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In the post-Rosemary's Baby (1968) phase of her career, Mia Farrow played a variety of unpredictable, quirky characters in ambitious and largely unsuccessful films up until the time she began her collaboration with Woody Allen in 1982 with A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy. Some of these were contemporary romantic comedies that failed to click with the public such as John and Mary (1969) and The Public Eye (1972, aka Follow Me!) and big budget, critically maligned features like The Great Gatsby (1974) and Hurricane (1979). But the actress's more peculiar roles were the spooky, dark-haired waif of Joseph Losey's Secret Ceremony (1968), the buck-toothed, leg-brace wearing wife of Jean-Paul Belmondo in Claude Chabrol's Doctor Popaul (1972, aka High Heels), a mother haunted by a dead child in Full Circle (1977, aka The Haunting of Julia), and the possibly deranged in-law in Robert Altman's A Wedding (1978). Yet her bravest - some might say foolhardy - and most physically taxing role would have to be Sarah, the blind girl terrorized by a maniac in See No Evil (1971, aka Blind Terror).
Shot in Berkshire, England, this lushly photographed thriller from director Richard Fleischer, was largely a British affair in terms of cast and crew with Ms. Farrow the sole American actor in the mix (though she plays an upper class Brit). Sarah has been recently blinded by a fall from a horse and is recuperating at the sprawling country estate of her aunt, uncle and cousin. While she is out one afternoon with her ex-boyfriend Steve, an uninvited guest makes a house call, leaving behind a house full of corpses. When Sarah returns later, she is puzzled by the unexplained absence of her relatives until she discovers the bloody body of her uncle in the tub the next day while drawing a bath. Fleeing the house in terror with a crucial piece of evidence that the killer left behind - an engraved bracelet - Sarah barely escapes being caught by the maniac but her trials are just beginning.
While See No Evil frightened some filmgoers at the time of its release, the film, apart from Farrow's effective performance, has not held up well over the years. The mechanical, clich-ridden premise is tediously protracted and overtly manipulative to often risible effect; there are so many close-up shots of the killer's star-decorated cowboy boots as he stalks his prey throughout the movie that they deserve a headliner screen credit as "The Boots." In addition, every suspenseful moment is telegraphed well in advance. When we are shown a broken glass on the kitchen floor repeatedly, we know that the barefoot heroine will run across it blindly as she's being chased through the house later. The gimmick of a blind girl in jeopardy begins to seem like some sort of cruel joke as the movie progresses, requiring Farrow to run into objects, be slapped and abused by gypsies, fall down a steep embankment, wallow in mucky red clay, get scratched by tree branches, and almost drown in a bathtub. The elfin, child-like Farrow is game for anything though and gets a major workout here that is physically and emotionally exhausting for both the actress and the viewer.
There are also several ill-judged visual attempts to provide some psychological insights into the killer's motivation by showing him leaving a theatre playing a double bill of "The Covent Murders" and "Rapist Cult," window shopping in front of a weapons store, ogling strippers in a bar, and reading violent comic books. Red herrings are in abundance and the issue of class conflict is even raised as a motive for the family's murder in several unnecessary early scenes depicting the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.
Director Richard Fleischer has helmed some fast, efficient B-movie thrillers in the past such as Armored Car Robbery (1950), The Narrow Margin (1952) and Violent Saturday (1955) but See No Evil seems clumsy and heavy-handed in its technique (the zoom lens is working overtime). Despite an obviously bigger budget than his fifties noirs and first rate collaborators such as composer Elmer Bernstein, cinematographer Gerry Fisher (Accident , The Go-Between ), and art director John Hoesli (2001: A Space Odyssey ), the movie has the feel of a cheap exploitation film and not an A-picture. One would also expect a much more intelligent screenplay from Brian Clemens, the Emmy-nominated scenarist of the cult TV series The Avengers and such underrated sleepers as And Soon the Darkness (1970). Under the circumstances, it is not hard to guess why Mia Farrow doesn't even mention See No Evil in her memoirs.
She was living in London at the time with her husband composer Andre Previn and most likely accepted the role since it didn't require her to travel far from her family. Initially Previn was supposed to score See No Evil but, due to a dispute with the filmmakers, his compositions were not used and he was replaced by Elmer Bernstein who supplied a new score.
When See No Evil was released in theatres, it proved to be a box-office disappointment despite some superficial similarities to the box office hit Wait Until Dark (1967) in which Audrey Hepburn played a blind woman terrorized by a psychopath. Reviews were generally mixed with this assessment from The New York Times typical of the film's general reception: "...perhaps 30 minutes out of a total hour and a half, "See No Evil," has its share of thrills. Cheap thrills, to be sure, but thrills nonetheless... Attempting on the one hand to mean something and on the other hand trying to crank up the terror, Fleischer keeps suggesting confrontations between the rich and the poor, the old and the young, families with daughters to protect and men with warped desires. For all the potency of a camera movement, it can never have exactly the power of a conceptual image, and therefore "See No Evil" is better with its mindless terror than with its witless meaning. And although everything becomes far too much long before it is over, the movie is generally at it most ridiculous precisely where it hopes to make sense."
Producers: Leslie Linder, Martin Ransohoff
Director: Richard Fleischer
Screenplay: Brian Clemens
Cinematography: Gerry Fisher
Art Direction: John Hoesli
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Film Editing: Thelma Connell
Cast: Mia Farrow (Sarah), Dorothy Alison (Betty Rexton), Robin Bailey (George Rexton), Diane Grayson (Sandy Rexton), Brian Rawlinson (Barker), Norman Eshley (Steve Reding), Paul Nicholas (Jacko), Christopher Matthews (Frost), Max Faulkner (Steve's Man #1), Scott Fredericks (Steve's Man #2), Reg Harding (Steve's Man #3), Lila Kaye (Gypsy Mother), Barrie Houghton (Gypsy Jack),Michael Elphick (Gypsy Tom), Donald Bisset (Doctor).
C-89m. Closed captioning. Letterboxed.
by Jeff Stafford
Mia Farrow: Flower Child, Madonna, Muse by Sam Rubin and Richard Taylor (St. Martin's Press)