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Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension


A tetrahedron by another name, or...

Four Sided Triangle (1953)

(a.k.a. The Monster and the Woman)

Written by Terence Fisher and Paul Tabori
Based on the novel by William F. Temple
Directed by Fisher
Details at the IMDB, US.IMDB

None but himself can be his parallel.
Lewis Theobald (1688–1744), The Double Deception

It's debatable if you can call a Hammer production a B movie.

After all, Hammer Studios was an established production company which turned out well crafted features during the late 1940's and onward.  Things like sets and cinematography and original music were usually good.  In terms of presentation, they didn't look very B.  But the plots were usually unimaginative and tended to be detective fiction and murder mysteries, which were a mainstay of B movies during that time.  They weren't serious competition for, say, Ealing Studios, which produced A grade comedies.

And then, in the late 1950's, this B studio rocked the movie-going world with their variations on the Universal monsters.  Despite the fact these films were usually shot on modest budgets, they gave their A class cousins from America some tough competition.  Just as Roger Corman's Poe movies didn't look like B movies, Hammer horror was slick, classy, and very popular.

But lets go back a page.  Before Hammer became became synonymous with horror, there was a time in that studio's history when making a weird tale was a new thing.... 


The Plot

Village People 

We open with credits (white letters on pan of English countryside) and a lush orchestral soundtrack.  As the credits conclude, we get a gothic lettered title card saying, "'God hath made man upright; but they have sought out too many inventions.' - Ecclesiastes."  (Technically, upright in this context isn't about physical posture.  And this wasn't the kind of inventions Edison had.  Or maybe he did.  Depends on his personal life.  We digress....)

We now get shots of the sleepy little town of Hardine (or something like that; it's not spelled out for us), where all the the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children fight to the bitter death with swords.  OK, maybe not that third one.  But Doctor "Doc" Harvey (James Hayter) tells us this is a quiet place where nothing happens.  Through a montage, he shows us the the post office.  "And this is the church."  (And it's got no steeple.  Open the door....)

And here are the people.  The local squire Sir Walter (Percy Marmont) is out hunting.  He has a son named Robin.  And there's a woman doing work in her yard.  Her husband is a drunk.  They have a son called Bill.

Go to Doc Harvey leaning against a fence.  He's talking directly to us, the audience.  Now he tells us about his philosophy in life and how life is quiet and mundane here.  (Thanks, Doc.  It's not as compelling as the Stage Manager in Our Town, but we get the idea.)  Nothing interesting here, he says, except for (cue shot) that burnt out barn....

Cut back a few years.  The barn is whole again.  Doc Harvey tells us about a time a few years ago.  We see him walking up to the doors.  (The man doesn't look much younger.  Must be one of those people born old.)  He peaks into the barn and sees an eleven year old girl called Lena (Jennifer Dearman).  She's sitting on a makeshift throne of hay bales, wearing a crown.  Two boys armed with wooden swords approach her.  She addresses them as Sir Robin (Sean Barrett) and Sir Bill (Glyn Dearman).  After some ceremony, wherein she declares they must fight for her affections, the boys duel with the swords.  (Dang, puppy love must be brutal in Britain.)  Doc Harvey watches and grins.  

There are over a million sides in the naked city.  This is four of them. Even in their younger days, Robin Hood and the sheriff had their disagreements.

Finally "sir" Robin bests "sir" Bill, who yields.  They have another ceremony.  The girl puts a laurel wreath on Robin's head; on Bill, an oak leaf crown.  Bill kisses her hand, and then runs away upset.  (Heh, none of that "Brave Sir Robin ran away" here.)  Doc thinks of interfering but doesn't.  Robin and Lena shout for Bill to come back.  When the scampering sore loser doesn't return, they decide he'll be back later and they can fix things then.

Doc muses over them.  Lena is pretty.  Robin is solid and reliable.  Bill is wild and impetuous.  Later, Doc learns that Bill is also a genius.  The kid goes to see him with an wrist injury.  Doc tells him it's probably a sprain, but Bill believes it's a simple fracture, and he tells Doc which bone by its proper name.  Naturally, Bill is right.

In a montage, Doc takes in Bill as a informal student.  He later becomes his guardian when the boy's mother dies.  Bill still had his brains and anger.  And the other two kids are his closest friends.

Years later, Lena's mother takes her back to America.  The boys, now grown up, go to Cambridge.  Doc drones on, er, romanticizes about how Bill was born to do great things.  And then he reminds us that nothing happens here. (In the town, that is.  Your opinion of anything happening in this movie may vary.)  

