Daughter of the Mind is a made-for-television American horror suspense film directed by Walter Grauman (Are You in the House Alone?; Crowhaven Farm) from a screenplay written by Luther Davis (Arsenic and Old Lace; Lady in a Cage).
The film was first broadcast on ABC on December 9, 1969 as the ABC Movie of the Week. It has never been released officially on VHS or DVD, although a number of pirate versions have circulated over the years.
Don Murray (The Stepford Children; Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), Ray Milland, Gene Tierney, Edward Asner and Pamelyn Ferdin (The Toolbox Murders).
At the request of a colleague (George Macready), psychologist and ESP researcher Alex Lauder (Don Murray) investigates leading cybernetic expert Doctor Samuel Constable’s report that he has seen and spoken with his young daughter, Mary (Pamelyn Ferdin) — who died thirteen weeks previously. Keeping an open mind, Lauder decides to take the case and see wherever it may lead…
Daughter of the Mind, based on Paul Gallico’s 1964 novel, The Hand of Mary Constable, is not only one of the earliest offerings from the classic ABC Movie of the Week program, but it’s also one of the earliest made-for-TV examples of what has become a pop-culture stalwart: the “scientific” paranormal investigator. ABC was beaten to that conceptual punch, though, when NBC aired only ten months before, in March of 1969, Fear No Evil, starring Louis Jourdan as Doctor David Sorell, a psychiatrist turned occult researcher.
However, where the Jourdan vehicle spawned a sequel, Daughter of the Mind did not; but, unlike Fear No Evil, this ABC production became part of a more enduring TV legacy by prepping the network’s viewers for a more abiding supernatural detective legacy.
Ray Milland guest stars as Samuel Constable, the cyber expert whose work is being syphoned off by the military for use in weapons development; only weeks before, his daughter, Mary (Pamelyn Ferdin), died in a car accident, leaving Samuel distraught, confused, and easily manipulated.
Looking for answers, Doctor Frank Ferguson (George Macready), a friend of Constable’s, asks for the assistance of his colleague in paranormal investigation, Doctor Alex Lauder (Don Murray), who occupies virtually the same fictional space as Doctor, Sorell from Fear No Evil. Lauder arrives at Constable’s house asking questions of the occupants and gently probing for possible material explanations of the supernatural events while engaging in tempered debate over the origin and legitimacy of paranormal experiences.
Though relatively open-minded on the subject, Doctor Lauder comes off as a more determined skeptic than other occult researches of the time; his focus is objectivity, his goal is the truth, regardless of where that leads, and he won’t stop his line of materialist inquiry until a detached conclusion has been reached, all of which gives him a slightly more scrupulous persona than his later heirs tend to have.
His skepticism becomes bruised, however, when he hears Mary’s voice and sees her ghostly image for himself while staying at Constable’s house for investigative purposes. After Constable is awakened in the middle of the night by Mary’s plaintive calls, Constable arouses Lauder via radio, telling him that his daughter is back and calling for him again; in the deeply shadowed hallway, they hear her voice, but this time it’s coming from the room Constable’s wife, Lenore (Gene Tierney), used for sculpting before her hands became too arthritic for such work.
Once inside, they watch Mary’s floating image as she tells Constable that an unnamed “they” on the other side say that his “war work” is wrong, and “they” won’t let her come back to visit him if he doesn’t stop. Both Constable and Lauder are speechless as she gives them this oddly pacifist warning before vanishing.
It’s at this point that the viewer begins to feel a twinge of the inauthentic; are we being played? Is all this being staged, perhaps by Lenore who may want Constable to end his work and pay more attention to her?
Later on, more encounters follow, sprinkled in between scenes involving cold war machinations associated with near nervous breakdowns, Lauder’s race to discover what’s really going on, and more claims from an apparitional Mary that the mysterious “they” on the other side desperately want her daddy to stop all this “war work”.
Cinematographer, Jack Woolf, expertly keeps the visuals murky and the shadows ubiquitous, and, at times, even partially shades the actor’s faces; this reinforces the mysterious tone of the film, causing the viewer to subconsciously wonder whether all of this ghost talk is legit or not while simultaneously experiencing a distinct chill factor.
Director Walter Grauman, no slouch when it comes to high-quality TV production, turns in a fine directorial effort once again, pulling out a nice, even pacing and competent performances from the cast, especially the two leads, Don Murray, who’s character exudes soft edges but an uncompromising mind, and Ray Milland, who brings his lifetime of solid acting experience into a role that could have easily been clunky; Milland’s sincere delivery of lines about an alligator, a teddy bear, a turkey, and a stuffed squirrel are emotionally real and earnest without being cloying and silly. Pamelyn Ferdin’s turn as Mary Constable is natural and heart-felt, expressing a longing and sadness one would expect from a forlorn ghost, although Milland does seem to be a bit too old to be her father.
Luther Davis, another highly capable and long-standing hand in the entertainment business, contributes a thoroughly solid script based on Gallico’s book. While the plot from the novel is necessarily truncated, Davis gives the characters enough room to breathe while keeping the uncertainty prominent, the tension building, and the unease prevalent.
The one let-down of the film is the ending; while satisfying for some who don’t buy into the creep-factor and like their ghost stories nicely cleaned-up and put to bed at the end, it winds up being a major disappointment for those who prefer their paranormal investigations with a little more shivery bite.
Fortunately, it’s worth it to ignore the finale as if it never happened, and enjoy the rest of the movie for the top-notch genre entertainment that it is.
Ben Spurling, MOVIES & MANIA
“On its somewhat flat made-for-TV surface, Daughter of the Mind is simply a cold war mystery with a paranormal twist but Ray Milland’s sensitive portrayal of a grieving parent gives it an unexpected poignancy […] At its core, this a movie about the complex ways in which we mourn and our inability to abandon the ones we love, even after death.” Kimberly Lindbergs, Movie Morlocks
“It makes sense to me that many of those who saw this flick in their youth have zero recollection of the whole “world peace hangs in the balance” espionage sub-plot that makes off with the movie like a thief in the night. The supposed supernatural elements, the seances, the visions of that little girl lost in an unexplainable other world are truly haunting and linger long after the scientific explanations fade away.” Kindertrauma
“The ending is not what it should have been, but I remember getting the shivers when first watching it.” Michael Karol, The ABC Movie of the Week Companion
Cast and characters:
- Don Murray as Alex Lauder
- Ray Milland as Professor Samuel Constable
- Gene Tierney as Lenore Constable
- Barbara Dana as Tina Cryder
- Edward Asner as Wiener
- Pamelyn Ferdin as Mary
- Ivor Barry as Doctor Cryder
- Virginia Christine as Helga
- George Macready as Doctor Frank Ferguson
- William Beckley as Bessemer
- John Carradine as Bosch
- Cecil Ozorio as Devi Bessimer
- Frank Maxwell as Augstadt
- Bill Hickman as Enemy Agent
Image credits: Movie Morlocks
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