Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 1. 1965.
Films — Wellington's holiday fare
Wellington's holiday fare
At the time of writing the most noticeable feature of the cinema scene during the vacation has been a singular lack of good films. Increased competition from TV has unfortunately resulted in the closing down of further suburban theatres and it seems probable that more will follow suit.
This trend has deprived the film enthusiast of a valuable source of supply Those theatres still operating in the suburbs were also stricken by the film famine, welcome returns of Guns In The Afternoon and Crime And Punishment USA being notable exceptions.
In the city holiday crowds and children have been well catered for and Carry On Spying, Circus World, Wonderful Life and From Russia With Love reign supreme at the box office. The latter film, despite Sean Connery's insolent charm and liberal helpings of sex and sadism, was a pretty boring affair From Wellington's two "little" theatres came Jerry Lewis's Ladies' Man with its wealth of comic invention, Richard F l e i s c h e r's much-neglected epic Barabbas and one first release, Black Patch, a good western in the best tradition of the American low-budget film.
Another return was Suddenly Last Summer, probably the best film yet made from a Tennessee Williams play. Exciting direction from Joseph Mankiewicz and fine playing by Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor made this one of the best films of the vacation. Seven Capital Sins provided some nice drolleries and stylish episodes by Jeanluc Godard and Claude Chabrol, but uneven contributions from the remaining directions.
The Cracksman was a pleasant surprise with Charlie Drake creating a genuinely comic character in his master locksmith. Directed by Peter Graham Scott, this amiably competent film had some good moments, particularly the opening sequence and the robbery in the Prince Edward (Victoria and Albert?) Museum where the crooks' choir sings "Dream of Olwyn" to the strains of electronic accompaniment. George Sanders's elegantly-sung solo at this point was sheer delight.
Then there was the Roger Corman opus The Terror, made in three days and looking like it. Despite a generally shoddy appearance the film had the usual distinctive passages—all it needed was Vincent Price and a good script. Corman obviously enjoys making films of this nature and his private joke on the audience in the final scene—a passionate embrace with soundtrack wedding bells immediately followed by the disintegration of the damsel's face into treacly cack—was magnificent.
The Ransom was an expert piece of film-making from the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. The first half is characterised by compositions and formal groupings with attention to detail and character analysis. Once the film gets out into the open, however, Kurosawa demonstrates a dazzling style and not even incongruous dubbing can deter this from being an intelligent and gripping thriller.
The Servant was directed by Joseph Losey, an American now working in Britain, who dabbled in experimental films in the '40s. The film is something of a failure but more interesting than most failures, which are generally atrocious. The most striking thing about The Servant, apart from some of the acting, is Losey's treatment of Harold Pinter's screenplay. Way back in the annals of film criticism someone proposed the maxim that obtrusive technique was bad cinema. In latter years this foolish notion has gained wide credence but despite the inflated literary content of many films the fact remains that the film is primarily a visual art.
What could be more exciting, then, than the so-called "obtrusive" techniques employed by Welles or by Robert Aldrich in Kiss Me Deadly and, indeed, by Losey in The Servant? Using every device in the book, his camera swirls here and there, probing the intimacies of developing relationships and heightening the subtleties inherent in the two central performances. Losey's control of camera placement and movement in relation to interior decor is particularly good.
These cinematic exuberances cannot, however, disguise the deficiencies of the screen play and hesitancy of overall conception. If the film does not know what to make of its subject matter how are we to know what to make of it? Perhaps it is an epic of high camp with Barrett as the seducer (the men at play) or it may even be a Wheatlyish excursion down the Left-Hand Path with Barrett as the Power of Darkness the final sequence—a black mass?). It may, of course, be simply an isolated incident in the Class Struggle. Certainly the scenes in the cafe and in Susan's home, where the foibles of the upper class are exposed, would seem to support this idea but these Pinterish asides, amusing as they may be, are totally irrelevant to the mainstream of the film.
Individual scenes are similarly suspect. Some are good, like Barrett taking a bath in his master's tub, the telephone-box episode, and the confessional pub scene. The hetero-seductions, however, are awkwardly staged while the dawdling interludes outside the house (with mood music) are simply irritating. The last 10 minutes of the film runs amok completely.
Out of all this Dirk Bogarde emerges unscathed, giving a performance easily the finest of his career. His playing in the final sequence where he recognises Susan as an equal who cannot be corrupted is a masterpiece of character revelation. James Fox provides an impressive film debut as the weak-willed Tony. These two performances and Losey's command of the medium lend The Servant what distinction it possesses,—Rex Benson.