Year's later again, an adult Lena comes back.  She's had a lousy time and become deeply pessimistic.  Her mother has died, and she plans to sell off all the inherited belongings.  She figures she can be a comfortable failure for the remainder of her short life.  Doc tells her to stop talking that way, but she figures she didn't ask to be born so she has a right to die.  (My, what a little Miss Sunshine she's become.)   So Doc tells her that Robin and Bill are back in town.  They're in that old barn working on...something.

Doc and Lena go to barn.  Bill and Robin have turned it into a workshop.  They're too busy doing some kit bashing to notice Doc and Lena come in.  When they do, they're very happy to see Lena.  When asked what they're working on, the two cottage researchers give a general explanation, but they lose Lena at the mention of the word Einstein.  She checks out the coffee cups on a table.  They're a mess.  And so is the table.  (In other words, it's as neat and healthy as you'd expect for a couple of obsessed bachelors.  Perhaps some of you hardcore movie fans know about this....)  Doc quietly suggests to Lena that they need someone to keep them human.  

So Lena joins them as housekeeper/companion.  We get montage of their day-to-day activities while Doc tells us how well this worked out.

The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Anything

Later, Robin and Doc go see Lord Grant (Kynaston Reeves) to get a, well, a grant.  They need more money to keep working on the project.  However, Lord Grant declines because the work has produced no results.  Doc and Robin leave, but Doc goes to see Simpson the solicitor (John Stuart) and sells his practice.  He gives Robin the money.

Fortunately, Robin doesn't blow it all on a new home theater system.  We get a montage of science (!), wherein science (!) is lots of bubbling liquids, large soldering irons, cigarettes, and passing out from exhaustion.  (This was back when engineering was a tougher activity.)

Lena goes to Doc.  He tells her they should take a break.  The phone rings.  Doc answers, and it's a call for Lena.  Robin tells her that they're ready to make the thing (whatever it is) work.  (Cripes, their most sincere financial investor was on the phone a second ago.  Doncha think they shoulda told him, too?)

Doc and Lena go to the barn-lab.  The wonder boys now have some large mainframe looking devices with a couple of what looks like display cases in front of it.  Finally, the big question.  What the hell is it?  Bill and Robin say it's a reproducer or a duplicator.  He could explain, but it'd be far to technical.  (He evokes a few names, too, like Faraday and Newton and such, 'cause this was back in the days when science (!) was akin to magic, and you had to speak a few supernatural names to get magic to work.) 

So, onto the flashy stuff.  They ask Doc for something, his choice.  He hands them a pocket watch and chain.  Bill puts on a blindfold and correctly guesses what it is.  No, wait, this isn't magic; it's science (!).  Bill puts the watch into one of the display cases.  Lots of switch flipping follows.  Lena stands at the power console.  Robin and Bill communicate in technical jargon while watching an oscilloscope and more flipping switches, er, switches are flipped.  Doc is lost, but the old man has a boyish look of wonder in his eyes.  Then Bill shouts, "Full power!" and there's blinding flash of light.  The watch is in the other display case.  The cottage scientists are happy it worked.

Bill takes it out and hands it to Doc.  He goes to the other display case and hands him another.  One's an exact  exact replica of the other.  Even one of the links is bent the same way on both chains.  Doc asks how.  Bill explains they've found a way to create matter from energy. (Assuming a straightforward matter-energy relation, it would take an ungodly amount of energy to make a pocket watch.  This is detailed in the notes section well below.  But let's not worry about science for now.  After all, this is science (!).)  

During the vacuum tube era, high fidelity stereo sound required more commitment. Duplicate links.  Not just on web pages anymore.

Bottom line: They can reproduce anything.  Lena suggests precious metals and diamonds.  Robin suggests works of art.  Bill suggests costly drugs.  Implications?  They're more interested in the idea that it could be done and the fact that they've done it.

Later, Sir Walter writes a blank check and endorses the back.  He's in the barn-lab with the others who are all dressed nicely.  (Must be a sales demo.)  They do the big duplication stuff over again, but with the blank check in the display case.  This time, Doc is excited, but Sir Walter is lost.

Sir Walter examines the two identical checks.  Bill explains that they're not in the forgery business, but they can reproduce anything.  Sir Walter suggests their next course of action should be to do nothing.  The government may get worried.  He explains that potentially dangerous things like atom bombs could be reproduced.  (Or worse yet, Britney Spear's wardrobe.)  Then he asks what they want.  Robin says they want two things.  One, they want to have their work undisturbed.  Sir Walter's pretty sure the government will insist on that one.  (Heh, damn straight!  On the other hand, we might have expected an invention cover-up, like in The Man in the White Suit (1951), but no go.)  Two, Robin asks for a better lab and some things to reproduce.  Sir Walter cautions them again and suggests they should see Robin's uncle Sir Henry, who is an undersecretary.

