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"Cult" classic finally arrives on DVD,
This review is from: To The Devil A Daughter (DVD)
I missed this film when it first came out in the 70's As a huge Hammer fan, I wasn't aware of the decline in the quality of their films until I was much older and could view them a bit more critically. I did finally see this in a second run house and thought, despite its obvious flaws, that it was a fine addition to the Hammer canon.
I was a bit surprised when I purchased it on DVD how well the film has held up. Despite an editing job at the conclusion that can only be charitably be described as butchery and a script whose quality faded like a print left in the sun too long, To The Devil A Daughter is still pretty powerful stuff. It's considerable more violent (with nudity)when compared to Terry Fisher's classic adaption of Dennis Wheatly's novel The Devil Rides Out. Wheatly was the source for Daughter as well and the use of Lee in the role as the sinister fallen priest creates a bit of continuity between the two films (although Lee was, surprisingly, the hero of Rides Out).
The print is pretty good (an improvement over Dracula Prince of Darkness another Anchor Bay release where the negative was clearly faded and the transfer appeared "jittery"). The extras including a no holds bar documentary featuring director Peter Sykes, producer Roy Skeggs, the two main screenwriters, actors Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman and David Anthony. All are surprisingly candid about the film's shortcomings. Lee knew Wheatly and so is able to provide interesting insight to the project. The script's uneven tone is the result of it passing through at least three different writers.
The tales the actors share of Widmark's tantrums (calling the film a "Mickey Mouse production"; storming off the set when he discovers the Director of photography doesn't use key lights; deliberately knocking over the wind machine and telling them they needed one from Hollywood to do the job; coming into the studio commisary to demand his day's pay from producer Roy Skeggs), the last minute rewrites and the badly reshot/edited ending (which allows the film to end with a whimper and not the promised bang) are all intereting. While the film made loads of money (Hammer was playing catch up. They had been passed by with the release of The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and The Omen), none of it went to Hammer as they didn't finance the production. The studio went down like the Titanic after colliding with the economic realities of the 70's.
The film looks stylist; director Peter Sykes does an admirable job and his director of photographer (who also worked on Catch 22)gives the film a bigger budget look that it really had. Sykes directs with a visual flair and imagination lacking from almost everything that Hammer produced during this time. While Ken Russell, Peter Collinson (Straight on Till Morning, The Italian Job)and others were approached for the job, it's doubtful they could have done a better job given the circumstances. It's the uneven content of the script that ultimately undoes much of the impact of Sykes' direction and the actor's performances. With new script pages coming in the day before (or day of)shooting, the script's quality is wildly uneven. Sykes manages to do a decent job of making it hang together.
What would have been more interesting would have been to cast against type; have Lee play the occult novelist and American actor Richard Widmark play the villan.
To The Devil a Daughter is last shout for help from a grand sinking ship. It's a minor classic that lacks much of what made Hammer great in the 50's but still has enough imagination to make it a contender.
Location: My Little Blue Window, USA
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