Written by Terence Fisher
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Barbara Payton, James Hayter, Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen
US Release June 15, 1953
RT 81 min.
Home Video Starz/Anchor Bay
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)
Warning: review contains plot spoilers.
Until it completely squanders its opportunity for an amazing twist ending, I really enjoyed Hammer Films’ early attempt at a Frankenstein-like story, Four Sided Triangle. This one is played strictly for the drama, though, and not the horror, as three scientists develop a “Reproducer” or “Duplicator” machine that uses matter to create energy that will make an exact replica in a clear chamber of an item placed in another clear chamber.
It doesn’t take long for a savvy movie-watcher to realize that one of the men, Bill (Stephen Murray), wants to advance the testing from only inanimate objects to include living creatures. Ultimately, this is so he can create a copy of Lena (Barbara Payton) all for himself, when her romantic interest lies with Robin (John Van Eyssen). Once he solves the small problem of mice and rabbits dying during the process, and receives permission from Lena, he’s able to create her doppelganger, whom he names Helen.
Bill is not a mad scientist. He’s not doing his work for revenge or because he has a God Complex. He simply wants the other guy’s girl and is polite enough to do it without a backstabbing betrayal of their lifetime friendship. Sure, it’s ethically and morally questionable, but he really means no harm. And if Helen had been created as a less-than-exact duplicate without Lena’s memories, which include her feelings towards Robin, it would have all worked out fine.
Dr. Harvey (James Hayter), an old family friend who is there from the beginning when the three children played in the barn that would later become their laboratory, narrates the story. When Bill’s mother dies, Harvey becomes his guardian. He’s his friend and confidante for the rest of their lives, obtaining cash for their project after the $1,000 from Robin’s father is spent. He’s also the man to whom Bill talks about Lena, a paradox, “Silly, wonderful Lena doesn’t know what she wants. I do. I want her.”
The subject matter of creating such a device is treated realistically. When demonstrated to Robin’s father, he wants to get hold of the proper authorities. I mean, if it can reproduce “anything,” that might mean things like atom bombs. It is the 1950s. The boys don’t seem too interested in what happens next. Robin wants to marry Lena and go on holiday and Bill wants to, well, I’ve already explained that part of it. Perhaps not fully understanding it, Lena agrees to participate in the creation of her “twin sister.”
Helen is not just her twin, as she realizes near the end of Four Sided Triangle. She is Lena, her image and everything. (Her first waking thought was of Robin.) When Bill then realizes it’s all gone wrong, he admits he only wanted two things: knowledge and love. “I used the first to make the other.” There’s a solution for even this, though. Thought is an electrical process. At the end of a new experiment, she’ll wake up with no memories and no regrets. Helen agrees, “You’re right, Bill, a new mind and a new beginning.”
That’s when things really go wrong and the lab erupts in flames. A woman survives, but is it Lena or Helen? It’s not so easy to tell since this woman has lost her memory either by the experiment or by the explosion. There is a way to identify her; the subject of the experiment would have two tiny scars on the back of her neck. The anti-climactic revelation clearly indicates that we’re not in the ingenious world of The Twilight Zone, where a shocking twist could have been manipulated.
Instead, we’re in the early 1950’s world of science fiction, where significant issues are raised, but only in passing. This is nothing but a love story taking place in a technological surrounding, much like Hammer’s Spaceways, which was released in the United States a mere two months later. The unusual title makes perfect sense. What would you call a love triangle when the woman involved is really two people? Like its title, though, Four Sided Triangle doesn’t end up being as fascinating as it sounds.
Tomorrow: Spaceways (1953)!