Later, Doc and Bill are kicking back.  Bill admits that he wants Lena.  A lot.  He's never told her.  He has too much pride.  (Too proud to let her know or too proud to be rejected, we don't know.)  He asks Doc to probe her. (Heh.)  Doc says he'll wait for the right moment.

Time cross-fades onward.  Bill and Robin get ready for a fancy dinner party.  Bill is bored with their new invention.  Robin reminds him of what they've achieved and what it may mean, so there's still a lot of "benefit of mankind" work to be done.  Later, at the fancy dinner party, Sir Walter makes a speech about the importance of the device.  Lord Grant cuts to the chase and tells them about the implementation.  The government will let them do whatever they want.

After dinner, Lord Grant tells Bill he wants all the documentation put into a safe place.  He also wants the wonder boys in London.  It's at this point that they've noticed Robin is missing.  Oooh, and so is Lena.  Enter Robin and Lena.  He announces their engagement.  Cut to Bill's face, cue a dramatic chord.  Bill whispers to Doc that it's a good thing he didn't tell Lena.  Then he goes over to the happy couple, congratulates them, and quietly leaves.

Fade to Robin and Lena on their wedding day.  They exit the church.  (The one with no steeple. But never mind; they're surrounded by people.)  Bill half heartedly waves while they get into a car and leave.

Copy Girl

Sometime later, Doc goes to the barn looking for Bill.  The sulking scientist is out back burying something.  They go inside.  Bill explains.  There was a question of how far could they take the reproducer.  Living things, for example.  They'd have to pass a lot of current through the original.  It'd be painful, so Robin didn't want to do it.  But Bill figured on doping the animal first.  

He points to a guinea pig.  About a week ago, it came out all right once the dope wore off.  The duplicate didn't live.  Bill tried all his medical knowledge to make it live, but no go.  Now he's going to make his own autojector.  (Don't ask me.  I asked Mrs. Apostic, who is an ER nurse, and she doesn't know, either.  We doubt this is the same thing as they give diabetes patients today for automatic insulin injection.)  It would take some spinal surgery to make it work, so Doc's help would be needed.  Doc says he needs to think it over.

Doc explains to the audience that something was wrong with Bill.  Of course he'd help Bill, but things were getting weird.

Later, Doc is at the barn-lab.  Bill has set up a few pumps on a lab table.  This is his homemade variant of the autojector, which will pump the blood while waiting for the heart to start.  They dope a rabbit and put it into the display case.  Bill starts turning everything on.  Doc runs the power panel.  Bill uses an insulated glove box to plug together two cables.  (Why he couldn't just buy one of those big blade switches like all the rest of the mad scientists, we don't know.)  Then he shouts, "Full Power!"

Fade.  Doc sets the original rabbit down on the ground and it scampers away.  (Wow, the bunny sure shrugged that stuff off in a hurry.)  Bill picks up a thing that looks like a miniature headset.  It has a spike on the part that would go over the head.  He attaches it, spike first, on to the duplicate rabbit.  He turns on a pump, and we are treated to shots of dark fluid rhythmaticly surging through glass tubing (to the tune of woodwinds playing some fast scales).  The rabbit's heart starts beating.

Fade again.  Doc is cradling a bandaged bunny, Bill declares they've done it.  Now, the next step.  Bill says he's not interested in reproducing rabbits; that happens naturally.  (Glad he mentioned that. Talk about bringing coals to Newcastle.)  But what he does intend to do with it, well, he knows that Doc already knows.  And Doc says he won't help.

A week later, Lena comes back to town.  Robin had to stay in London.  She tells Bill that he's needed there, too.  Bill plays with a bunny while telling her that he's got something else to do.  They go for a walk while he explains.  Doc watches them leave and tells us that the concept of this conversation deeply troubled him.  (Y'know, for a guy like Doc who's probably seen it all twice -- and double that nowadays -- he sure does get bothered easily.)

Bill finally tells Lena how he has felt about her.  He thought she picked Robin way back when the boys were dueling with wooden swords.  She says she didn't know how she felt until Robin proposed.  (Obviously, she'd given a lot of thought to her decision.)  Then Bill announces that he now has a way to make another Lena.

Later, Lena talks to Doc about this.  He tells her there'd be no danger.  Everything, including memory, would be duplicated.  Lena figures it'd be like having a twin sister, but declares this has gotten too weird for her.  Doc says everyone can be happy if this works, but it's for her to decide.

At the lab, Bill paces around for a while.  Then he paces around.  He stops, and paces around.  Then for a change of pace, he paces around, but only for a while.  Lena and Doc enter.  She looks at Bill.  He knows her decision.

