Eye of the Devil (UK. 1967) *
Directed by J. Lee Thompson. Written from a novel by Philip Loraine. Cinematography, Erwin Hillier. Editing, Ernest Walter. Art Direction, Elliot Scott . Music, Gary McFarland. Title designer, Maurice Binder. Producers, John Calley, Martin Ransohoff. Cast: Deborah Kerr (Catherine de Montfaucon,) David Niven (Philippe de Montfaucon,)Donald Pleasence (Father Dominic,) Flora Robson (Countess Estelle,) Emlyn Williams (Alain de Montfaucon,) Sharon Tate (Odile,) David Hemmings (Christian de Caray,} John Le Mesurier (Dr. Monnet,) Michael Miller (Grandec,) Donald Bisset (Rennard,) Pauline Letts (Servant,)
First you have to believe that David Niven and Deborah Kerr are (sic) French nobility with excellent British accents. They live, with their young son and daughter, in a large, luxurious residence in Paris. Of course you can't possibly buy that they, along with the rest of the blatantly British cast are French people!
They are holding an elegant reception -complete with harp-playing, when an old man who has disembarked from a train that came in from the South shows up. He brings a very mysterious (to us) message to Niven. The latter takes off (in a luxurious car) for the family chateau and vineyard in the Bordeaux region..
He explains nothing to his wife, and does not want his family to follow, but Kerr decides to go South too, taking the kids and driving her own luxurious car.
The rest is a major mess that can be summed up as one of the worst movies ever. Strange, very strange as well as dangerous things are taking place in the chateau. They seem to involve all the persons in the cast, from the local notables (parish priest, family doctor, relatives, etc.,) and the entire rural population of the hoi polloi, who are mostly wine-growers or wine-workers. The latter say nothing but stand around with serious expressions of bodies and faces.
There is clearly something wrong, very wrong, for the entire population. But what?
Mysterious too are a young David Hemmings -who does strange things with the perpetual bow and arrows he carries, and uses (don't ask)-and the equally weird Sharon Tate. (The opening credits claim "introducing Sharon Tate" which is almost true.) She had two more years to live before the horrible massacre of the Manson gang. Her looks in the film are not impressive.
I will now reveal the mysteries which are vaguely elucidated to us as an unholy mess of confusions is delivered piecemeal.
Niven's is the region's main figure as the owner of an ancestral, huge and beautiful chateau that's a millenium-old. (But note that its architecture is only hundreds of years old.) Whenever there was a bad vintage year, to undo the evil eye -so to speak--a ceremony took place, complete with hooded men-in which the human sacrifice of the Manor's owner was the solution, that is, the warding off of evil. So we have here a medieval curse, West European witchcraft, a kind of Gallic Voodoo, people in a trance, and in all possible ways a ludicrous mish-mash of characters and events.
I will go no further. The plot is idiotic. The film is embarrassingly bad and dumb. No wonder it is unknown to the huge majority of film connoisseurs.
It does zero for its performers. Invariably they have about three expressions to choose from: worry, bewilderment and solemnity. Their acting just has to be a nadir in each actor's career. Deborah Kerr, about 46 when this thing was made, shows not only her age - in fact, even more than that-- but has totally lost her looks.
Even the musical score is bad. The only positive aspect of this fiasco is the huge splendid chateau, inside and outside, which is real. It is the Chateau d'Harcourt, situated in the beautiful Dordogne province of France. The screen credits thank the Baron and Baroness who own it. So should the audiences of this otherwise botched job.
Curiously - or perhaps unsurprisingly ? - the best-selling Maltin's Movie Guide gives it two-and-a-half stars. My one star is for the chateau.
Director J. Lee Thompson (1914-2002) was certainly not one of the greats, or even on the A list, but he did have some good (or popular) works to his credit. Such as Tiger Bay, The Guns of Navarone, Kings of the Sun, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and the nine movies he made that starred Charles Bronson.