Ray Milland sees dead people. Or to be more precise, Ray Milland begins seeing the ghost of his dead daughter in the made-for-TV movie DAUGHTER OF THE MIND (1969) based on a novel by author Paul Gallico (THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES; 1942, BITTER VICTORY; 1957, THE SNOW GOOSE; 1971, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE; 1972) and directed by Walter Grauman. This is one of the first telefilms that premiered on ABC’s Movie of the Week and it is one that I’m particularly fond of due to its supernatural premise and a stellar cast.
DAUGHTER OF THE MIND opens with a suspiciously quiet shot of a cemetery where Professor Samuel Constable (Ray Milland) is visiting the grave of his recently deceased daughter Mary (Pamelyn Ferdin). On his drive home the sky turns dark and ominous and the Professor is startled to hear a young female voice cry out “Daddy!” followed by the apparition of a young girl that suddenly materializes before him. In an effort to avoid the girl the professor swerves off the road and realizes that he’s just been visited by the ghost of his deceased daughter who tells him “I hate being dead.” This strange encounter sets off a series of events that get the attention of Dr. Alex Lauder (Don Murray), a paranormal psychologist who’s encouraged to investigate Professor Constable’s ghostly claims at the request of his longtime friend (George Macready). Lauder visits the Professor’s home and learns that he and his wife Lenore (Gene Tierney) lost their daughter in a terrible car accident. Lenore seems to have come to terms with her child’s death but Professor Constable is still struggling to make sense of it. When Dr. Lauder begins to investigate the case he discovers that the Professor is also being watched by a team of U.S. counter-intelligence agents (led by a stern looking Ed Asner). The agents suggest that the ghost might actually be a Soviet secret agent trying to convince the Professor to abandon his work which involves cybernetic research for the U.S. government. Is a ghost tormenting the Professor or is he being haunted by Soviet spooks? The outcome of this compelling thriller might surprise you.
Like many made-for-TV movies from the period, DAUGHTER OF THE MIND only dabbles in the paranormal before it veers off in another direction involving international espionage but the unusual mix of competing genres is one of the reasons why it’s so appealing. The movie works best when it’s exploring the supernatural but it isn’t easily defined by conventional plot turns. Besides the eerie opening, DAUGHTER OF THE MIND contains one of the creepiest séance scenes I’ve come across, which isn’t a claim I make lightly. Although the film loses some of its steam after introducing spies into the proceedings, it still maintains some suspense thanks to an appearance by stuntman and all-around badass Bill Hickman (BULLITT; 1968, THE FRENCH CONNECTION; 1971, THE SEVEN-UPS; 1973) who is terrific here as a threatening enemy agent determined to kill Dr. Lauder. Other noteworthy appearances classic film fans should look for include John Carradine as a supernatural skeptic who helps Lauder solve the case and Virginia Christine as the Professor’s maid.
Director Walter Grauman made a number of exceptional telefilms including CROWHAVEN FARM (1971) and PAPER MAN (1971) but he’s probably best remembered for the suspenseful drama LADY IN A CAGE (1964), which featured Olivia de Havilland as a wealthy middle-aged woman who gets trapped in an elevator that’s been installed in her home during a power outage and is subsequently tortured and tormented by a gang of hoodlums led by James Caan. You’d be right in thinking the plot sounds somewhat farfetched but Grauman smoothly handles the film’s various twists and turns and injects the movie with a remarkable amount of tension. He does the same with DAUGHTER OF THE MIND, which is supported by a strong cast of players and composer Robert Drasin’s moody soundtrack.
Classic film fans might remember that Ray Milland and Gene Tierney first appeared together in CLOSE TO MY HEART (1942), a delicate melodrama that takes a sympathetic look at a childless couple trying to adopt an abandoned baby. Milland and Tierney made an attractive couple and they had good chemistry on screen so it’s a shame that it took almost 20 years for them to be cast in another film together but fate had other plans. Tierney’s career was derailed by extreme depression following the birth of her severely disabled daughter and today I find it impossible to watch DAUGHTER OF THE MIND without thinking about the difficulties she faced with her own child. Tierney was only 49 years old when she appeared in DAUGHTER OF THE MIND but she seems older and more world-weary. The spark in her eyes had dimmed and her voice had grown somewhat brittle from years of smoking. She was still an extremely beautiful woman but there’s a melancholy note in her performance that’s impossible to ignore.
This would be the last film Tierney appeared in and in her heart wrenching 1979 autobiography she writes “In December (of 1969) I played the crippled wife of Ray Milland—my costar of eighteen years before—in a made-for-TV movie, DAUGHTER OF THE MIND, produced by Twentieth Century-Fox. That appearance would be my last before the cameras, not entirely by choice, but certainly without complaint. I had a fulfilling career: thirty-three feature films and three Broadway plays. My leading men included Gable, Tracy, Fonda, Ty Power, Bogart. I was fortunate to have been nominated for an Academy Award (LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN) and to have played a part, Laura, that a song and a portrait helped make mine forever.” Tierney briefly returned to television a decade later for the mini-series Scruples (1980) but her personal trauma adds another emotional layer to this memorable telefilm that’s accentuated by Ray Milland’s heartfelt performance as her distraught husband.
Despite some surprisingly eerie and unforgettable scenes involving parapsychology and a disembodied hand, DAUGHTER OF THE MIND is more of a mystery with a paranormal twist than a conventional horror film. And Ray Milland’s sensitive portrayal of a grieving parent gives it an unexpected poignancy. At one point Tierney’s character describes her husband as a man who “wants so badly for the dead not to be dead” and over the course of the film you become keenly aware that she quietly shares his pain. Despite its conventional trappings it is a poignant examination of the ways we mourn and our inability to abandon the ones we love, even after death.
DAUGHTER OF THE MIND has never officially been released on DVD or video but bootleg copies of this early telefilm can occasionally be found on eBay and you can currently view it on Youtube but the quality is abysmal. It’s hard to imagine that any company would be interested in restoring and releasing it but recently many telefilms have been finding their way onto DVD thanks to the Warner Archives. DAUGHTER OF THE MIND is a Twentieth Century-Fox production so Fox would undoubtedly have to take charge of the release but in the meantime anyone interested in seeing this noteworthy made-for-TV effort is going to have to resort to buying bootlegs and relying on Youtube.
by Kimberly Lindbergs, originally published at TCM.com in 2013