Go to a montage of shots of reworking the lab.  They put in bigger display cases.  A new console.  A big neon flashtube with lots of bends in it.  (We don't know what that's for, but, well, this is science (!).)  Bigger autojector.

Finally, they put Lena in a coffin sized display case.  (Yo, Prince Charming!  Wake this with a kiss!)  Bill goes through the motion of turning things on, but now they have a shot clock and a whirling circle thing that does whatever.  (Oh, yeah.  It does science (!).)  Bill hooks up that cable inside a glove box again.  (All those improvements and they didn't get a huge blade switch.  Maybe they had one on back order from the Mad Science Catalogue.)  "Full power!"

(Activity time:  What do you suppose would've happened if a fly was in the display case with Lena?)

Doc helps Lena out of the display case.  Bill takes caries Lena II over to a dentist's chair.  (No, you joker, he doesn't ask, "Is it safe?")  He puts the autojector headphone contraption on her head.  Two spikes go into the back of her neck.  (We don't see the spikes going in, but the music highlights the implied impalement.)  Bill manipulates a few controls.  Fluid surges in tubes and an ammeter occasionally jumps off the scale.  After some time, there's a heartbeat.  He takes the headset off her and puts a gauze pad where the spikes went.  (Heh, not too messy. We would've figured she'd be shooting blood all over the place.)  After he bandages the back of her neck, Lena II opens her eyes.

In the language of "The Newcomers," it says, "Eat at Joe's." NEVER WORRY ABOUT SLIPPING HEADSETS AGAIN!  Go jogging, cycling, skiing, or sailing knowing that your headsets will never fall off with these Spiked Headband Headsets.  (Sharper Image Catalog #YB666; antiseptics sold separately.)

Outside, Doc and Lena pass by a window.  Doc sees Lena II sitting up.  He asks Lena if she wants to go inside.  She doesn't dare.  (Maybe she just doesn't like talking to herself.)  But she does want to look.  And after looking, she doesn't know what to say.  (OK, maybe now she'll start talking to herself.)

And Now For Something Completely the Same

Montage. Bill calls Lena II "Helen."  Doc tells us about the occasional social mistake he makes around Helen, sometimes calling her Lena, and forgetting she has the same memories as Lena up to the point of duplication.  Bill takes Helen on holiday.  Doc tells us that he still has his misgivings, but he doesn't know why.

And the montage goes on holiday.  Bill and Helen frolic on the beach.  They're a cute couple.  But Helen seems distracted. Ten days pass.  Bill tries to strike up a conversation.  Helen doesn't say much.  She observes that she's still wearing her previous wedding ring.  Bill says its a part of her until he gives her his.  (Uh, sure.)

Then one morning, Bill serves Helen breakfast in bed.  She wakes up happy, but suddenly becomes quietly upset.  They go to the beach.  Bill has a sandwich and suggests he should invent something better.  Helen is distracted.  She goes for a swim.  A long swim.  Away from the beach.  Bill looks up from his sandwich and realizes what's happening.  She's trying to kill herself.  He dives in and brings her back.

Doc gets a cable, asking for help, from Bill.  He goes to see him.  Bill confesses he's frightened and tells him about Helen's attempted suicide.  She didn't try to stop him from saving her, but there was something in her eyes.  He doesn't know what it was.  (Probably salt water.)  He asks Doc to talk to her.

Elsewhere, Helen is combing her hair.  Her movements are slow and mechanical.  Doc enters and admits that Bill sent for him.  She reminds him about the time she told him that she didn't ask to be born, so she had a right to die.  Then she explains that when she "first opened her eyes," she wasn't thinking of Bill; she was thinking of Robin.  In other words, as a perfect duplicate, she prefers Robin over Bill. (Well, duh!)

[Ladies and Gentlemen, it is the policy of B-Notes to describe a plot in inverse proportion to the amount of respect we have for the movie.  Despite the tongue-in-cheek comments you've seen above, I do have some respect for this movie.  Or I did until I saw the rest of it.  Therefore, we now resume our regularly scheduled plot description in its (near) entirety.]

Doc talks to Bill about this and tells him that happiness is not a right.  Bill says he only wanted two things: knowledge and Lena.  He used the first to try to get the second and failed.  And even if he could get over it, he knows that Helen is now one of two women who can't live without the same man.  He's got to do something for the sake of Helen.

Later, back at the barn-lab at night, Bill is checking over some equipment.  Someone is standing motionless in the corner with his back to us.  (From this lack of movement, we suspect it may be a dummy or a waiter.)  Lena enters.  For Robin's sake, she has come to help.

