Fragment of Fear


1h 35m 1971

Brief Synopsis

Former junkie turned author David Hemmings investigates the murder of his aunt in Pompeii where he succumbs to paranoid hallucinations

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Thriller
Release Date
Sep 1971
Premiere Information
London opening: 3 Sep 1970; Los Angeles opening: 29 Sep 1971
Production Company
Columbia (British) Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
London, England, United Kingdom; Italy; London, England, Great Britain; Pompeii,Italy; Seaford, England, Great Britain; Seaford, England, Great Britain; Seaford, Great Britain England; Salerno, Italy; Sorrento, Italy
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel A Fragment of Fear by John Bingham (London, 1965).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Synopsis

Soon after British author Tim Brett publishes a best-selling book about his recovery from drug addiction, he visits his estranged aunt, Lucy Dawson, who lives in Italy. Tim has just begun to renew their acquaintance when young British tourist Juliet Barstow discovers Lucy strangled to death at the Pompeii ruins. At the funeral in Italy, Tim learns from priest Signor Bardoni, Lucy's friend, that his aunt's belongings have been given to her secretary, Mrs. Gray, and notes the irony of Lucy being killed by a burglar after spending her life helping criminals reform. Seeing Bardoni, who seems disinterested in the death, secretly throw away a condolence card, Tim retrieves the note, which reads "The Stepping Stones." Days later, Tim, frustrated with the Italian police's indifference to the murder, decides to start his own investigation. After telling his plans to Juliet, with whom he has become romantically involved, Tim visits the convalescent home where Lucy resided and meets with Mrs. Gray, who avoids his questions. However, another resident explains that Lucy's husband was killed by a burglar just three months after they were married years ago, prompting Lucy to rehabilitate criminals. While on the train back to London, Tim shares a cabin with a talkative Catholic lesbian who hands him a sealed letter she insists he must open at home. Tim assumes the letter is a religious tract, but later at home discovers it is a threat demanding that he cease investigating Lucy's death. Tim then replays his reel-to-reel tape, which he uses to document his investigation, and hears a wicked and anonymous laugh at the end of his last session. Matching the paper and typeface of the threatening letter to his own typewriter and paper, Tim realizes he has had an intruder. Searching the apartment, Tim finds only a gold-tipped black cigarette in his toilet, but overwhelming fear causes Tim to throw up in the toilet and consequently flush the evidence. The next morning, after receiving a threatening call with the same warning, Tim calls the police. Soon after, Sgt. Matthews arrives but states that he is following up on a complaint from the woman on the train, who claims that Tim sexually assaulted her. After Tim tells Matthews about the letter, the recorded laugh and the call, the officer accuses Tim of fabricating the evidence himself, but upon Tim's insistence takes the letter and tapes. That night, after two more threatening phone calls, Tim explains the incidents to Juliet, who supports his efforts. Days later, Tim finds the woman from the train waiting in his building. She claims that the Stepping Stones forced her to deliver the threat and denies that she went to the police. Tim then visits Mr. Copsey, a retired probation officer who had been in charge of the burglar responsible for killing Lucy's husband. He explains that Lucy, after learning the burglar's difficult personal history, devoted her life to Stepping Stones, an organization she created with Copsey to help first offenders reform and get jobs after their imprisonment. Learning that some of the reformed men ended up in high-ranking positions, Tim believes that Lucy blackmailed them in trade for keeping their criminal past secret. Soon after, Tim sees a picture in the newspaper of the woman from the train, accompanied by a caption listing her as dead, and goes to the police, who have nicknamed the unidentified woman "Bunface." Tim reports the threatening phone calls, connects Bunface to the letter and then mentions that Sgt. Matthews has the evidence. The police announce that Sgt. Matthews does not exist and, without any evidence of his persecution, they insinuate that Tim is taking drugs again. At a restaurant that night, Tim, his nerves shattered, tells Juliet about Lucy's blackmail scheme, but when Juliet suggests that he should see a doctor for his deteriorating mental state, he leaves in disgust. Outside, Tim is forced to flee on foot as a car tries to run him over. After two men knock him to the ground and leave him in an alley with a syringe full of drugs, a dazed Tim remembers the delirium tremens he suffered while recovering and flushes out the syringe. When Tim returns home, a caller menacingly suggests that Juliet wear eyeglasses during their upcoming wedding ceremony to avoid disfigurement. The next day, after Tim asks if Juliet saw anything suspicious at the restaurant, she remembers that a man wearing a bowler hat left abruptly after Tim. Discovering the name of the patron, Mr. Nugent, from the restaurant maƮtre d', Tim then finds Nugent at his desk in the Home Office. Nugent suggests to Tim that while the police do not believe him, the Home Office does. After Nugent's superior, Major Ricketts, tells Tim to lay low while the Home Office investigates what appears to an international espionage ring, Tim is relieved to hand the case over to them. Soon after a man in a passing car menacingly scolds Tim for talking to the police, he calls Nugent to report the car's license plate number. Nugent, however, does not take the number down but claims that he will report the incident. Alone at his apartment on the wedding day, Tim receives a recorded message warning him that Juliet will be hurt unless he puts his red geranium in his window as a sign that he will stop his investigation. Tim rushes to the living room to move the plant, but finds his housekeeper has thrown it away. Fearing for Juliet's life, a paranoid Tim loudly orders Juliet to put on her glasses as the processional begins at the church soon after. Seeing Mrs. Gray pulling something from her purse, Tim abruptly stops the service to announce that Gray was not invited. A drug addict from Tim's former life then enters the church as the minister resumes the service. Tim then hallucinates that Bunface has replaced Juliet, prompting him to grab Juliet and race from the church, passing Ricketts, who is laughing in a voice identical to that captured on the reel to reel. Catching a train, Tim and Juliet settle into a cabin, but Tim begins hallucinating and sees Juliet smoking a gold-tipped cigarette, inducing him to believe that his only hope of sanity is to uncover the conspiracy. Days later, as Juliet pushes the convalescing Tim down a seaside boardwalk, he recites to himself his belief that he is safe but that he must watch everyone, including Juliet, because the conspiracy still remains.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Thriller
Release Date
Sep 1971
Premiere Information
London opening: 3 Sep 1970; Los Angeles opening: 29 Sep 1971
Production Company
Columbia (British) Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
London, England, United Kingdom; Italy; London, England, Great Britain; Pompeii,Italy; Seaford, England, Great Britain; Seaford, England, Great Britain; Seaford, Great Britain England; Salerno, Italy; Sorrento, Italy
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel A Fragment of Fear by John Bingham (London, 1965).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Quotes

Trivia

During production on British Rail's Waterloo & City tube line, a train ran into the buffer stops at the end of the line at Bank station. David Hemmings (I), Gayle Hunnicutt, and 10 extras suffered minor injuries.

Notes

Fragment of Fear was shot on location in Sorrento, Salerno and Pompeii, Italy, and in London and Seaford, England. British actor David Hemmings and American actress Gayle Hunnicutt were husband and wife at the time of shooting of Fragment of Fear, their first film together.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971