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June 04, 2006

Four Sided Triangle


Terence Fisher - 1953
Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD

Four Sided Triangle invites a couple of different readings. The film is an example of the kind of low budget science-fiction produced a few years before Terence Fisher and company reinvented Dracula and the classic Universal horror film. One can also view the film as being a symbolic retelling of the life of star Barbara Payton.

The narrative begins with two young boys, Robin and Bill, infatuated with a slightly older girl, Lena. The girl pits the two boys against each other in fun but is clearly more attracted to Robin. The two boys grow up to be scientists who invent a machine that can duplicate objects by creating matter out of energy. During this time, Lena, who has left their little English town, has returned. Not knowing who Albert Einstein is, or indicating thoughts of suicide do nothing to keep the Robin and Bill from falling in lover with Lena again. Just when Bill gets nerve enough to ask Lena for a date, Robin and Lena get married. Bill's solution is to create a duplicate Lena. Of course this second Lena is a duplicate in every way, including her desire for Robin.

According to IMDb, the alternate title for Four Sided Triangle is Monster and the Woman. This raises the question of who the monster is suppose to be, the second Lena or Bill? One can also look at the story as a variation of James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein with the second Lena, known as Helen, feeling a sense of horror at living an unasked for life and rejection of her lover. While not using Whale's extreme angles in the cinematography, the black and white shots evoke Whale's two Frankenstein films with the electronic gizmos and the expressionistic lighting. Looking past the sci fi and horror trappings, Whale and Fisher have made films about the desperation of unrequited love.

Provoking men into fighting over her was a hallmark of Barbara Payton's life. Without forcing it too much, there are some parallels between Payton's recent life caught between Franchot Tone and Tom Neal with Lena's relationship between the genteel Robin and the more impulsive Bill. One has to wonder if Payton was cast in the role of Lena because of the similarities to her life, as well as the obvious attraction of getting a Hollywood star, albeit a rapidly falling one, for a bargain. When Lena returns to England, it is to sell her mother's belongings, enough to support herself for three or four months. When asked what she will do past that time, Lena remarks that she has no purpose in continuing her life as she has failed at everything she has tried. While Lena proves to easily regain her sense of self-esteem from being a help-mate to her two admirers, Payton's own life prefigures Lena's hinted at appetite for self-destruction. Even a random selection from Payton's ghost-written autobiography, I Am Not Ashamed almost describes what happens in Four Sided Triangle: "I had a lot of electricity in me and men didn't just hit and run with me. They usually came back for seconds and with their tongue dragging."

Posted by peter at June 4, 2006 02:01 PM


Fascinating stuff on Barbara. Thanks for writing about her and supplying the link.

Posted by: Flickhead at June 4, 2006 04:16 PM

I really like this film, but I didn't know any of the background information about Barbara Payton. As the person above me said, fascinating stuff!

Posted by: K. at June 5, 2006 04:06 PM

Once more our film paths intersect a bit. I discovered Payton's horrific life story when researching Gail Russell. She was just lights-out beautiful, but it's possibly the starkest plummet from the heights I've read about. Someone is supposedly trying to make a movie of Payton's life story, but I think it wouldn't make for very edifying viewing. However, you could say the same of Frances Farmer and Lange got an Oscar nomination for that one!

Posted by: Campaspe at June 9, 2006 08:40 AM