Wednesday, April 22, 2009

110) The Tingler (1959)

110) The Tingler (1959) Dir: William Castle Date Released: July 1959 Date Seen: April 22nd, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

As a stand-in for writer/director William Castle, The Tingler’s Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) is not that interesting a character. He, just like Price’s Frederick Loren in House on Haunted Hill (1959), is driven by the desire to find the next best way to trick his subjects/audience into screaming. Neither Chapin nor Castle treat their test groups as willing participants—I’d love to hear the reactions of lay moviegoers that found out all on their own about the tingling wires Castle put in participating movie auditorium seats—and hence they don’t need to disclose what they’re doing; after all, they’re not really trying to hurt them.

 Dr. Chapin is striking however as half of the middle stage of the three types of heterosexual marriages that The Tingler presents. As a couple, Chapin and Isabel (Patricia Cutts), his unfaithful wife, are rather tame when compared to Ollie and Martha Higgins (Philip Coolidge and Judith Evelyn) but hardly as innocent as that of young lovers David and Lucy (Darryl Pickman and Pamela Lincoln), Isabel’s younger sister. Early on, Chapin proudly professes to identify with David’s innocent workaholic gusto but by film’s end, he’ll also admit that he can understand all too well why Ollie, a man looking for any excuse to get away from the ol’ ball-and-chain for a beer, might kill his spouse.

Don’t judge Ollie too harshly, just yet, dear reader, until you’ve heard a little bit about Martha. She’s the definition of a fussbudget, insisting on cleaning the theater they co-run once a week(!) and frantically checking her money as if it might evaporate as soon as she looks away. She’s a deaf-mute and hence can’t tell Ollie what she wants and almost always insists on having her way—the decors is not to Ollie’s taste but like so many other decisions made for or by his wife, he’s seemed to have grown used to it. To get away from her omnipresent domination, Ollie’s more than willing to turn their home into a makeshift haunted house—sort of a proto-House on Haunted Hill—as a manic last resort.

As we find out later in the film, that sense of urgency is something Chapin can relate to but it’s almost certainly nothing he’d ever enact. Chapin and his wife have an abusive relationship—she cheats on him, he glares at her and blithely mocks her about it—but he’s not the type to act on his suspicion, though they are always on his mind, much like his fascination with the evil titular metaphysical monster. In either case, he wants to go farther but just can’t seem to find the opportunity. Ollie however has motive and, thanks to Chapin’s explanation of how the Tingler works, a means. He’s Chapin’s wish fulfillment, albeit one that he ultimately recognizes is wrong—he stolidly admonishes Ollie at film’s end with some line about “murder is murder,” though he doesn’t exactly call the cops on the guy either.

In this hilariously sexist line of thought, one has to wonder: if Ollie is what Chapin could become and he’s in turn what David will almost certainly become considering their incestuous shared profession and family ties, how soon will Lucy start sleeping around? Like Loren’s marriage in House on Haunted Hill, the failure of Chapin’s marriage is a cynical fait accompli, one that is entirely not the fault of the obsessed working male. There’s always the thin possibility that Chapin’s reading too much into Isabel’s cagey behavior and the gold tie-clip left on the den’s coffee table but that’s entirely besides the point. What matters is wondering what circumstances and means a man could scare his subject, I mean wife, to death, a proposition as preposterous as it is quaintly macabre. Hitchcock would’ve been proud.

1 comment:

  1. Henri-Georges Clouzot would have been proud, too. Incidentally, it's funny how it works in THE TINGLER: Martha shruggs at being touched ("All those bacteria, you know!", as Ollie explains her to Chapin), while Isabela yearns to be touched a lot - but Chapin's too busy for sex (even if he's not too busy for jealous fits).

    What differs Castle from Hitchcock, though, is complete absence of misogyny. Even Martha, the most extreme of the three female characters, is portrayed without contempt. Her relationship with Ollie is a curious one, not unlike the marriage from Lang's SCARLET STREET (1945), where one could also suspect that there's some sado-masochistic lining to it all. But one roots for her, maybe because she seems to have escaped from all those silent movies they're screening at the hyper-clean place.