RETURN FROM THE ASHES deserves rescue from the discard stack of 1965s abundant crop of mind-game thrillers.* Its highly implausible yet intriguing plot hinges on notions better suited to a casual episode of Thriller or even The Twilight Zone rather than 105 minutes of feature length, but the excellent cast, fine camera work and efficient direction dominate the preposterous story gimmick.
Paris: years after WW2 ends, a concentration camp survivor returns to find her brilliant, adored but arrogant and swinish ex-husband carrying on with her estranged daughter, and worse, it appears the new lovers scheme to steal the family fortune. Supposedly they don’t recognize her (major leap, even with plastic surgery), then they do, then the real games begin. Saying more spoils the wicked fun.
Ingmar Bergman favorite Ingrid Thulin (he cast her nine times) was thrown away in her Hollywood debut, the flop 1962 The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, where aside from a lame product she suffered the indignity of being dubbed (by Angela Lansbury). Alluringly sexy, with soulful depth, she plays the ill-used survivor—with her own voice, which is quite pleasing. Maximilian Schell, riding the bright success of Topkapi and his Oscar for shaking the case in Judgement At Nuremberg, is the brashly confident, coldly calculating heel. Offbeat knockout Samantha Eggar (deliciously evil) was buoyed by her same-year hit The Collector as well as catching the British Invasion wave in the company of Julie Christie, Julie Andrews and Sarah Miles. She plays her twisted villain to the hilt, every line reading a pleasure. Usually a brooding menace, Herbert Lom has a rare and most welcome change of pace as Thulin’s sympathetic and suspicious best friend.
Cat & mouse, written by old pro Julius Epstein (from a novel by Hubert Monteihet), with strong dialogue providing cover for the plot conceit. Sharp black & white lensing from Christopher Challis, a sly soundtrack from John Dankworth (that sultry-sad ‘follow-me’ main theme sticks with you) and one of the last solid directing jobs from the heretofore assured J. Lee Thompson. His handling here has some of the tension he brought to The Guns Of Navarone and Cape Fear before he mostly abandoned style and surrendered into a two-decade wilderness of fitful junk. That bathtub scene is an unheralded classic. For that matter, Thulin and Eggar together in the same frame is alone enough to goad a guy to tell the responsibility gene to take a hike.
With Vladek Sheybal. Remade in 2014, as Phoenix, with the fabulous Nina Hoss.
* The Collector was a critical and public hit. With this nugget, the rest of 1965s packed slate of psychological teasers slipped into the file marked Case Unresolved: 36 Hours, Brainstorm, Bunny Lake Is Missing, Mickey One, Sylvia, Nightmare In The Sun, Mirage and Die! Die! My Darling!