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Alison Crawford lives a comfortable life with her husband Eric and their two children. Alison is blind and she knows that her illness is not physical but psychosomatic. She had a fall at their second home and woke up unable to see. She has no recollection of losing consciousness or what may have happened immediately prior to that. Her vivacious younger sister Robin accompanies her to their country home where they are soon joined by Eric and a family friend, Paul. Eric and Robin had long ago had a fling but she was quite young at the time and he settled on the older Alison. As memories return to her, Alison recalls what is she saw the night she went blind. Written by
This film came on Turner Classic Movies recently, with the host mentioning that it was the film's debut on that channel, and the first film Patricia Neal made after winning the Oscar for Hud.
The story concerns a privileged upper-class blind woman named Alison (Neal), her husband Eric (Jurgens) and her younger sister, Robin (Eggar). At first all seems perfectly OK, given the circumstances, but bits of conversation are dropped here and there, darting looks are thrown here and there, and soon we realize that there is something lurking beneath the veneer of a privileged life. Alison, in the final stages of her second pregnancy, suffered a fall in her home that rendered her blind, though as she states early on, it's not that her corneas don't function, it's that her brain won't permit her to see images (paraphrasing here). Apparently this happened in 1959, hence the "'59" in the title: The story then takes place in 1964, five years after this fact, over a time period that seems to be about a month, or maybe two, when Robin re-arrives back into the lives of Eric and Alison after what appears to be a 5-year absence.
The black-and-white cinematography adds much to this film, such that I believe if it were in color, it would not be as effective. The language, dialogue and subject matter covered was ahead of its time, at least by U.S. standards, but stylistically, this matches a number of thrillers and socially-conscious dramas that came out of England in the early- to mid-1960s (e.g., Victim, Pumpkin Eater, etc.).
The first part of the film, set in London, sets up the story beautifully, and it isn't long before we start to realize that something's "up" - the carefully-worded dialogue, with certain key words and phrases omitted, or the glances of the blind Alison behind her sunglasses, to the beat of her words...you see that all that glitters is not gold, so to speak.
The second part of the film takes place at the characters' country house, located near a coastline; It is here that the set-up for what could be a riveting tale, as depicted in the first part of the film, loses steam and slows to a crawl, such that the conclusion is neither climactic nor satisfying; this is a shame, because it could have been done much better. Besides that, I do agree with the comments made by a previous observer, including that the grandmother doesn't seem quite grandmotherly (and actually, I'm sort of confused as to why this character is even in the picture).
Nonetheless, the acting is superb by all the leads, and particularly by Neal, who carries the film, in my opinion. Pay attention to every movement she makes, whether it's with her eyes, her head or her hands; listen intently to every syllable she utters, for it is through her character that we understand the real story of what has happened, or is happening, to these three people.
The movie is based on a book by the same name by Francoise des Ligneris, which is available online.
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