He puts Lena at the voltage controls.  Then he walks over to the motionless figure.  It's Helen.  (Uh..., ne'er mind about the dummy part.)  He explains how this thing will work.  (Hey, Helen's wearing the same outfit and hat as Lena.  Figure the odds....)  They're going to use electroshock to induce amnesia.  She seems to be taking this well, him doing this for her and all, and lies back into the dentist's chair.  Robin picks up a pair of heavy duty ice tongs with wired sponges at the tips.  (We suspect this is authentic equipment from the period, but, man, it looks threateningly goofy.)  He clamps the sponges onto her temples.  Just as he's getting ready to start, she whispers goodbye to Robin.

Meanwhile, Robin has shown up at Doc's place. (Gee, what impeccable timing.)   Seems that Bill forgot to pack some key documentation.  (Gee, this would be a bad time for something to happen to Bill, wouldn't it?)  Doc breaks the news of recent weirdness to him. Once he learns that Bill has made a perfect copy of his wife, Robin shouts, "Hot damn!  Threesome city, here I come!"  No, not really.  Remember, this is England as it really was in the movies in the early 1950's.

Back in barn-lab, they've finished with the electroshock.  (Wow, that was quick!)  While Lena watches, Bill removes the ice tongs from Helen's head.  She wakes up, presumably with no memories of who she is and who Robin is, either.  Lena watches this so intently that she doesn't notice that the First Church of Stressed Wiring has elected a new Pope inside the power control cabinet.  White smoke begins to pour from the side.  Bill looks over and shouts a warning to Lena.  She gets away just as the cabinet explodes.  And then all the other consoles in the room explode in a chain reaction.  (Y'know, I was an electronics technician for a few years.  Most of the stuff I worked on was for the military and tended to be as archaic as the stuff you'd see in the early '50's.  I saw my fair share of exploding components, but I never once heard tell of "spontaneous console chain-combustion.")  Soon, everything is in flames.

Doc and Robin arrive in time to see the whole barn in flames.  A fire brigade is already at work.  (Gee, how'd they get there so fast?  And while we're asking questions, how did Doc and Robin manage to walk toward the barn at night in the country without noticing that there's a huge fire in the direction of the barn?)  One of the firemen pulls a woman out of the rustic inferno.  Robin tries to run into the barn for the others, but a fireman holds him back.  There are no others.  Just the woman.  (Presumably, this means the secrets of the duplicator are lost forever.  Heh, guess we couldn't have the story end with "benefit of mankind" stuff.)

Mrs. Apostic notes that OB/GYN equipment has not changed much in the last fifty years. ...my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder--there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters--and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the "BARN OF USHER."

Dénouement.  At a hospital, Doc tells Robin that Lena (or Helen?) is not hurt, but she has no memory.  They still don't know if she's real or Memorex.  Doc explains that there is a way of knowing.  The autojector would've left scars on the back of Helen's neck.  Doc didn't dare look but reckoned that would be Robin's right.

Robin and Doc go to see her.  She's lying quietly in bed.  When they enter, she looks up at Robin.  He smiles, but she doesn't know him. They raise her up and look at back of her neck.

[OK, I do have enough respect for this movie not to tell you what they see and how they react.]

Go to a gothic script title card that reads, "'You shall have joy or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both' - Emerson"  Roll end credits.

The Good Stuff


This movie shows signs of good craftsmanship and attention to detail.  Consider the sets.  Although we may laugh at some of the equipment in the barn-lab, most of it is convincing.  Parts that look like they may have been war surplus are acceptable; after all, we're talking about a project built on a shoestring.  It isn't until much later in the story do we see scientific equipment that's just too silly.

Musical cues during dramatic scenes are good.  They are effective at enhancing the scenes without getting in the way.  A quick, unexpected dramatic chord (instead of protracted mournful violins) underlines a character's sudden displeasure.  When a pair of spikes are pushed into a woman's neck, we are not shown the insertion, but a high, sustained musical cue heightens the implied stress of what we know is happening.  One possible exception to good choices for musical cues might be the scaling woodwinds while showing us liquids surging through glass tubing.  Although it is pleasant, it does seem excessive, bordering on the just plain goofy. 

High Technology in a Low Summer

Setting this story in a sleepy little village was a good choice.  This allows for contrasts between the simple, rustic lifestyle and the (then) high tech work done by the protagonists.  Since this is a story about blind scientific advances leading to tragedy, the placid background increases the impression of advanced engineering.

On the other hand, our protracted introduction to this joyfully simple background may cause many viewers to look for the fast forward button on their remotes.

The Play's the Thing

Like many science fiction movies from the early 1950's, this is a story of magic, not science, at heart. In particular, it's a story of the irresponsible use of new power leading to tragedy.  Bill's double hubris is, like most other tragic figures, are his pride and desire.  Pride keeps him from talking to Lena about his desire, and his desire blinds him into making a bad decision.

