Fragment of Fear is a psychological thriller starring David Hemmings. Made in 1970 and directed by Richard C. Sarafian (see also Vanishing Point) the film had all but disappeared from memory until recently resurfacing for online rental. What at first looks to be a quaint period piece with an endearing supporting cast (Arthur Lowe, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Daniel Massey and Patricia Hayes) surprisingly turns out be be a very effective and tense ride.
David Hemmings was always one for getting himself into a psychological pickle in the early 1970s. He followed Fragment of Fear with Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971) and Voices (1973). The films tend to share a common thread, with an individual tormented by unseen menaces (a teacher troubled seemingly by his pupils in Unman, Wittering and Zigo) and slowly losing a grip on reality which generally leads to a shocking ending (Voices has an added supernatural element). Both are worth checking out, as is Hemmings’ lead in Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975).
Tim Brett (Hemmings) is a writer and recovering drug addict who takes it upon himself to solve the murder of his aunt Lucy (Flora Robson). Although it happens in Italy he’s soon dashing back to London – obviously keen to interact with Lowe, Hyde-White et al. What follows is an intriguing flow of events where Brett slowly sinks into paranoia. He meets a woman on a train who hands him a letter, which is later revealed as a threatening warning mysteriously typed up in his own flat which he is later unable to clearly articulate. He’s subsequently plagued by menacing phone calls. Of course, nobody believes him. Policemen and officials all appear as ambiguous in identity, including Arthur Lowe and Daniel Massey giving excellent and effortless turns. Yootha Joyce and Kenneth Cranham (miles from their respective early 80s George and Mildred and Shine on Harvey Moon comedy roles) also turn up to hang around on the fringes of Brett’s increasing madness. It’s all quite magnificent and Hemmings in particular is very good, breaking out into a visibly uncomfortable sweat as things begin to fall apart for him.
By the way, the Aunt Lucy plot isn’t particularly interesting, and she is revealed as a do-gooder of ex-offenders turned blackmailer. It might be difficult to imagine Flora Robson capable of this. The ex-offenders form the background of the mysterious group called the “Stepping Stones” who cause havoc for Hemmings. What’s more interesting is the dark ending of the film, which leaves Brett in a very bad place and also leaves it open as to whether his girlfriend Juliet (Gayle Hunnicutt) has anything to do with it all.
There’s minimal location shooting and the film relies mostly on interiors but this works in its favour, especially the scenes inside Brett’s flat, with the dark corners and creaky furniture. The music by Johnny Harris is very of its time but still apt. Ah, and I’ve forgotten to say very much about Gayle Hunnicutt, Hemmings’ wife who often co-starred with him. To be honest, she’s unmemorable in Fragment of Fear, although watch out for her Nana Mouskouri style glasses. They have an important part to play in the growing paranoia.