“I was born four months ago, by the side of a road. Anything that went before happened to somebody else.”
Chris Smith (Robert Webber) is an American man recovering in an English hospital after a car accident. His name isn’t actually Chris Smith at all. So awful were his injuries that he lost his memory, leading the hospital staff to assign him a bland alias until they could identify him.
The months pass, and physically, Chris recovers… but there’s no sign of his memory coming back. As he prepares to leave the hospital, he learns from Dr. Keller (Anthony Newlands) that his bills have been paid by an anonymous benefactor, who has also made an apartment available to him when he is well enough to leave.
Chris decides to take the apartment, staying in England to try to uncover the mystery of his past and what happened in the car accident. The only clue he’s got is a photograph of a woman, torn from a newspaper.
Hysteria was directed by Freddie Francis. The film was written and produced by Jimmy Sangster.
Amnesia and murder are no strangers to one another on the big screen. We’ve seen dozens of plots like this before. Though not at all unfamiliar, the two can usually be trusted to make an engaging combination, and are used well here by keeping the focus on the amnesiac as he tries to unlock his own past.
Chris doesn’t remember a single thing, not even his own name. The script occupies itself with this fact, weaving in some additional mystery (and, later, crime drama) from the identity of the anonymous benefactor who paid for Chris’s medical treatment.
Robert Webber gives a fine leading performance. He’s often steady and level-headed amidst the outrageousness of his situation — “often” being the operative word here. Naturally, he gets a little overwhelmed from time to time, punctuating the film with higher tension and a bit of over-the-top fright.
I also enjoyed Leila Goldoni in her role of Denise. She’s a very elegant and mysterious character, and somewhat strange, adding to the film’s air of mystery.
On the whole, the film is very stylishly made, from is nightmarish opening (which features swirling graphics and menacing images, like a man holding a knife) to its crisp, high-contrast photography, Denise’s fashions, and the set design of that gorgeous mid-century apartment.
On top of its groovy sense of 1960s style and the solid performances, the film also packs a decent twist. Things do get a bit soapy near the end, but in a fun way.
Hysteria is a good little memory-challenged mystery-drama, one that I’d readily watch again. Recommended.