Poor actors would've killed this.  Fortunately, good actors were on hand to play this with a sense of quiet dignity.  No one overplays nor hams it up.  In other movies, we've often seen actors and directors play an idea too seriously.  It's painful (and hilarious) when they can't back up their poorly played serious tones with credible results.  Although the science in Four Sided Triangle may be awful (see below), playing it as they did can distract viewers from that shortcoming.  When Bill crafts a way to satisfy his obsession and Lena II's inner turmoil grows, it's good drama.


The Bad Stuff

Shallow Girl

Unfortunately, the movie uses up about three-quarters of its runtime before introducing us to Lena II.  Since this is the reason for the story, we get a long detour before we get to the point.  And when we finally arrive, there's not enough time left to do what could've been done.

Since Lena is a pessimist who has entertained thoughts of suicide, it's no surprise that Lena II is not willing to fight for her place in existence.  She willingly, albeit sadly, lets Bill electroshock her into amnesia.  However, something in character has been overlooked.  When someone falls in love, and it's mutual, a person will usually cherish his or her continued existence.  Therefore, when Lena II is ready to call it quits so quickly, it may be in character for how she felt at first, but it feels out of character for how we might've expected her to change.  And in Lena II's mind, she's exactly like Lena.  She could've replaced her.  No one would've known.  And Lena would've known this, too.  You do the math for what could've followed.  And the writers could've spent more time on this than they did with the long lead-up.

And look at this from Robin's point of view.  If a guy's wife is duplicated, and if the duplicate is essentially the same as the original, and if the duplicate sleeps with another guy, does that mean the guy's wife is essentially cheating on him?  The movie doesn't touch on this.  Maybe it could have given us some of this instead of that lengthy lead-up.

Shallow Science Fiction

Probably the most common theme in science fiction is blind progress leading to disaster.  In early science fiction like Frankenstein, the disaster happens to the creator and associates.  This is where the consequences fall in this movie.  In later science fiction, disaster happens to society when progress outpaces society, often by displacing people.  That's not to say that progress is evil; it's just the nature of the thing.  The advent of literacy put people who could remember things out of business.  The Industrial Revolution overtook the cottage craftsmen.  And although automation may mean new jobs and allow freedom to do other things, a lot of people living today lost their jobs to machines.

Now envision what a universal duplicator might do for our world.  On the plus side, things that are always in short supply would now be readily available.  Organs for transplant, seeing eye dogs, rare earths, and industrial grade gems could be very available and affordable for the common man.

But this could also be a problem.  Increase a supply, don't increase a demand, and the price drops.  Replicating objects of art would cheapen them.  If everybody had a Venus di Milo, it would no longer be a wondrous thing of beauty; people would be using massively replicated copies as garish lampposts and anchors.  Commonplace bottles of Dom Perignon would become as highly prized as a Boones Farm.  Gold and silver would lose their value.  Countries that base their economies on precious metals would become poor almost overnight.  Societies would collapse.  New societies would rise from the ashes.  What would this new world be like?

Somehow, none of these economy warping consequences occur to the any of the characters in this movie, including characters who should know better.  The most contrary suggestion we hear is that someone may duplicate atomic bombs.  And as we are about to see in the next section, you'd probably need a few atomic bombs to make one.

Shallow Science

A story about a technological breakthrough should have some credible science.  If this was a comic book or a lowbrow adventure, maybe you could turn a blind eye to poor science.  Since this movie's approach is on the high road, the science should be good.  

So how good is the science?  Well, sir, it could've used some work.  

Let's start with the easy part.  The concept of the equivalence of matter and energy was a new concept for most people in the early 1950's, but it was a (pardon the pun) solid idea.  They don't talk about how much energy it would take for "raw material," but we will.  Consider the scene where they duplicate a pocket watch.  Assuming straightforward mass-energy equivalence, I figure about 10 quadrillion joules would be the energy equivalent of a pocket watch.  That's over a billion kilowatt-hours.  Probably cheaper to buy a new watch.  

This staggers the imagination so much, there's no point in asking how they got all the newly created subatomic particles into their correct places.  Computers?  Do you realize how many subatomic particles are in a pocket watch?  And a computer back then was lucky to have a whole K of memory.  Why even ask about intentional instant amnesia via electroshock?

Perhaps we are being too hard on the science here.  After all, Jules Verne's 1873 novel From the Earth to the Moon is a science fiction classic, but let's be honest: People inside a very large bullet fired from a large cannon at escape velocity are going to be crushed to a pulp.  No one complains much about this flaw because the focus of the story is the anticipated journey.  Likewise, the science in Four Sided Triangle is more concerned about a creative use for matter-energy equivalence.  Never mind the details.

