Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


FIVE FINGER EXERCISE (1962). Director: Daniel Mann. From the stage play by Peter Shaffer.

When Philip Harrington (Richard Beymer) comes home from Harvard, he discovers that his mother, Louise (Rosalind Russell), has hired a German tutor, Walter (Maximilian Schell), for her young daughter, Pamela (Annette Gorman). Louise is pretentious and fancies herself more cultured than she actually is (she shells peas as Walter is giving a piano concert), and finds her husband, Stanley (Jack Hawkins) to be gruff, plodding and unimaginative. Philip is going through his own growing pains, and resists Stanley's attempts to bond with him, even as Stanley continually berates the young man for being too "sensitive" and is angry that his wife seems ungrateful for all he has given her. Louise finds herself becoming romantically and physically drawn to Walter, and it is more than likely that the confused, troubled Philip has developed a crush on Walter as well. Trouble begins when these characters allow their assorted jealousies to get the better of them. Five Finger Exercise was based on a very successful 1958 British play by Peter Shaffer, and the story was transplanted to American shores and watered down, as was usually the case with material too frank for the Hollywood censors. Beymer [Adventures of a Young Man] gives it the old college try and has some good moments, but he's miscast, while an excellent Schell [Return from the Ashes] is more appropriate for his role. Rosalind Russell and Jack Hawkins [She Played with Fire] go together like oil and water, which is perhaps the point -- both give good performances. Philip has a good speech about how he is more than just an extension of his father, but is his own distinct person. An in-joke shows a poster of Russell in Auntie Mame when she walks into a store.

Verdict: Family Values turned upside down. ***.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - I can't believe I have never seen this one, as I am a fan of Miss Russell, Mr. Schell and writer Shaffer! Seems like it would be very much worth watching...
- Chris

William said...

An interesting picture, especially if you read between the lines. It's streaming on Amazon for about four bucks. You don't have to become a "prime" member of anything like that.