I've become increasingly interested in the work of John Bingham, and as a result I sought out the DVD made of his 1965 novel, A Fragment of Fear. I've not read the book as yet (though I hope to do so before long) but I was tempted by reviews of the DVD of the film version made five years after the book's appearance. The film sounded very appealing, not least because of a terrific cast, led by David Hemmings, who was at his peak at around that time. Hemmings was, like the late Hywel Bennett, an immensely charismatic actor whose career faded somewhat, and who died too young.
The screenplay was written by Paul Dehn, who like Bingham was a former spy (he was also a poet and critic, and his other scripts included Goldfinger and Murder on the Orient Express). The film opens in Italy, with Hemmings chatting to his aunt (played by Flora Robson). He's a reformed drug addict who has recently published a successful book. His aunt is found dead in mysterious circumstances, and a strange message left with a wreath which refers to "the Stepping Stones" intrigues our hero. He falls for an attractive woman (Gayle Hunnicutt), and takes her with him to England, where they plan to get married. But his determination to find out what happened to his aunt soon becomes obsessive.
The suspense builds with some splendidly mysterious plot twists, worthy of Francis Durbridge at his best. Hemmings becomes trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare, as strange, menacing things happen to him which seem inexplicable. When he tries to explain himself to the police, they suggest he is going mad. Then Whitehall (in the person of Arthur Lowe, of all people) gets involved. What on earth is going on?
The ending of the film is perhaps controversial. Suffice to say that things aren't wrapped up in the classic Durbridge style. Really, this is a film which has to be seen as a product of its time - yes, it's enigmatic, but so was Blow Up, a Hemmings film which made a great impression when I saw it in my teens. But even though I like stories with clever and comprehensive solutions, I'm also a big fan of Franz Kafka's The Trial. And there's a touch of Joseph K. about Hemmings' luckless character.