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Movie Amnesia: A Cinematic Mind Game?


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Hello folks, after watching *Shock* (1946) with Vincent Price and Lynn Bari recently; I experienced a familiar sensation: this film reminds me of a similar plot but I cannot remember the title. The plot revolves around a young woman who is suffering from amnesia. Her doctor attempts to help her recover her memory either through hypnosis or the ever prevalent “nacro-synthesis”. I might not have known the name/names of the actor or actress at the time and this is why I cannot identify the film based on those names. I’m hoping fellow posters might help me recover my memory of this film, and at the same time share other films that include amnesia as part of the plot. Although I am looking for a film that was made sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, any and all films that explore the concept of amnesia would be welcome. See how many films are “recoverable” from the mist of a fragile mind.

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If you like high class trash, there is Moment to Moment, with Sean Garrison as an amnesiac sailor, who, before losing his memory, had a fling with Jean Seberg, whose husband, Arthur Hill, is now treating Garrison's amnesia. This film was released in the 60s, has a nice Henry Mancini theme, and some nice location work.

 

I also like Mirage, with Gregory Peck as an amnesiac. Haven't seen it for years. Great cast includes Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, Kevin McCarthy, Walter Matthau, and George Kennedy.

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Somebody once figured out the amnesia is more common in movies than in real life. NPR had a story about true Amnesiac and it was very sad and scary.

 

Some modern films about Amnesia:

 

Fifty First Dates

Momento

Remember Sunday (a recient Hallmark Movie)

 

 

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Two from the mid-60s are MISTER BUDDWING and THE THIRD DAY.

 

From the 40s are

 

TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE

SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT

THE CROOKED WAY

RANDOM HARVEST

SPELLBOUND

BLACK ANGEL

IMPACT

VOICE IN THE WIND

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I believe the most funny use of amnesia is in: *I Love You Again* (1940). A meek and miserly man suffers a shock which brings him out of a many-years-long amnesia so that he remembers he is a con man.

 

*Remember?* (1939) is a comedy also. A bickering couple agree to induced amnesia so that they can fall in love again.

 

The great mystery of: *Anastasia* (1956) is whether the amnesia is real or feigned or if it is real then is the woman who suffers from it who she might be?

 

It is many years since I have watched: *Possessed* (1947) but I believe the story unfolds via memories recovered by an amnesiac.

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There are a few rare movies on the subject. Cornell Woolrich sorta specialized in that.

Street of Chance - Burgess Meredith forgets who he is

Fall Guy - Robert Armstrong helps break up a racket based on drug induced amnesia

The Long Wait - Anthony Quinn forgets who he is.

 

I think amnesia is not real popular as a story because it makes people queasy. I'd like to see TCM show all of these. :)

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Women in Hiding is a good Ida Lupino Steven McNally film. While Ida's character doesn't have amnesia her husband, McNally claims she has, in order to cover his tracks. So amnesia is central to the plot.

 

A good film and one I highly recommend. (since I can never get too much Lupino!).

 

 

 

 

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Thanks to everyone for your film selections, with quite a few new titles, it is apparent amnesia occurs more often in films than I first imagined. I hope I didn't sound "flip" regarding those who suffer from amnesia; I meant to indicate that as an entertaining plot device, cinematic amnesia rarely reflects the reality of the experience. Jonathan Lethem, in his book titled *The Vintage Book Of Amnesia* observed "Amnesia is film noir, too, a vehicle made of pure plot, one which gobbles psychoanalysis passingly for cheap fuel.", and I'm sure noir is not the only genre in which it appears: *The Matrimonial Bed* (1930); *As You Desire Me* (1932); *Journal of a Crime* (1934); the entire *Crime Doctor* (1943) series of films is launched and features plots based on amnesia; *Love Letters* (1945) and *Lost Honeymoon* (1947) to name a few.

