Monday, December 22, 2014

The Walking Stick (1970)

          A tender love story that includes elements from the crime-thriller genre while remaining largely focused on subtle nuances of characterization, the British drama The Walking Stick was adapted from the novel of the same name by Winston Graham. Delicate beauty Samantha Eggar stars as Deborah Dainton, an insecure and uptight young professional woman who works as an assistant at a London auction house. Deborah uses a walking stick because one of her legs is slightly deformed after a childhood bout with polio. Still living with her parents, Deborah watches her gregarious sisters engage in romantic exploits, but feels resigned to a loveless existence. When she’s dragged to a party one evening, Deborah is approached by confident but self-deprecating artist Leigh Hartley (David Hemmings), who asks for a date and won’t take no for an answer. Eventually, Deborah’s resistance weakens, and romance blooms. She moves into Leigh’s dingy flat, and he persuades her to walk without aid of the stick.
          Things take a disquieting turn, however, when Leigh reveals that he’s been asked by criminal acquaintances to get information from Deborah about the security at the auction house. Idle chatter soon becomes serious business, because Leigh says he’s determined to not only assist with but also participate in a planned robbery of the auction house. These circumstances force Deborah to investigate whether Leigh’s feelings are sincere, or whether he was using her all along.
          While the actual storyline of The Walking Stick is slight, elegant filmmaking and tender performances make the movie quite worthwhile. Eggar, who first gained international attention in The Collector (1965), fills her characterization of Deborah with interesting textures. At various times, Deborah is confrontational, meek, sensuous, and vulnerable. Similarly, Hemmings—best known for playing a philandering photographer in Blowup (1966)—gives equal attention to the fragile and tough aspects of his role. By the end of The Walking Stick, Leigh is revealed as a person whose psyche has sustained as much damage as Deborah’s, because his dreams of artistic glory are inhibited by the limitations of his talent.
          Director Eric Till and cinematographer Arthur Ibbertson shoot the movie beautifully, using imaginative angles during intimate scenes to suggest varying degrees of closeness and distance between characters; the way a key love scene is played almost entirely on Eggar’s face reflects the humanistic aesthetic that pervades the picture. Similarly, the filmmakers exploit exteriors well, capturing the ruggedness of life on a low-rent wharf while also celebrating the visual splendor of posh neighborhoods. Additionally, Stanley Myers’ evocative score energizes the supple rhythms of the acting, cinematography, and editing. The Walking Stick is a small movie in every sense, which means that some viewers might grow restless waiting for explosive plot developments. Yet for those willing to accept the film’s modest scope, a rewarding experience awaits.

The Walking Stick: GROOVY

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