The Walking Stick a heist movie because the actual robbery takes about five minutes. This is more of a falling in love story with a robbery serving as fuel to the fire.
It sounds pretty general to say I like British movies, but I do, especially those filmed in the 1960s and 1970s. Cities in England have a great look to them that translates well to film, and more often than not directors filmed on location, on the streets of London and from a street-level. The Walking Stick doesn’t film in the glamorous parts of London, instead shooting at some more run-down locations that fits with the tone of the story and its characters.
Contracting polio as a child, Deborah Dainton (Samantha Eggar) is now a grown woman working at a diamond/jewelry exchange in London. She’s self-conscious of her somewhat withered leg (I thought the leg looked fine) that requires her to use a walking stick. Because of her leg, Deborah usually keeps people at arm’s length and doesn’t open up to them or let them open up to her. At a party hosted by her sister, Deborah meets Leigh Hartley (David Hemmings), a down on his luck painter. She at first wants nothing to do with him or his advances, but he slowly wears her down.
A relationship forms, and the feelings between them grow from a crush to full-blown love. Deborah and Leigh move in together and have hopes of getting married and opening up an antiques shop. She couldn’t be happier with her situation until Leigh asks her a question about the security in place at her job. She’s taken aback. Why would he want to know that information? He says it is for a friend who asked and would be willing to pay a tidy sum to get that information. The money would be a nice start to their new lives together, but for Deborah the questions race through her head. For one, it’s wrong, and two, had Leigh been planning this all along?
If I hadn’t read the movie’s plot description at TCM’s website, I would have thought this was a sweet character study about two people very much in love. The first hour is completely devoted to showing this growing relationship and feelings between Deborah and Leigh, starting with Leigh’s advances and Deborah’s denials. There are little hints of what’s to come, but nothing obvious. A sense of ominous things to come? Sure, but not a ‘smack you in the face, look at what is happening’ clue. So when Leigh brings up this offer of helping in a robbery, it does come as a bit of a shock.
There’s plenty of speaking roles here, but only two really matter in the big picture, Deborah and Leigh. Eggar is the star of the movie, and she goes through quite a transformation from beginning to end. Of course, by the end she’s almost right back where she started. It’s a strong performance because early on we are introduced to a character that is quiet, self-reliant and keeps her emotions bottled up. Because of her leg, she feels unattractive so as a viewer you understand why she feels that way. The fact that she is a beautiful woman just adds to the character to show how self-conscious she really is.
As the object of her affections, Hemmings is a bit of a mystery. The first hour he’s the ideal boyfriend, convincing Deborah to open up and let her feelings out. Genuine feelings develop, making the twist when it comes more effective. I won’t say it is a twist revealed in the last 40 minutes because it’s the obvious connection to make when the robbery plan is brought up. The heist itself is nothing special but is handled efficiently. Deborah’s involvement is the best handled part as she struggles with the claustrophobia she’s had since being treated for her polio in an iron long.
The ending itself comes as a bit of a surprise after a long scene of dialogue. It is not an ending you would expect from a romance story, but it works really well, and the more I thought about it the more I liked it. Not an easy ending, but the right one for a surprisingly good movie. I couldn't find a trailer, but TCM offers a few clips from the movie to watch, check them out HERE.
The Walking Stick (1970): ** ½ /****