Mill of the Stone Women (1960)

Mill_of_the_Stone_Women_(1960)‘Why do warm-blooded beauties suddenly turn to stone?!’

A young man visits a famous sculptor to collect facts for a magazine article about the weird carousel that has been in his family for generations. He soon becomes infatuated with the artist’s beautiful but mysterious daughter. ls she really an invalid, or has she been confined to their windmill home for more sinister reasons?

Unusual and stylish multi-national horror tale that boasts rich colour photography and bags of atmosphere. The film opens with leading man Pierre Brice arriving beside a desolate canal in his search for the home of reclusive sculptor Professor Wahl (Herbert A E Böhme). He asks a local fisherman for directions but instead of getting the usual pop-eyed ‘Castle Dracula’ treatment, he learns the unusual nickname of the place which provides the title of the film. Once at the mill, Brice wanders the strangely large interiors, catching glimpses of the gorgeous Scilla Gabel. He also sees the carousel in action, whose life-like figures are modelled on famous female killers from history, and their victims.

The film is a little slow, but this allows the mystery to develop, and the director to create an increasing sense of unease and disorientation. Normality is supplied by Brice’s friends who are students of Böhme at the local college, but Brice is inevitably sucked back to the mill and into the arms of the alluring Gabel. Things come to a head one night when Brice shows his true colours, and we realise that perhaps this straight-laced young man is not the conventional hero we were expecting him to be. What follows shortly afterward is a tour de force of delirious confusion, which seems to be part reality-part hallucination. It’s an excellent sequence and the highlight of the film.

Perhaps inevitably, the third act resolution is a disappointment, with standard genre conventions established and strictly observed. The climax is contrived and rather obvious; naked flames in a laboratory being a bit of a giveaway. And it’s in these last scenes where the film falters, and what could have been a gothic classic turns into something that is just rather good. It’s possible that a more daring ending was originally envisioned; after all, four separate writers worked on the screenplay.

Sadly, director Giorgi Ferroni never returned to the genre, although there are rumours that he walked away from this, and it was finished by Mario Bava. The maestro certainly had a track record of finishing films others had started in the early stages of his career, but there seems to be no definite evidence that it happened here.

Mill_of_the_Stone_Women_(1960)

The Professor was feeling nervous about the penalty kick.

This was truly an international production. Ferroni and the majority of the crew were Italian, as were a number of the cast. The dialogue was in French, which was Brice’s mother tongue, and a couple of the other actors were German. Brice later found European fame as Native American Winnetou in a series of films from Germany, and Gabbel had a featured role in wacko spy spoof ‘Modesty Blaise’ (1966).

The print that I saw was the European dub (as opposed to the U.S. one which is supposed to be pretty tragic) and, although the English soundtrack is not perfect, it still does not divert from the quality on display. Although it falls a little short at the finish, it’s still a film I would strongly recommend.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s