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Dangerous psychopath Grant Williams is seeing psychiatrist Onslow Stevens
"The Couch" is a generally overlooked but excellent film noir about a murderous psychopath, played superbly and believably by Grant Williams. Williams at various times is driven, agitated, perfectly calm, sociable, psychotic, attractive to women, nervous, and confused. He can be arrogant, charming and icy. He can regress into childhood memories. He controls his emotions up to a point, but when Williams is on the couch psychiatrist Onslow Stevens is able to bring out his severe anger and hatred. Williams is capable of detailed planning, fearful of being found out, and a killer.
Shirley Knight plays Williams' love interest. She's ever so trusting and sweet, and that helps protect her. Still, he takes her to remote locations such as his grandfather's old mansion and a cliff overlooking the LA freeways. In every encounter with her, often at night, there is danger and tension. We know that he has served time for an earlier explosion of violence and rape. Stevens is trying to assess whether he should be institutionalized for treatment.
Williams goads the police by calling them five minutes before his murders in calls they cannot trace. He kills at 7 o'clock, choosing random victims. He has an ulterior motive, however. Not only that, his killing expresses his boiling hatred and resentment of his father.
"The Couch" is well done in all respects. Its provenance includes Blake Edwards who wrote the story. That year Edwards also directed "Experiment in Terror", another story of a psychopath. The script is by Robert Bloch, who co-wrote "Psycho". Williams is not schizophrenic in this one. His psychosis is of a different character. It's interesting that both "The Couch" and "Experiment in Terror" feature sporting events and crowds in their last parts.
The often deeply-shadowed cinematography, disliked by several other reviewers here, will actually be appreciated by film noir enthusiasts. It's not flat but maintains the classic look of black and white contrasts. One nice sequence involves location scenes of downtown LA, crowded streets and Williams wandering, neon lights and recognizable marquees and signs. Indoor sets, especially inside the office of Stevens, continue to feature shadowed photography. Stevens is shown half in shadow at times, emphasizing both his craggy and worried features and his troubled mind in deciding what to do about Williams. When Williams is at his apartment and interacting with the seductive Anne Helm or her mother, the lighting is normal, showing his apparent normality with people around him.
The scripting is meticulous. This tends to slow the story down somewhat in order to bring out the characters. The direction does not go for cheap thrills but achieves its tension by focusing on the emotional shifts in Williams, seemingly quite normal at times, and his behavior, which seems both controlled at times and uncontrolled at others or at least capable of bursting the bounds of self-control. The mood of the film seems to have nodded in the direction of how a Fritz Lang film evolves and feels. Director Crump was an experienced director of documentary shorts, and some of that documentary feel seems to have come into this film's approach to the story-telling, which is at once dramatic but straightforward.
This Warner Brothers film is now available in a beautiful widescreen print.
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