Sunday, April 23, 2017

Strange Compulsion (1964) Fringe Noir/Lost Noir

I'm finding a lot of interesting films in the 1960-68 range with some new talented, innovative directors and actors that emerged after the demise of the Motion Picture Production Code, the rise of TV, and the end of "B" unit studio production.  The 1958/59 years usually given for Film Noir style cut off was just arbitrary. There are still a few B&W Film Noir up to 1968.

I think, what was going on is, as the Motion Picture Production Code weakened and independent poverty row and low budget film creators were allowed more artistic freedom. So those Film Noir that went too far over the line depicting violence started getting classified as Horror, Thriller (even though they were just say, showing the effects of a gunshot wound, or dealing with weird serial killers, maniacs, and psychotics, etc.). Those that went too far depicting sexual, drug, torture, etc., situations were being lumped into or classed as various Exploitation flicks, (even though they are relatively tame comparably to today's films). The the noir-ish films that dealt with everything else, except Crime, concerning the human condition were labeled Dramas and Suspense. Those that tried new techniques, lenses, etc., were labeled Experimental. Some films are so so bad in all aspects that they acquire the "so bad it's good" Cult status.

With nothing really giving some of some of these directors & producers some parameters, or putting the brakes on, there was no speed limit they just shot past the limits of contemporary common sense, cultural acceptability and good taste. Good taste can block out entire subjects deemed dangerous or unworthy. What makes these low budget films worthwhile, to quote V. Vale & Andrea Juno in Incredibly Strange Films, is the "unfettered creativity. Often the films are eccentric-even extreme-presentations by individuals freely expressing their imaginations..." To quote Picasso "Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness."

With nowhere else to get distribution these low budget mavericks eventually just dispensed with almost all plot at all and just followed the easy money into hardcore. Shame cause you can clearly see artistic talent in these early proto "Grindhouse" features.

Fred (Solomon Sturges)
Owen J. Hazzlett (Jason Johnson)
Directed by Irvin Berwick (The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959, )The 7th Commandment (1961), The Street Is My Beat (1966)). The screenplay by Jason Johnson. The Cinematography was by Joseph V. Mascelli (The Thrill Killers (1964), The Street Is My Beat (1966)) and the cheap jazz music was provided by S.F. Brownrigg of the Sound Department.

The film stars the son of Preston Sturges, Solomon Sturges (Synanon (1965), Charro! (1969)) as Fred (credited as Preston Sturges Jr.), Jason Johnson a veteran of many Westerns and also (Sergeant Preston of the Yukon TV Series (1955–1958), The Abductors (1957), A Hatful of Rain (1957), Playhouse 90 TV Series (1956–1961), I Want to Live! (1958), Arson for Hire (1959), The Twilight Zone TV Series (1959–1964), One Step Beyond TV Series (1959–1961), 13 West Street (1962)) as Owen J. Hazzlett, the psychiatrist, Annabelle Weenick (The Street Is My Beat (1966), Don't Look in the Basement (1973), Deadly Blessing (1981), Palmetto (1998)) as Fred's Mother (credited as Anne MacAdams), John Harmon (They Made Me a Killer (1946), Fall Guy (1947), Fear in the Night (1947), Brute Force (1947), Flaxy Martin (1949), The Crooked Way (1949), Man in the Dark (1953), The 7th Commandment (1961)) as Photo Studio Manager (uncredited) and Helen Melene, Shirlee Garner, June Oliver, Patricia King, Mitzie Dickey, Barbara Tomlin, Jane Hall, and Mamie Carroll.

Strange Compulsion is the story of Fred, a twenty-two year old pre med student trying to follow in his late father's footsteps and become a doctor. Fred lives in an affluent household with his mother and their maid.

The sessions

Fred is a smart, good looking, young man with an irresistible compulsion to voyeur women. He is very aware of the problem and is seeing Dr. Hazzlett about his neurosis. Throughout the film we see the various sessions Fred has with Dr. Hazzlett. These sessions consist of Fred telling Dr. Hazzlett of his various compulsive acts and these are shown mostly as voice over narrated flashbacks.


Fred at sixteen

Peeping the maid who eventually got fired

Caught by mom.

Freds first experience with his compulsion started when he was sixteen. He was caught, by his mother, peeping on the maid as she took a bath through a keyhole. She slapped him, took away his allowance for a month, and fired the maid. His next experience was the very next day in his father's home office. A woman patient was admitted to see his father and Fred left through the changing room. Fred though had a compulsion to listen in and he hid in the closet where he could peer out through the slatted door (you get the impression viewing this sequence that it may have been David Lynch's inspiration for a similar sequence in Blue Velvet.

Fred that day made an important discovery the most exciting experience in his life was seeing a woman naked and from then of he was going to repeat the experience as much as he could. He also realized that if he was to become a good doctor he'd have to cure himself of this compulsion. The doctor tells him that one of the first stepping stones to a cure is admitting you have a problem.

Other various and varied incidents of peeping, stalking and voyeuring are described. He talks his girlfriend Helen into changing her clothes in front of him on a picnic outing at a lake. When she removes her bra and panties he snaps a picture. Helen is mortified. She never forgave him, and he still loves her. The incident began another compulsion that of taking pictures of his victims so that he could have permanent mementos.

pressuring Helen

Fred: I don't want to touch them I just want to take pictures of them.

