, but this circle has grown used to such macabre entertainment, and even create it for themselves, such as the car fatality-themed pinball machine the Montgomerys have in their games room. But some things should be taken seriously...

Games was generally recognised as director Curtis Harrington's finest movie, though in truth it was no better or worse than many of his other, lightly idiosyncratic works. He always courted a touch of the grotesque in his material, some of it written by himself - he came up with the story here - and though this was more or less a thriller, you could see it as a horror of sorts should you so desire as there was a definite intent to frighten in the latter scenes. Before you got there you were treated to the central couple's idea of diversion, which involved putting on both each other and anyone else who happened to be in their orbit, which should prepare the viewer for what happens next.

Well, really what should have prepared you was the casting of Simone Signoret as a cosmetics saleswoman who gains entry to the house by telling Jennifer she is an old friend of a friend; initially guarded, the wife is then happy to allow Signoret's Lisa Schindler in, whereupon the mature lady has some kind of attack which leaves her recuperating as a houseguest, all on the orders of the doctor (Ian Wolfe). But she certainly seems perfectly healthy shortly after, so why is she still hanging around, strengthening the bond between her and Jennifer by dint of her occult interests? The answer to that would have been obvious to anyone who was aware of why Signoret had been cast in this role in the first place.

Originally Harrington wanted Marlene Dietrich in the role, he being fond of casting venerable actresses with a cult reputation to go along with their assured stardom, but the studio would not allow it, therefore a compromise was reached which was, if nothing else, a major giveaway to anybody who had seen Simone in her international breakout hit Les Diaboliques. Even if they hadn't seen that, it had proven so hugely influential that you would spend the whole movie trying to work out the twist which was doubtlessly on its way, and that was, in spite of Harrington's variations, a little too familiar by 1967. That said, if you appreciated observing how the wool could be pulled over the eyes of many a less savvy viewer, or simply wished to watch the clockwork-like mechanism of a mystery such as this operating, then you could do worse than Games.

A lot of that was down to a well-hidden but nevertheless present sense of diabolical humour: "Tricks" might have been a more apt title, because that was all this was about. You can tell there will be a game taken too far at some point, and you'd be correct in that assumption, though the claustrophobic location of the couple's lavishly decorated town house encourages a puzzle box mentality to grow in your mind before anything sinister even occurs. Harrington's preoccupation with the dark arts informed much of the manner this was approached with its crystal ball, astrology and most importantly, the Tarot cards which inevitably see Lisa turning over one to reveal - gasp! - Death! It was this which marked Games out from yet another Alfred Hitchcock copy, as the sense that there was some force bigger than anyone in the story orchestrating them to their eventual fate was intriguing and hard to shift. So yeah, it was predictable, but the scenery that slipped by as the plot was wound up made it an attractive proposition. Music by Samuel Matlovsky.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Curtis Harrington  (1928 - 2007)

American cult director who graduated from experimental films (he was an associate of Kenneth Anger) to working as an assistant on Hollywood films like Peyton Place and The Long Hot Summer. He made several distinctive B-movies during the 60s and 70s, before turning his hand to mainstream American TV. His most notable films were Night Tide, starring a young Dennis Hopper, Queen of Blood, Games, the twisted thrillers Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and What's the Matter with Helen?, and possession horror Ruby.

 
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