Besides, as we noted in the plot description, this isn't science.  It's science (!).

Shallow Ending

Compared to most science fiction movies from the 1950's, this is a smart story.  Or so it is until the disappointing last ten minutes.  Too many things are contrived to produce a sense of irony and wrap everything up neatly.  This is so labored; you sense the contrivance more than the irony.  These bald faced conveniences are detailed in the plot description.

The Who Cares Stuff

Notes on the Cast and Crew

Terence Fisher (director, writer) grew up in a strict religious environment and did a variety of jobs until getting into films.  He worked as a film editor in the mid 1930's and started directing about twelve years later.  In 1956, he and writer Jimmy Sangster broke new ground for Hammer Studios with the colorfully melodramatic The Curse of Frankenstein and topped it a couple of years later with Dracula (a.k.a. The Horror of Dracula).  Fisher did various other creature features for Hammer and other studios.  In The Four Sided Triangle, you can see some prototypical mad science he'd use in later movies.  (Those of you interested in the pre-monster days of Hammer should go check out Hammer Graveyard - Facts for the Hammer Enthusiast.)

Common casting for Barbara Payton (Lena/Helen) had her playing women making bad decisions on male companions.  In Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), a gangster manipulates her while she grieves over the loss of her brother.  In Bride of the Gorilla (1951), her new husband becomes the victim of a voodoo curse.  She had a brief run of plays and films in the 1950's, becoming something of a glamour model.  Unfortunately, real life modeled her casting in the movies; after her stage and screen acting ended, she became a prostitute.

James Hayter (Doc Harvey) started out as a stage actor in the 1920's.  His work in The Pickwick Papers (1952) earned him a Best British Actor nomination from BAFTA.

Stephen Murray (Bill) did very early TV productions as Macbeth (1949) and Iago in Othello (1950).  When you see him doing the mad science stuff in Four Sided Triangle, and the light hits his cheekbones just right, you get the feeling he was a prototype for Peter Cushing's mad scientist characters.

John Van Eyssen (Robin) worked for Hammer as an actor after Four Sided Triangle and later played Harker in Fisher's Dracula.

Tall Percy Marmont (Sir Walter) worked in silent films - you can see him as a divorce attorney caught with Clara Bow in the Mantrap (1926).  He later worked for Alfred Hitchcock during the 1930's.

Glyn Dearman (Bill as a Child) was Tiny Tim in Scrooge (1951).

Kynaston Reeves (Lord Grant) was Professor Walgate in Fiend without a Face (1958).

Malcolm Arnold (original music) scored over eighty films, plus various non-cinematic works.  In 1958, he picked up an Academy Award in 1958 for "Best Music, Scoring" for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

Roots, Shoots, and Other Compares

No Copying Allowed

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain (1881) - Common boy is physically identical to a prince.  They switch identities.  The "random twin" plot device appears in various other stories; e.g., Anthony Hope's Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and the movie Dave (1993).

Metropolis (1927) - Evil scientist in a futuristic society makes a robotic duplicate of a virtuous woman and uses it to create social chaos.  (Cf. the "evil twin" device in various stories.)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) - Aliens duplicate and replace citizens of a town as method of conquest.  The "aliens passing as locals" device appears in various other stories and is a sub-genre of its own.

The People Maker by Damon Knight (1959) - Republished as A for Anything.  First section of the book tells, through various scattered episodes, how an inventor has created a "universal duplicator," used it to make mass copies of itself, and mailed them to lots of people.  However, instead if instant utopia, civilization collapses into barbarism.  The rest of the book is about a young man living in a post collapse feudal system.

The Human Duplicators (1965) - As a variant of the "aliens passing as locals" device, an alien robot kidnaps a few key individuals and replaces them with androids as part of a pre-invasion scheme.  (Cf. The Creation of the Humanoids (1962), wherein the survivors of a nuclear war are being replaced by a robotic civilization.)

Star Trek (1966) - In the early episode "What are Little Girls Made Of?" an archeologist discovers the remains of a cybernetic civilization.  He makes an android duplicate of Capt. Kirk with the intention of using it as an agent for his work.

[Sidenote: Send in the Clones.  The technique for cloning some plants has been around since ancient times, and scientists were cloning frogs in the 1950's.  But cloning didn't become an ubiquitous plot device until the 1970's.  Rather than list all such stories, only noteworthy examples have been chosen for the remainder of this piece.  Please note that in many cases, clones replace androids as, uh, plot devices.]

Sleeper (1973) - In a subplot, a totalitarian government tries to clone its assassinated leader.  (Cf. The Boys from Brazil (1978), which was based on a novel by Ira Levin.)

