13 September 2011

THE SERVANT/1963/DIRK BOGARDE

THE SERVANT

1963/ Director: Joseph Losey/Writers: Robin Maugham,
Harold Pinter

Cast:  Dirk Bogarde, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig, James Fox, Patrick Magee,  Catherine Lacey, Richard Vernon   

I had never really heard about this movie, a collaboration between director Joseph Losey and playwrite/screenwriter Howard Pinter except in passing while reading reviews of other films. I had had the DVD lying around for a couple months and decided I would pop it in one night and was so stunned by the film I felt compelled to do a post on it here at the Cafe though it tends to fall outside what I would normally write about though is one I want to promote. In fact, the film is not easy to critique and really is one that must be seen and allowed to wash over you with its dark waters and sinister shadows and its marvelously malevolent  story of role reversal, British class struggle moral decay and sexual decadence.

The story is essentially a set piece with almost all of the drama occurring inside a house recently acquired by the independently wealthy and aristocratic playboy Tony, played superbly by James Fox in his first acting role. Tony is met for an interview by “gentleman’s gentleman” Hugh Barrett as he sleeps off some afternoon beers in the empty house. The opening scene is done so excellently – in particular the edgy b/w cinematography by Douglas Slocombe - and sets the tone of the film which is maintained until the ending. Barrett is played by Dirk Bogarde in what many consider to be his best role. I have not seen him in a film in many, many years and had forgotten about his scene presence. The fact that Barrett is actually evil in a Mephistophelian sense does not become clear immediately, but gradually it becomes clear something is amiss and that the rich and bored Tony has become the target of an evil game played out by Barrett and his ‘sister’ Vera, played coquettishly to a tee by Sarah Miles.

There seems to be no real motive for the games that Barrett and Mary begin to play on Tony other than the fact that Tony seems to be a suitable target for their ultimately spiteful manipulations. I speculate that perhaps the whole thing, in particular his seduction by Vera (and most likely Barrett himself, thought he bisexual innuendo is well hidden between the lines of 1963’s British censors) was to some sort of blackmail plot against Tony to keep his secrets from his serious flame Susan, played by TV soap star Wendy Craig. But the film never really establishes this and Barrett ultimately only seeks his servant’s pay but in the process turns Tony’s world upside down and while Tony loses nothing in the sense of wealth he loses all morally and spiritually, and that alone seems to satisfy Barrett.


What is so fantastic about this film is how it really works on a dark psychological level in every aspect, from the acting and cinematography to the sparse but effective score by Sir John Dankworth. While Tony’s character is not without fault and basically unlikable to any working Joe simply because he is so rich and listless – talking of projects in Brazil that never seem to materialize – he seems undeserving of the wreckage he receives by the bitter Barrett. Barrett no doubt sees himself as superior to Tony and resents his servitude. He has no doubt begun to get bitter long before his employment to Tony, who seems to hire Barrett for no other reason than he cannot take care of himself and has the money to spend on a servant and later a maid (Sarah Miles). Wendy Craig’s Susan seems to despise Barrett from the beginning, and at first I found her unfair and snobbish and disliked her character, yet in the end her character seems to be the only one who retains her dignity. I have read some reviews about how she is undone as well as Tony, but I did see it and the ending shows her winning out over Barrett – where she slaps the crap out of him and he helps her adjust her coat as she leaves - and not the other way around.

Sarah Miles is sexy and hot as naughty Vera and we are never really sure what the relationship is between her and Barrett, except that it is not brother and sister. They are lovers for certain and the plot they develop seems much more complicated than is shown and we have to draw our inferences from their looks and nods as nothing is ever really reveled in dialog.  The house and its hallways and objects – such as an oval mirror – become  a symbol of Tony’s moral decline, starting off bare and empty, then filled with luxury and then with decadence and squalor. There are so many intriguing scenes that I could go on and on and I really like to keep my reviews/comments a little on the shorter side, and do not like retelling the movie narrative really. I like to read those types of movie sites, but I tend to shy away from doing that, and if I wee going to I would have to admit that this film is beyond my skill to do that. I think I can refer you to the clip I made and posted in the next post and it should describe better than I can the mood and angst ridden energy of the film.

It’s as dark as a movie can become without being maudlin and gimmicky. Without ever spilling a drop of blood or firing a pistol the movie is as tense and nerve wrecking An experience as you are going to get  about the horrors of just being a human being.
   

  




THE "SEDUCTION SCENE" FROM THE SERVANT

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