 

~Rich, I'm not adverse to a little "high class trash" and a movie featuring Jean Seberg sounds intriguing

 

~ Clore, *The Third Day* sound like a great film to add to my list

 

 

~ SansFin, I have always felt *Possessed* was the "grandaddy" of amnesia films, one that changed my opinion about Joan Crawford.

 

 

~Browne, a great list of amnesia themed films; I would also like to see these air on TCM

 

 

~Sepia, yes I had hoped to be taken only partly seriously, but in all seriousness I can't remember the title of the film about amnesia

 

 

~JazzJames, thanks for suggesting the film with Ida Lupino; I feel that same about the lady

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FEAR IN THE NIGHT 1947 has an amnesiac man Deforest Kelley under hypnosis involved in a murder plot.

This movie was remade in 1955 as NIGHTMARE this time with Kevin McCarthy as the hypnotic victim.

Nightmare is much better than Fear in The Night - they were both made by Maxwell Shane. Billy May did the song that when played at higher speed leads to an important discovery. :)

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Just started *Nightmare* (1956) and I'm already impressed . . . great opening theme by Billy May, Eddie-G in big letters, based on a novel by Cornell Wolrich (originally titled *I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes*+)+ and tunes with titles such as, "*What's Your Sad Story*" and "*The Last I Ever Saw Of My Man"*. . ."this slow crazy melody, like a tune from another world." What's not to love?

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Gotta say my favorite is RANDOM HARVEST, I think because he has the amnesia for three years, then he gets hit by a taxi and remembers his past life, but not those three years of amnesia. What an interesting idea, eh? Awesome movie.

 

Although I'd like to pretend that RANDOM HARVEST was the first amnesia movie that came to mind, it was actually the second. The first was THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN in which, you may recall, Kermit gets hit by a taxi, goes into marketing and calls himself Phillip Phil.

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Someone mentioned ILOVE YOU AGAIN, where amnesia is used for comic effect. I always liked the movie OVERBOARD with Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. Hawn is a snooty rich b*tch who hires Russell to do some work on her yacht, then refuses to pay him. She falls overboard and loses her memory. He sees her on the news (her real husband refuses to claim her) and sees a chance for a little payback. He claims her and tells her she's his wife and mother of his 3 wild boys. Predictably, they fall for each other and she falls for the kids (and they for her). Cute movie, though the Russell character needs his butt kicked for letting things go on as long as he did.

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TCM recently showed a nifty little B-movie thriller made in 1945 titled "The Power of the Whistler" and starring Richard Dix as an amnesiac who learns about his past through the help of an amateur fortune teller played by Janis Carter.

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Amnesia in the movies ... usually not really representative of the genuine article. Amnesia in real life is complex. Some years ago I read a book about a lady in her fifties who had been hit by a taxi and lost her memory back to zero. Nada. Nothing left. I later saw the woman on Donahue, with her family, and she was back to what seemed normal, but was a completely different person than the wife and mother they'd known before the accident. When she came out of a six-week coma, she didn't know how to eat, or talk, and didn't know any of her family members. She swore like a sailor and loved bright colors, showed off like a little kid and wandered around the hospital getting into mischief. They had to put a sign on her saying "Return to Neurology." She never got her original memory back.

 

One thing that was even more remarkable was that she knew the future of the family before it happened. Nobody believed it until she began to be able to predict things that they did. She said it was because she was told these things by the "gray-haired lady in the tunnel" that she met during her time in the coma. They eventually deduced that it must be her husband's mother, who had died a few months before the accident. Her husband was quite offended that his mother had come to his wife rather than to him, but eventually had to concede that it must have been she, because of the things she knew and talked about. I remember the gray-haired lady told the comatose woman that she wouldn't die, because if she did, PawPaw (her father-in-law's nickname) would die, and it wasn't time for him to go yet. Some time later she said that the gray-haired lady said that PawPaw was going to get married again; that it was a woman who lived in his apartment building, and it was good that he would be married because he shouldn't be alone, and that he'd tell them in a couple of weeks. All of it happened.

