Julie (Joey Heatherton) is a wild child with a habit of causing trouble for her family. Her latest stunt involved driving her car into the ocean, to avoid hitting a motorcyclist.
The biker, Ben Gunther (Troy Donahue), luckily survives the accident, only slightly injuring his shoulder. He seems to recognize Julie, but calls her by a different name: Barbara.
Julie and her boyfriend Harry (Nicolas Coster) bring Ben back to her family’s home, where he joins them for dinner. Julie’s aunt Sarah (Jeanette Nolan) has an odd connection with Ben, but their interactions are a mystery Julie, Harry, and Julie’s father (Barry Sullivan).
Julie then learns from her aunt that she has an ancestor named Barbara. Is it possible that Ben may be recognizing her from a different era?
My Blood Runs Cold was directed by William Conrad. According to the TCM introduction to this film when it premiered on the channel in April, this was Troy Donahue’s last movie with WB. In this film, which is a thriller, he plays against the “teen idol”/heartthrob type he was known for. After making My Blood Runs Cold, he asked to be let out of his WB contract.
This film opens with a quote from Lord Byron:
“My heart is sad, my hopes are gone,
My blood runs cold through my breast;
And when I perish, thou alone
Wilt sigh above my place of rest.”
This quote is accompanied by moody black and white photography showcasing a beach scene, with waves crashing against sharp rock formations. It’s quite an ominous opening, immediately cluing the viewer in to the fact that things probably aren’t going to end in a rosy fashion for Julie, her family, and Ben.
Ben is an odd character, with his belief that Julie is a reincarnation of Barbara, but the Merriday family have their own quirks as well. They’ve got plenty of family secrets and skeletons, with Aunt Sarah being the only person who has put any effort into uncovering them.
The storyline is fascinating, with its blend of family history, romance, and suspense. I love the fact that the Merriday family lineage ties into the reincarnation plot, though the truth about the legitimacy of the Merridays’ claim to their name could have been revealed to the living Merridays later in the film, in order to build a higher level of suspense. (There are still a few twists/revelations peppered through the second half of the film, which are successful in bringing the drama.)
The photography is quite beautiful, and at times atmospheric, adding some visual appeal to the film. I particularly loved the lighting and setting in the scene where Julie and Ben swim out to a cavern, finding a box left there by Barbara one hundred years prior.
As for the performances, I’ll be totally honest: they aren’t great. Most of the cast is a little stiff, and they’re not quite convincing in their dialogue delivery. Jeanette Nolan is the one strong asset to the cast, giving a great performance as Aunt Sarah (though her role isn’t huge).
I must also applaud Donahue for taking a chance and stepping outside of his comfort zone, playing a character that may very well be a villian — a far cry from the audience’s expectations of him as an actor, based on his previous work. It was a risk for him to take this part, and I admire him for that.
The two leads, Heatherton and Donahue, are attractive. They make an appealing pair, and perhaps that’s all you need for a stylish thriller such as this. The film is certainly entertaining, despite its shortfalls, and the story has no trouble holding the viewer’s interest. The score: 3/5