"Somehow insanity appears less sinister in a man than in a woman," Robert Rossen sets out to figure out why with a tremulous, blanched camera. Jean Seberg is the titular succubus, the spider in the bughouse, locked in a sanatorium but omnivorously ravenous, leaving "the mark of her desire on every creature of the world." Willing enchantment out of her barred surroundings, she spits at the surging stream and then kisses her reflection in the placid pond; the novice orderly (Warren Beatty), an ex-soldier with plenty of instability of his own, becomes obsessed with her "rapture" (which in Shakespeare's era meant "madness," somebody explains, as did "ecstasy" and "innocence"). The "normal" world here is represented by Beatty's claustrophobic room (with photo of dead mother by bed) and a visit to a former flame (Jessica Walter) worn from years of marriage to a boor (Gene Hackman) -- in Seberg's private realm he becomes a lancing knight, when he discovers her other conquests he steals her blonde doll and drowns it in his aquarium. A moment suspended between Kim Hunter's opening "Can I help you" and Beatty's "Help me" at the close, with madness that encompasses Sandburg's deathly hands and Baudelaire's monster-child, a glistening river superimposed like fireworks over the couple's frantic frolic on the grass. The awkwardness of a macho auteur attempting feminized poetry lends the work the nervousness necessary for authentic lyricism: Rossen fumbles with the heavy symbolism, his helplessness amid the David and Lisa touchy-feelies enhances the asymmetrical web. The result is the kind of combination of delicacy and despair you find in Bergman's Harriet Andersson vehicles, and a new beginning cut short by the director's untimely death. Cinematography by Eugen Schüfftan. With Peter Fonda, Rene Auberjonois, Anne Meacham, James Patterson, and Robert Reilly. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce