Death is a Number
death is a number | robert henryson | charles shaw | terence alexander | denis webb | lesley osmond | united kingdom | curse | numerology | ghost | haunted | haunted house | ingeborg von kusserow | peter gawthrone | isabel george
Film: Death is a Number
Director: Robert Henryson
Writer: Charles Shaw
Starring: Terence Alexander, Denis Webb and Lesley Osmond
This is another movie that I never heard of until working through the Letterboxd list of movies from 1951. The title was interesting, but I came into this one blind. The only thing I knew was that this involved a curse and I got that from the synopsis. I was looking for a movie to pair this for Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast for the Odyssey through the Ones and thought this made for an interesting enough double feature. The synopsis here is a man relates the story of his friend, racing driver John Bridgeman (Denis Webb), whose death may have been the final act of an ancient family curse.
We start this movie off with Joan Robert (Lesley Osmond) returning home from the opera. Her husband Alan (Terence Alexander) did not join her as he had something to work on. He is interested in numerology. He thinks of a friend of his who passed away some years ago and asks if his wife knew him. The man is John Bridgeman. Alan believes his death wasn’t an accident, but part of a curse. He goes about proving it by explaining how numbers sync with the occult and how astrology works.
What I find interesting here is that through Alan we learn a bit more about this. Nine is significant as a wild card. John was exactly this. He went to school for engineering, but his true passion was for race cars. He started to work on ways to make them faster. The two men were supposed to go on a tour of South America when World War I started. John was injured during his time and didn’t want visitors outside of Alan.
The movie then relays different things and how nine is ingrained in the very fabric of John's being. He was originally a DuPont, but his ancestors changed his name to Bridgeman. The problem though is that it plays right into the curse that was bestowed on the family as John’s first name totals up to 9 as does his last name. John went back to his family’s estate, which was in Sussex, another nine when totaling the numbers assigned to the letters. He descends into madness there, trying to break this curse. This causes his butler, James Gregson (Peter Gawthrone), to seek out the aid of Alan.
He tries to go about saving his friend, but during his time there he encounters a young gypsy woman, Ingeborg von Kusserow, who tells of the curse on the DuPont family. Is what she is saying true or do we have a self-fulfilling prophecy going on?
Now if you know me, what I’ve relayed about this movie has things that tick boxes for me. Where I’ll start is with the idea of numerology. I’ll be honest, this fascinates me. Part of it is that I love numbers so seeing the patterns in this movie gets me excited. I’ve also come to realize that they have to take liberties with it for it to work as well. This feels like The Number 23 could borrow from this film. It was critiques of that movie that made me think about what Alan is doing here with proving different things. What I didn’t realize was that astrology is associated with numerology, which makes sense. I don’t buy into the study of stars to tell the future, but it is interesting regardless here.
Where I want to go next is the idea of curses and self-fulfilling prophecies. This is something else that I’m intrigued by. I first learned of this idea through mythology like with Oedipus. John’s ancestors did something that caused a gypsy curse to be placed on them. It is the ninth generation it will be visited on, which in this case is John. What I like though is the idea that there could be a curse, but no matter what John does, he is going to die. There is the alternative though, by learning of this, he goes about creating his own demise. Since the curse was placed as someone was burned alive as a witch, the curse on John is that of water and fire. I like how this plays out.
The last thing for the story is how it is told to us. Alan is talking to his wife and she gets sucked into finding out what happened. The audience is supposed to be his wife as well.The deeper and more eerie things become, the more entranced she is. I’ll be honest, I was the same way. We know the fate of John from the beginning, but seeing what Alan discovered was interesting. He had some supernatural things happen that make me wonder about the aspects I’ve laid out about curses vs. prophecies. With how short of a running time we get, I think it works. The movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. It relays the information and keeps the suspense going.
That should be enough for the story so I’ll next go to the acting. Alexander does an excellent job as our narrator. He has a voice that works for story-telling. I even like that the older version of himself has a mustache, but it isn’t there when we are seeing the events of the past. He fit what they needed. Webb does a solid job as well as John. I like that he seems a bit manic when we see him since that would fit for someone who is fearful of their mortality. Osmond is solid as Alan’s wife and the reason we are getting this story. Von Kusserow is good in her minor role of the gypsy girl and the rest of the cast works as well for what was needed.
So then in the last parts to go through would be effects, cinematography and the soundtrack. For the former, we don’t get a lot until later in the movie. The estate of John’s family is supposed to be haunted. There is fog that will swirl into human looking apparitions, including their face. I like what we get to see there. We also get this odd window that is supposed to be a Druid symbol and what they do there. It adds a creepy feel for me. Aside from that, the cinematography is fine. It doesn’t stand out, but it also doesn’t need to. The soundtrack is much the same, fitting for what was needed for the scenes.
In conclusion here, this is another movie I never heard of and ended up enjoying. We have this interesting concept of numerology and curses. I like that this story is being told from Alan to his wife and we get to see it play out. The acting I think brings the characters to life. There are limited effects, but what we get is good. The cinematography and the soundtrack also work. It has a crisp runtime which also helps here. I would say that this is an above average movie. It is lacking a bit to go higher, but I don’t mean this as a slight. I would recommend this one for sure. Be warned it is from 1951 and in black and white. If that is a problem, then definitely avoid this movie.
My Rating: 7 out of 10