The Clones (1974) - Action/adventure story about a nuclear physicist who discovers he's been cloned and tries to prove he's the original.

The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer (1974) - Made for TV and shot on video.  Unscrupulous man doesn't like his life and decides he wants out.  (Cf. Seconds (1966).)  He approaches a company that can get him out by replacing him with a clone with selective memories, which are "taught" to the developing clone via sleep-learning.  When the clone is ready to take over, the original sneaks off to start a new life.  But after ruining his new life, the original decides he wants his old life back.  He returns and discovers that his clone has done a better job of it.  Strangely satisfying twist at the very end.

The Stepford Wives (1975) - Based on another novel by Ira Levin.  Men in a community have been replacing their wives with androids, presumably because the machines aren't as annoying as the originals.  (Cf. The Cloning of Joanna May (1991).  And since one of the masterminds at Stepford was an animatronics engineer at Disneyland, we'll also say, cf. Futureworld (1976), wherein an amusement park has been producing robotic doubles of selected individuals.)  Followed by three dubious sequels.  You can find out more about Stepford-o-Mania at StompTokyo.

"The Phantom of Kansas" by John Varley (1976) - In a futuristic society, some people have backup copies.  That is, they're cloned, and their recorded memories are transferred to the clone, which is activated in the event of the death of the original.  (See also, Zardoz (1974), and The Sixth Day (2000), and the role-playing game Paranoia.)  An artist has become the victim of serial homicide; that is, she's been murdered a few times.  She eventually discovers that the killer is one of her clones that was accidentally activated.  And then it gets kinky.  The murdering clone has had a sex change to escape detection, the artist is kind of narcissistic, and, well, maybe you should just read this for yourself.

KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1976) - Rock and roll band as super heroes, and they're after a super villain who wants to replace them with androids.  (Cf. evil rock and roll android duplicates in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (1991).)

Quark (1978) - In this short-lived series that spoofed popular science fiction, two of the characters were named Betty and played by twins.  At least one of them was a clone, and the running gag was both claimed to be the original.

Anna to the Infinite Power (1983) - Troubled young girl discovers she is one of many clones.

Heechee Rendezvous by Frederik Pohl (1984) - Third in the Gateway series of novels.  In the second novel, the main character has advisors that are artificially intelligent computer programs.  One of these programs is a psychologist that interacts with the character as an animated hologram of Sigmund Freud, and the character's "science advisor" uses a hologram of Albert Einstein.  But in this third novel, the character has died, and his memories were transferred to a new artificial intelligence program.  He continues to interact with others as a hologram.  

The "virtual character" device will appear in many stories in the 1990's.  In a sense, this is a throwback to the android, and those with duplicated memories are like robotic duplicates.  Cf. some of the characters in stories by "cyberspace" coiner William Gibson, the miniseries Wild Palms (1993), and some of the later characters in the Star Trek franchise.

Creator (1985) - Scientist tries to bring back his long late wife by cloning her.  Cf. Jurassic Park (1993).

Multiplicity (1996) - Comedy about a man who clones around and makes several duplicates of himself.  Based on both the results in the story and the diminishing returns on the comedic effect, lets just say less is more.  (Cf. the TV series The Clone Master (1978).)

The Bottom Line

Boy loves girl.  Girl chooses someone else.  Boy makes copy of girl for himself, but that doesn't work out, either.  Well crafted low key mad science with good actors and an interesting dilemma from the early days Hammer Studios.  Moves too slowly for audiences today.  Poor science fiction due to lack of realized potential and unsettlingly questionable science.  Contrived ending.  Not recommended for short attention spans nor cynical physicists.  Recommended for Hammer compleatists.

But Wait!  There's More!

This is only part of the B-Masters' roundtable on strange romance called Tainted Love.  Go check the others out, won't you?

A B-Masters Presentation

See compulsory copulation in The Curious Dr. Hump at The Bad Movie Report!

See Shakespeare go gratuitously goth in Tromeo and Juliet at Badmovies.Org!

See a cut-up on his wedding night in Hatchet for a Honeymoon at Cold Fusion Video Reviews!

See an artificial intelligence practicing artificial insemination in Demon Seed at StompTokyo!

See sultry snake women (or something like that) in the mood for love -- and political allegory -- in Green Snake at Teleport City!

See some deeply cold comfort in Nekromantic at Opposable Thumb Films!

See a woman who's just dying for a good orgasm in The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hitchcock at And You Call Yourself a Scientist!

And perhaps the most twisted, weird, and just plain wrong of all...

See Liberace as a straight romantic lead in Sincerely Yours at Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension!


Originally published on 10 February 2001.
Revised (pictures added) on 22 February 2001.


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