‘Fear’ or — ‘Gaslight’: the Sequel?
Trying to sell you Roberto Rossellini’s ‘Fear’ (1954) is a bit tricky because my honest description of it would be “Imagine Hitchcock… but boring” (I suspect Rossellini would say that to entertain us would be “morally wrong”).
Ingrid Bergman is having an affair although she is having trouble keeping it secret from her scientist husband because her lover’s former lover has now popped up and is openly blackmailing poor Bergman. Needless to say this drives Ingrid to distraction as she frantically attempts to keep her infidelity from being exposed. Yet does she really need to try so hard? After all, maybe her husband isn’t quite as naive as he appears?
So you’ve got all the ingredients here for a taut, tense, heart-pounding tale of love, betrayal and manipulation, all the juicy stuff directors such as Clouzot or Cukor could exploit to the hilt. Rossellini, however, takes all these elements and, in a surprisingly original approach to this material, proceeds to do almost NOTHING of any discernible interest with them. So there’s very little going on here other clinical, almost scientific, observation meaning ‘Fear’ is frequently as dry as a slice of unbuttered Rivita.
Then something interesting happens around an hour in — the film becomes sort of okay!
Well, maybe it would be more accurate to say that it starts to become more obvious and apparent what Rossellini is up to and that even though it might have seemed like he wasn’t up to much, if anything at all, that this has been very tightly controlled all along.
For example — is it coincidence that whenever Bergman opens the doors of a closet, wardrobe or cabinet that she always leaves them open? Is this simply a character quirk or is this the film telling us that she is leaving herself “open” to suggestion and manipulation?
Or how about the moment an hour or so in when Bergman enters a bar to collect her ring from her blackmailer? It’s an excellent use of composition and lighting but did you notice the shadowy figure lurking in the streets below observing her through the window behind her shoulder? Although the most impressive shot is near the climax when Bergman enters the laboratory and is only visible as a distant silhouette before turning on strip-bulbs that separately flicker into illumination.
‘Fear’ isn’t a movie to flip out over as it’s a little too arid, detached and sexless to get really worked up into a lather about but it’s still a fascinating watch purely for experiencing Rossellini’s tight visual control combined with some very nice cinematography. But if you want throbbing excitement you might want to look elsewhere because if ‘Fear’ is a thriller it’s had all its thrills surgically removed.