Fragment of Fear is one of those late ’60s, early ’70s curiosities that reflect the era and the genre filmmaking that ensued. It doesn’t quite fully work, but there is plenty to admire. It’s kind of a British take on the Giallo, which is helped by David Hemmings’s appearance in the lead role, with echoes of his role and the mystery in Blow-Up. It’s directed by Richard C. Sarafian, who would make one of the great existential car driving films the next year with Vanishing Point.
Hemmings plays a former heroin addict turned author who has gained a bit of notoriety with his imaginatively titled autobiographical novel Addict. He is in holiday in Pompeii, where he meets up with his aunt, but soon she is mysteriously murdered. The police are useless, so he starts investigating it himself but soon goes back to London. On the train back he is handed a note, and after he reads it his world spirals out of control. Is there somebody after him, or is he just slowly losing his grip on reality?
The film’s major flaw is that the ending provides absolutely no answers and, unlike Blow-Up, which doesn’t either, it’s completely unsatisfying. This is strange given that it was written by Paul Dehn, who was an excellent screenwriter. He mostly wrote adaptations of spy books, often by John le Carré, and penned all of the original The Planet of the Apes sequels. It’s based on a completely forgotten novel by John Bingham, so I assume its unsatisfying ending stems from the source material. Hitchcock adapted two of Bingham’s novels as episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
Overall, it’s a fascinating odd British film with a solid performance by Hemmings, which certainly predates his work with Dario Argento five years later in Deep Red. The ending is deeply frustrating, because most of the film is a deeply paranoid thriller that is very effective. The release by Powerhouse includes an interview with David Kipen, who discusses his love for Dehn—he did one for another Dehn-scripted film, The Deadly Affair, which has also been released by Powerhouse and comes from the same session. The First Assistant Director William P. Cartlidge also supplies an interview, and then there are trailers, TV spots, a stills gallery and a fat booklet on the film to round the release up.