Hammersmith Is Out (1972) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • The Faust legend retold (loosely) and applied to a mentally disturbed patient in a hospital run by a doctor (Sir Peter Ustinov) of dubious sanity. The patient (Richard Burton) offers the innocent orderly (Beau Bridges) vast riches if he'll help him escape.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • At an asylum for the criminally insane in Texas, inmate Hammersmith (Richard Burton) resides in a locked cell, studiously avoided by the staff, who fear his oddly powerful allure. When dimwitted Billy Breedlove (Beau Bridges) is hired as an orderly, however, he is seduced by Hammersmith's promise of wealth and strength and agrees to release and accompany him.

    One night, Billy visits the local diner and is instantly smitten with waitress Jimmie Jean Jackson (Elizabeth Taylor). After sparring briefly with an obese customer who considers the long-haired, motorcycle-driving Billy "trash," Billy flirts with Jimmie, and as soon as he mentions marriage, she pulls him into a back room where they have quick sex. Afterward, they compare their hard-luck lives and Billy declares that if she meets him the following night at the bridge, they can begin their new life on the road to riches and fame.

    The next day, Billy frees Hammersmith, after which head orderly Oldham (Anthony Holland), a Monopoly- and needlepoint-obsessed milquetoast, drags Billy to the asylum's head doctor, who chastises him for wreaking immeasurable damage upon the world. Billy then races to the bridge, where Hammersmith and Jimmie are waiting for him. Ignoring Jimmie's queries, Hammersmith leads them to the nearby drive-in and instructs Billy to choose a car. After indicating the obese man's vehicle, Billy pulls Jimmie to the ground to make love, and when they finish, Billy accepts the car keys from Hammersmith with no concern for the car's owner. They drive to a hotel, where Hammersmith visits the gym and steals a suit in Billy's size from a locker, killing the owner when he returns.

    On the road the next day, Hammersmith orders Billy to stop at a topless bar and there offers Guido Scartucci, who owns the bar along with his five silent brothers, one million dollars for the deed. As agreed, Scartucci shows up the next morning at Billy's "office," a public building's bathroom, where Hammersmith murders Scartucci and steals the deed.

    Three weeks later, however, Hammersmith decides to move on and plots for Billy to become an executive. Back at the asylum, the doctor plans to go in search of Hammersmith, leaving Oldham in charge. Soon after, Hammersmith installs Billy as the head of a pharmaceutical company, but quickly sells the company to the Japanese. Now a millionaire in Texas, Billy lazes by his pool and disdains Jimmie, whom he considers cheap, although Hammersmith warns him that, as an up-and-coming oil tycoon, he must have a wife.

    One night, they throw a raucous party to celebrate a deal to buy the oil properties of Henry Joe Fitch, Jr. As Billy carouses with other women, Jimmie attracts Henry Joe's affections, and after extracting a promise from him to take her away, she takes him to her bed. There, however, Hammersmith brings Billy to eavesdrop on their plans to run away, and although Hammersmith knocks out Billy and allows the couple to spend the night together, Jimmie realizes with dread that he will soon acquire Henry's company and then kill him. As soon as the papers are signed the following morning, Henry Joe and all of his lawyers are dispatched to their deaths.

    Weeks later, the doctor arrives at the Texas mansion but finds it empty because Hammersmith has moved on to the realm of politics. When Billy's funding catapults his candidate to the Presidency, Billy is named an ambassador-at-large. Despite committing a large diplomatic faux pas and causing an Asian civil war, Billy's power grows and Hammersmith moves them to a castle in Spain. There, Billy spars with Jimmie, whom he demands that Hammersmith kill. Although Hammersmith agrees, he secretly arranges with Jimmie, who longs to have a child, to impregnate her and murder Billy. Instead of killing him, however, Hammersmith causes a water-skiing accident that leaves Billy handicapped.

    The three move into a new castle, but when Billy orders Jimmie to leave the rooms unfurnished, she reveals that she is pregnant with Hammersmith's child and that Billy no longer has power over her. Billy struggles to his feet and aims an axe at her neck, but Hammersmith rescues her and hands Billy a gun, calling him a colossal disappointment and instructing him to kill himself. Just then, the doctor's helicopter lands on the lawn. Hammersmith and Jimmie go out to greet the doctor, who explains to Hammersmith that the police are behind him and that he must return to the asylum, where he is understood and the challenges to his intellect are more interesting. As a gunshot is heard inside the castle, Hammersmith follows the doctor without a word, leaving Jimmie behind, alone.

    Months later, the new orderly reads Hammersmith a telegram from Jimmie assuring him that she and their daughter are well, and Hammersmith mesmerizes the orderly, promising him riches and strength in exchange for his release.

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