He made a peephole in the wall between his room and the maid Eloise's room. He crawls over a roof to watch three topless girls sunbathing on tar beach. Back on the home front he installs a see through mirror in Eloise's room up against his adjoining wall, the better to see her with. Fred next stalks a waitress to her home and first rents an apartment in a building across from her room window so that he can spy into her on her. He then gets ambitious with a movie camera and films through her window.

Peeping and Voyeuring

peeping Eloise the maid

Sun bath babes with possibly the skyscraper tombstones of Bunker Hill , L.A.

Voyeur Fred

Tar Beach

Eloise through the see through mirror

It works perfectly


The Cameo Snack Shoppe waitress

Fred mesmerized with another impulse 



The view

Dr. Hazzlett also has Fred do experiments to see if he has any reaction "getting kicks" at venues where women are normally naked, He tells the doctor of a negative reaction to a medical clinic class with a naked woman, and of his tests going to a life model class at an art studio, and to a "camera club" type nude shoot where many pinup photographers (and Bettie Page) got their first starts at. The doctor surmises that it was because he didn't have to make an overt effort to watch the girls and they knew you were there and paying for the privilege, and that you knew that they knew.

Experimenting Fred

Fred's medical clinic class

Life model art class

Where is Fred looking?

Camera Club

When Fred gets to the next phase in his neroursus the need to touch his victim he seeks the service of a prostitute, but discovers after he's in her dive flop that when it comes to an aggressive woman he can't go through with it. The prostitute is first pissed of at the loss of a trick and then laughs at him as he flees into the night.


Flop House Apartment

Fred panics

She doesn't want to lose a trick
After an incident at the swimming hole where Fred saves a drowning woman, he begins a relationship with her. This relationship with Wanda combined with the sight of a rape victim at the medical college clinic tempers Fred's impulses and he finds he's more excited about going on his date with Wanda than watching Eloise through the two way mirror.

Saving Wanda

A smoke after a "heavy petting" session
Fred and Wanda almost consummate their relationship. Wanda's only problem is that she is separated from her husband, and when he shows up at her place after a hot date with Wanda, Fred has to beat him up. Fred decides he's got enough problems, and taking on Wanda's also is too much.

Wanda's X

Fred saves Wanda from a beating by KOing her X
Strange Compulsion has it too ways, on one hand it's really an interesting piece on the clinical treatment (at least in 1964) of voyeurism, on the other it's equally effective as a sexploitation film showing the lurid idiosyncrasies and progressions of a peeping tom and numerous women in various states of undress. You have your cake and eat it too circa 1964. During the years of the Motion Picture Production Code, and individual like Fred would have been depicted as some low life creep with no redeeming qualities, and would have either ended up behind bars, or somehow been struck blind or met some other just moralistic end.


Another of the Doctors tests an art exhibition




The trophy snap shot

Fred's 64 Corvair center

The Cameo Snack Shoppe

Fred and Wanda's date

giving in to a compulsion


Solomon Sturges is very good in the part of Fred, he lionizes his dead father while he agonizes over his compulsion and the wreck it could make of his career. He's confident and forthright and makes the character entirely believable. Jason Johnson is equally effective as the surrogate father like psychiatrist Hazzlett. Of the rest of the cast only the Wanda, Helen, and Fred's stepfather characters have minimal speaking parts, aside from Fred's sessions with Hazzlett the film is pretty much all flashbacks and narration.

Apparently voyeurism is not as "strange" as it was once believed.

"research found voyeurism to be the most common sexual law-breaking behavior in both clinical and general populations.(The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Exhibitionism, Voyeurism, and Frotteurism) In the same study it was found that 42% of college males who had never been convicted of a crime had watched others in sexual situations. An earlier study indicates that 54% of men have voyeuristic fantasies, and that 42% have tried voyeurism.( "Patterns of sexual arousal and history in a ?normal? Sample of young men". Archives of Sexual Behavior) In a national study of Sweden (Exhibitionistic and Voyeuristic Behavior in a Swedish National Population Survey) it was found that 7.7% of the population (both men and women) had engaged in voyeurism at some point. It is also believed that voyeurism occurs up to 150 times more frequently than police reports indicate. This same study also indicates that there are high levels of co-occurrence between voyeurism and exhibitionism, finding that 63% of voyeurs also report exhibitionist behavior.

Strange Compulsion is available on DVD from Something Weird Video. Incredibly seedy surreptitious entertainment, you'll need to take a shower afterwards, 7/10

*About the director
"Irvin Berwick, he was "a child prodigy, playing concert piano before the age of ten. Although he never gave up playing privately, his career was to be in films. His first job, in Hollywood, was as a dialogue coach, working under contract at Columbia Studios in the mid- to late 1940s and frequently with William Castle. Berwick was employed at Universal-International throughout much of the 1950s, working often with Jack Arnold on several science-fiction thrillers and westerns, and was dialogue coach on Against All Flags (1952) starring Errol Flynn, who gave him a case of expensive liquor for his services (although Berwick did not drink). During the same time period, he worked (uncredited) on the TV series Topper (1953). In 1958-59 Universal-International laid off many of its employees. Berwick then joined with make-up expert Jack Kevan to form a production company, Vanwick Productions. The company's first picture was  The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)"
( IMDb Mini Biography by Ted Newsom)

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