 

At any rate, spiritual things aside, this lady had to relearn her whole life, including sex with her husband, which she thought was hilarious when he explained it to her. She eventually became a normally intelligent woman, got a job in the insurance business giving medical exams, and as far as I know didn't ever get her original personality back, which had been rather mouselike.

 

If it comes right down to it, I always preferred TV amnesia to movie amnesia. Bob and Ray did dozens of amnesia episodes, with Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife always the patient. They'd be the surgeons diving into Mary's head in the endless operations, dropping cigarette ashes into her brain and doing the surgery with strange instruments, which they brought with them. There was much chatting into a box to make it sound like Mary thinking as it all went on.

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Thanks to Finance; Lonesome; Hamradio; Obrien; Tracey; Dargo and Doherty for all your comments and observations on the subject of amnesia. I remember seeing The Muppets Take Manhattan on television but not recently. I remember the singing rats, especially Rizzo the Rat, but Kermit’s amnesia did not stay with me. Memory loss certainly takes different forms in films, Dory’s short-term memory challenges being one, and it is interesting to learn how different the cinema version is from the real experience.

 

*Intermittent or Temporary Amnesia* ~ characters in both *The Blue Dahlia* (1946) and *The Blue Gardenia* (1953) suffer from “trauma induced” memory loss. William Bendix plays a WWII vet whose head injury causes him to experience “fugue” states seemingly brought on by his aversion to loud music (Raymond Chandler’s original script called for an entirely different solution to the mystery than the one filmed). Anne Baxter’s character wakes after drinking a few too many Polynesian Pearl Divers and cannot recall what happened the night before. Her memory gradually returns and she discovers she might have done something seriously wrong.

 

*I Can’t Remember, But I Know I Didn’t Do It* ~ Robert Taylor in *High Wall* (1946) and John Ireland in *The Scarf* (1951) both play characters who find themselves hospitalized with amnesia after the death of someone close. In *High Wall*, Audrey Totter helps Taylor find the truth and recover his memories. In *The Scarf*, a detective on Ireland’s trail describes his amnesia as “He’s one of those, ‘I don’t remember cases.’ And what has he got to lose? As long as the Governor has no ulcers, loss of memory is a passport to immunity from the hot seat.”

 

 

*Fantasy versus Reality* ~ *Madonna of the Seven Moons* (1944) a “based on true events” film concerning the case history of a woman who suffers from recurring amnesia. The film depicts a childhood trauma, which resulted in two alternate personalities unaware of the other’s actions. *Footprints On The Moon/Le Orme* (1975) an odd little film featuring Klaus Kinski and directed by Luigi Bazzoni (best known for his galli films). The film’s tagline “She Can Only Remember Fear” provides a hint, but the plot leaves you puzzled concerning both her amnesia and her recovered memories.

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*The Man Who Lived Twice,* 1936, with Ralph Bellamy, and the 1953 remake *Man in the Dark,* with Edmond O'Brien, both involve surgically produced amnesia. My favorite film noir western, *Pursued,* with Robert Mitchum, involves memories suppressed since childhood.

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Has any actor had amnesia more than once? I don't mean really, but did more than one movie where their character had amnesia?

 

I know GREGORY PECK did two that I can think of. SPELLBOUND was one, and there was another that took place in the '60's during a major blackout, which at the time I saw it seemed like a cheap symbolic ploy, but nonetheless. In both cases, the amnesia was induced by a traumatic incident. No joke intended, I can't remember the other movie's title.

 

Sepiatone

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James Garner starred in two movies where he had or was convinced he had amnesia.

 

The first was, the aforementioned *Mr. Buddwing*, the second was *36 Hours*, where the Nazis convinced him that WW2 was over and that he had amnesia and was living in a veterans hospital. It was all a (complicated) ploy to get him to reveal the site of the upcoming D-Day invasion.

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