A Haunting We Will Go…
Affluent Dominique Ballard is made to believe she is becoming mentally unwell by her scheming husband. After her suicide, it appears she wants him to join her.
Dominique Is Dead 1978 – Trailer, VHS Boneyard © photos by Scotia-Barber
Film fans will know those familiar tropes. A sweet rich girl is married to a handsome man with a villainous moustache and money problems. The rotter and scoundrel convinces her that she’s got mental health problems and in doing so, he gets control of her money. Well, this film has all of these but with a twist or two up its sleeve.
To see these plot devices in late 1970s style, I suggest the film Dominique – also known as Dominique is Dead (1979) – with a sweet rich girl played by Jean Simmons. Simmons was an actress from those matriarchal roles of the 1980s all-star mini-series.
These were her award-winning role in The Thorn Birds (1983) or the role in that never-ending North and South Book I (1985) and Book II. Both these blockbuster TV mini-series, I do want to revisit one day preferably with my Darlin Husband riffing the former or explaining the historical facts the latter (as he does).
Back to Dominique, in which Jean Simmons has Cliff Robertson as her cad of a husband. This on-screen married couple with a few familiar names in the British acting talent supporting cast. These including Simon Ward, Jenny Agutter, Ron Moody, Judy Geeson and in a blink and miss it role, David Tomlinson – minus his moustache – from Mary Poppins (1964). Flora Robson stars in the Meg Jenkins housekeeper role. This is a British film that appears more from the opening credits to be like an all-star TV movie than a box office draw.
The film begins with Dominique Ballard (Simmons), a fragile-looking woman with a permanently, haunted (or haunting dependant on where you are in the movie) expression joining her husband, David at breakfast. He tells her indifferently from behind a newspaper (as husbands did in the UK 1970 TV and movies), the night before she fired their chauffeur.
She can’t remember this but it seems it happened. To be honest, it’s hard to see it with Simmons’ Dominique appearing a quiet natured, placid and well-mannered woman who wouldn’t say Boo! to a ghost. David chats with his half-sister, Ann Ballard (Agutter) and suggests a dinner party for his wife’s birthday.
Ann is an artist and sculptor who lives nearby. At the dinner party, a guest Marjory (Geeson) recounts a time she thought she saw a ghost. This revelation getting all the Ballards’ attention. It also appears David’s business is in trouble and he desperately needs cash to save it. But none of these facts is important right now, but these facts are all worth remembering…
During the dinner party, Marjory notices she’s mislaid a brooch. A fact which she suddenly remembers as she yelps this out just as Dominique cuts her birthday cake. Dominique again questions her memory as she finds the brooch on a dress in her wardrobe. All this commotion is observed by her husband who doesn’t seem too perturbed by them. David observing his wife’s distress from the shadows.
Dominique plays the piano (a lot) which is reportedly her only joy, playing the same spooky tune repetitively. The tune inevitably is the same one as in the opening score. Her husband employs a new chauffeur, Tony. David tells Tony his wife had an accident his wife the year before. The why, when and what happened back then is a bit of a mystery, which is sadly not explored in the movie.
Soon after Tony is employed, Dominique begins to see things such as a person hanging from the conservatory roof and hearing her name called at night. She believes that she is being driven crazy by a possibly scheming husband, and she asks Tony to help her. Tony, being ever the professional refuses.
The ongoing stress of these incidents leads Dominique to hang herself the next night. She is pronounced dead by the local Doctor (Ron Moody). Her last requests are to read her will about a week later on her wedding anniversary and to be buried with her favourite jewellery.
After Dominique’s funeral, David’s seen lighting a cigar then smiling… Short of twirling his moustache and laughing like a mad man, these actions reveal he’s behind these “memory lapses” and spooky happenings.
David then begins to question his sanity. He thinks he hears his deceased wife playing that eerie tune on the piano. He also believes he sees her ghost walking toward him in her nightdress with her footsteps heard with her distinctive limp.
More chillingly, David is called to attend the graveyard to see “something he must see for himself” (yup that well-used trope) find his headstone next to hers. The gravestone is complete with his date of birth but no death date. However, after a wee bit of tape is peeled off the word “soon” is revealed there.
David finds out his wife ordered and paid the tombstone after her death. He asks the tomb engraver what this woman looked like. He tells him and she had a long dark coat on. (Well, that narrows it down.) David sees a chilling apparition of this same woman, who looks remarkably like Simmons. What do you know she has a long dark coat and haunts him in daylight.
He asks Tony to help him dig up Dominique’s coffin to find her body not there. Then he requests the body be exhumed professionally (why twice??)… This time they find her lifeless body. Later, he is called to find that a date for his death has been added to that gravestone. It’s for the next day. There’s more horror to come…
This film played out more like an extended Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1965-89), Twilight Zone (1959-64) or Tales from the Unexpected (1979-88) episode than a cinema draw. It was more a suspense tale than a shocking horror and with more scenes played in pitch darkness than in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2000).
These scenes certainly upped the fear and horror. Characters using torches, lighters and natural light and shadows added to the suspense. We followed characters as they walked along dimly lit corridors or climbed up and down the stairs. These plot devices made it reminiscent of the chilling film, The Innocents (1961).
The scenes however were slightly marred by the occasionally silly second half with the film plot seeming to repeat itself. This time with the victim’s husband hearing and seeing things. But there are a few added unforeseen twists. At times, the film seemed also unsure of its sub-genre. In a scene seen from the doctor’s point of view, it turned into a first-person slasher movie.
This was as the doctor was suddenly attacked by an unseen perpetrator and left for dead by this mysterious assailant. This occurred after the doctor was seen packing for no apparent reason. A possible explanation for his packing was assumed to be in unseen footage and this was explained after learning a number of these scenes were cut from the film. The plot then reverting to more psychological horror and twists before the final reveal.
It was clear from this and other plotlines that there were a number of relevant scenes or character development missed from the final film. Possibly many of these scenes that were cut from the final movie featured key members of the supporting cast. One can only imagine scenes that were missed out included those scenes which fleshed out the roles from Moody, Agutter, Ward and all.
This final cut of the film seemed to concentrate too long on some characters, yet too short for others. Interestingly Imdb indirectly supports this reporting the director now claiming that he was not responsible for the editing.
But despite all this, the film is a good thriller and suspense movie. It’s a film I’d love to see in the unedited version. With Simmons and Robertson heading the bill, along with a proper back story and more character development for all, I’m sure it be could be fine-tuned into a compelling mystery whodunnit or a psychological thriller mini-series with a haunting theme…
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
90 Years of Jean Simmons Blogathon 2019, No 4
This film was entered into For the 90 Years of Jean Simmons Blogathon run by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and The Wonderful World of Cinema, Other films with this cast include Jean Simmons in Divorce American Style, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hotel and Murder She Wrote. Jenny Agutter stars in The Eagle has Landed, Murder She Wrote, Magnum PI, Thriller and An American Werewolf in London. Simon Ward appeared in Lovejoy and Deadly Strangers. Cliff Robertson adds his presence to Brainstorm and Class. Ron Moody appears in Oliver and Judy Geeson in Carry on England.