Review: Tormented, 1960

Tormented 1960

"The piano genius of jazz" Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson) is on the brink of lucrative fame and fortune, about to marry the wealthy, young and beautiful Meg Hubbard (Lugene Sanders) and in general feels he has nothing but a golden future ahead. But not everything is rosy: he's got a problem, an inconvenient old girlfriend (Juli Reding) who won't cooperate now that the "good thing" between them has to be over to make way for Tom's ascension into high society.

On the California island where Tom lives, the two meet secretly at a lighthouse and she bitterly recognizes that for Tom "a second-rate singer like me doesn't fit in the picture anymore" but adds "no one will ever have you but me!" Leaning against the railing on the top platform, it breaks loose unexpectedly and she grabs hold of a piece with one hand, dangling in the air and kicking her feet, begging Tom to help her. While she pleads, Tom hesitates and watches her frantic flailing, she then plummets down into the raging waters below.

Telling himself it's not his fault, Tom recognizes that this solves his little "problem" and proceeds on with his life and planned marriage, but the dead girlfriend starts popping up here and there, first as a voice, a perfume, and then a disembodied head, a whole body, and then two whole bodies, accusing Tom and reiterating her mission that we'll always be together.

Director Bert Gordon (from the script by George Worthing Yates and Gordon) tries to play the turgid Tormented two different ways for awhile; the spook Juli Reding is only in Tom's head, fueled by his guilty conscience and his fragile grip on reality, and this fits fine with the visual of a ghostly Juli Reding haunting him, decapitated in one scene, other times splitting into two Juli Redings and cornering him on a staircase. Dressed both times in billowing and flowing white gowns, this wind doesn't effect Tom in the slightest, but it makes his being trapped on a staircase between them dramatic and poignant: Juli Reding is still pleading to him to save her.

But Tormented can't stay safely in Hitchcockian "is it real or just in his head" territory and pretty soon a blind ghostbuster (Lillian Adams) is on the scene and she might be sightless, but she can converse with the maniacally laughing Juli Reding moving around the light house and by then director Gordon has shifted the film entirely into a typical haunted house tale.

Limited budget means we see a lot of the same scene locations repeatedly (such as the abandoned light house) but, if you enjoy it, there's California beach scenery and director Gordon plays up his main special effect which is the mostly transparent Juli Reding showing up here-and-there.

Susan Gordon as little girl Sandy Hubbard holds up part of the picture as a child trying to parse the odd behavior of adults: what she figures out is sad and brutal.

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Original Page March 27, 2017 | Updated November 2023