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Twisted Nerve


‘…deserves to be considered within the mores of the time, which are depicted in all their primitive fearfulness here…’

To be approached with caution and foreknowledge, Roy Boulting’s 1968 thriller has a chequered past. In the wake of Psycho, many films used the veneer of scientific knowledge as a basis for lurid tales; this story of a sociopath played by Hywel Bennett makes unfortunate use of the condition of real-life medical conditions as a sinister plot point, and even though there’s a disclaimer at the start, it’s an unsavoury notion that has led to the film being consigned to the dustbin of history. It doesn’t help that the condition is referred to as Mongolism in dialogue, but Twisted Nerve does have more to offer than out-dated attitudes.

The key issue here is that Martin (Bennett) has a brother with learning difficulties, and has  developed a second personality in which he fakes disability as Georgie, referred to as a ‘halfwit’ by other characters. With his own family kicking him out into the street, Martin/Georgie latches onto local librarian Susan (Hayley Mills), who takes pity on him. Martin/Georgie inveigles his way into her home, a guest-house presided over by Billie Whitelaw, and with guests including Barry Foster. Hitchcock saw this film and cast Foster and Whitelaw in his next film, Frenzy, and there’s a few scenes which recall the work of the master of suspense. And Bernard Herrmann’s score, with its insistent whistling sound, was lifted by Tarantino for his Kill Bill films; for a film in disrepute, Twisted Nerve has a bigger influence than might be expected.

Many films from the 1960’s contain dated attitudes, but Twisted Nerve’s portrayal of Martin/Georgie has someone who exploits our humanity for his own calculated gain puts a real edge on proceedings here. The film would be better without referencing real-life medical matters, but removing them altogether would leave it unclear why Martin/Georgie has been able to adopt his cruel, exploitative attitude. There’s a shoe-horned-in scene in which a doctor explains that Martin/Georgie’s behaviour is not connected to his brother’s condition, but the title, and the republishing of the poem that contains it in the opening credits, suggest that the film-makers want to have their cake and eat it. Boulting regretted the strategy, and his error of judgement means that Twisted Nerve requires considerable background to explain why it’s not for the impressionable.

All that said, this is a tricky, well-put together film that makes good on a simple ‘girl in peril’ premise. Bennett and Mills both give good performances, and there’s great little bits from Timothy West as a copper and Salmann Peer as another guest-house resident who argues back on racist attitudes. The grim picture of British life is carefully built-up, and even if Twisted Nerve has glaring faults, it deserves to be considered within the mores of the time, which are depicted in all their primitive fearfulness here.

Thanks to Studio Canal for access to this film.


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  1. While the British distributors promoted the film as “enough to make Hitchcock jump” their American counterparts put a far wilder spin on it. “Cleaver cleaver. Chop chop. First the mom and then the pop. Then we’ll get the pretty girl. We’ll get her right between the curl.”

    • And I looked at, and decided not to use any of that lurid artwork! It certainly seemed to engage Hitchock, and it’s a shame it’s so hard to get…

  2. Looking forward to completing my review of all Hayley Mills films from the 1960s so will certainly be including this one. It’s safe to say the concerns you mention are not new. I remember there being quite an outcry about this at the time. But it was a big hit for Hayley at the start of her adult phase and Bennett was coming into his own.

    • This is a good film, well acted all round, but the controversy is deserved; I think it’s misconceived as a movie. But still, should be out there…

    • That is correct! I saw The Queen once in Leicester Square while she was coming out of the Lindsey Lohan remake, if that helps pin it down…

      • I actually did see the Lohan remake. I went through a phase (thankfully of just a couple of months duration) of Lohan’ness. I also did the same thing for Hillary Duff too though.

        Wasn’t the Queen in that movie, Agent Cody Banks 2? I thought she did some rapping or break dancing moves or something on the table. For such an old gel, she was remarkably spry!

        • And I have seen Agent Cody Banks 2, how have we not met before? And yes, that’s her maj the Queen, she pops up in the Naked Hun films too, a great sport!

          Might skip on Just My Luck later, classic Lohan? What’s your favourite Duff?

          • I suspect my incognito skills probably play a big part. Some skeptics might say my refusal to actually do any traveling plays a bigger part, but skeptics are just jealous if you ask me.

            I’m not a fan of later Lohan. She took the route of just too many child stars and crashed and burned 🙁 I did like her work in Freaky Friday. A great book and her working alongside Jamie Lee was good!

            As for Duff. I’ve always liked the first Cody Banks. She didn’t play as big a part as I was hoping though. I think her Cinderella Story was pretty good. It was complete fluff and a real teen girl flick, but it worked. I wouldn’t watch it again but I really enjoyed it when I did watch it.

    • Good question. I forgot to put on that ‘thanks’; Studio Canal gave me access to a really spanking fresh print, it seems to be lost to streaming, not on Youtube or Amazon….

        • Cleaning out the cat litter tray is about as exciting as the A-list party scene right now. But even with reservations about the content, I’d argue that this film should be on streaming, let people make up their own mind about what they want to see and what they think of it…

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