Psyche 59 (1964): British Mystery Drama, Starring Patricia Neal, Curd Jürgens, and Samantha Eggar

Alexander Singer directed this British mystery drama, written by Julian Halevy, based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Françoise des Ligneris.

The film stars Patricia Neal in her first U.K. film, right after winning the Oscar for “Hud,” Curd Jürgens, Samantha Eggar, and Ian Bannen.

The film was released on April 29 1964 by Columbia Pictures.

Alison is apparently happy as a wife and the mother of two daughters despite her blindness, caused by a fall during pregnancy. She is helped by her devoted husband, Eric, a London businessman, an elderly French maid, and Paul a close friend.

When Alison’s younger sister Robin returns, the latter suggests that she sees an eye specialist, but Alison says it is not her eyes that are at fault but her brain.

Robin is flirtatious with Eric, who gets furious and grabs her by the hair, but Robin stabs him with scissors. Alison cannot see but she knows the mood has changed and asks what Robin is wearing. When her sister does not answer, she touches her knee and feels the nightdress.

Alison recalls the event that caused her sight loss, how she woke in the night, knowing she was about to give birth to her second child. Her husband was not with her. She left the bedroom and heard Robin crying. After this, she had a fall, but cannot remember anything else.

Their mother reveals that as children Alison used to take the things Robin held dear. She asks Alison to remember who introduced her to Eric, but Alison retorts that it was “just an adolescent crush.”

Eric and Paul drive to the country to surprise Alison and Robin. On the drive down Eric suggests Paul might win Robin over by beating her and using a belt on her.  Paul guesses that Eric has been Robin’s lover in the past. Given Robin appears to be in here mid-20s, and Alison’s children are around 8 or so, we might assume that if this were years before then Robin was under-age, but Eric says she was 17 and living with them on holidays from boarding school. Paul says she must have seen Eric as a father figure as she never knew her own father. Eric says he saw her grow up and creepily adds that he saw the “apples filling out”. Paul says he then “plucked the fruits”. Paul seems worried and says “what really happened?” Eric says “ask her.”

It is revealed Robin has been married and has left her husband in the U.S. Her mother thinks she now has gigolos.

Alison asks Robin if she was in love with Eric and Robin says she hated him. She explains this as the fact that Eric was taking her sister away from her by marrying her. Alison says Robin had everything as a child and was ravishing as a girl; Robin asks her “you never knew how your ravishing sister was ravished on your wedding night, did you?” This was a middle-aged man she met on the beach. She says she cried and wanted to tell Alison all about it but couldn’t.
The two men arrive at the country house. Robin causes a scene stealing black currants with the children. Eric is cross with her, but Alison defends her saying she has been troubled. Later, Paul and Robin share a picnic and kiss. He asks why she won’t marry him, and she says he does not love her. She describes intense desire, and Paul asks if that is how she wants Eric. Robin does not answer but says she worshiped him and he “took pity on me and gave me a crumb”. But clearly she is messed up by this, so it was not, as she puts it (sarcastically?) “kind”.

Paul asks Alison for her advice on his relationship with Robin, and Alison suggests he cuts himself free, as love can be “like committing suicide.”

Robin says Eric thinks all women are “bitches or objects of pity – like you”. Alison cuts her finger and sucks it. Robin adds “he likes you blind. It’s the only way you can hold him.” Alison grapples with Robin, who then flees.
Eric comes in and offers to take Alison away, but Alison says she won’t run away. Robin has taken a horse and is trying to leave, but the household surrounds her. The horse clips Alison, who falls, but from the grass, she tells a concerned Eric that she is alright. The horse then runs into bushes and Robin falls off. She appears unconscious, and Eric carries her into the house.
Eric lays Robin on a bed, and Robin comes round. He has his hands on her shoulders and her neck. She starts to cry. Alison comes into the house downstairs, rubbing her eyes. She hears crying like she heard years ago. She sees her memory: her sister and Eric in bed and Eric telling her to go to America while Robin begs not to be sent away. Their upper bodies are clearly naked.

In the bedroom, Eric embraces Robin’s body, and Robin kisses his hand. Then she comes to her senses and pushes him away saying she won’t be second best. She suggests he leave Alison and the children but clearly doubts that he will. Alison overhears and goes to her own bedroom. Eric is furious with Robin’s challenge to him and starts to strangle her. He releases her, and she laughs at him and then turns away and cries as he runs out of the room.

Alison can see her children in the garden and is crying. After a possible attempt to seduce Eric that evening, she gets into bed sadly. The next day, she is arranging phenobarbitone tablets on the table to form a letter ‘A’. The others play tennis outside. A taxi arrives to take the children to see their cousins. Alison says goodbye. Her mother suspects something, and won’t let Alison return upstairs, saying lunch is nearly ready. She reads a sci-fi book out loud while Alison knits. Eventually, Alison says she’s had enough and goes to her room.
Everyone meets for lunch, including Alison, but Robin is late. She arrives with a bunch of roses which she places on Alison’s lap, then says “happy anniversary.” Paul expresses surprise, and Robin says Eric didn’t let him know because Eric has forgotten the anniversary. She then sits on Paul’s knee and says they are getting married. Everyone is tense. Robin walks over to Eric and says “aren’t you going to kiss the bride?” He seizes her around the waist and buries his head in her stomach. He is crying. Paul walks out.

Robin looks over her shoulder toward her sister, and both she and Eric see that Alison can see them. Alison walks into the garden after Paul, and then smiles at the sunlight.

Cast
Patricia Neal as Alison Crawford
Curd Jürgens as Eric Crawford
Samantha Eggar as Robin
Ian Bannen as Paul
Beatrix Lehmann as Mrs. Crawford
Elspeth March as Mme. Valadier