Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 15, July 9, 1968
Roman through the gloomin'
Roman through the gloomin'
I want to briefly extol on three films (from important directors) that have received an unconcerned amount of praise, detached interest, in the Film Quarterly medium qualifying as "short notices".
Jack Clayton's Our Mother's House and Robert Mulligan's Up The Down Staircase are latest works, but since Cul-de-Sac (1964), Roman Polanski has made The Fearless Vampire Killers, and Rosemary's Baby (both due here soon). Young Polanski has had the courage to abandon the healthy intellectualist shores of Poland (a demi-cinematic paradise now) after graduating from a school where his distinct style (Two Men and a Wardrobe, nife in the Water) startled the world, and left for England to make the clinically-important Repulsion, and now, the blackest bravura comedy, Cul-de-Sac (N.Z.F.S.)
It is a brilliant, even "dotty-surrealistic" comedy, combining elements of Ionesco, Pinter, Joe Orton and, most of all, dear old Sam Beckett. In fact, the film is almost (excuse me) "as original as that rare bird in the shaggy aog story, flying in ever decreasing circles and finally disappearing up its own formula."
Two gangsters (Lionel Stander and Jack MacGowran) are running away from a bungled job, and their car is stranded in the middle of a causeway connecting a medieval castle-island from the mainland of Northumbria. They are both wounded and the opening words from little Alby (MacGowran looking like a wounded peacock) "Y'know, we're in the shit!" sets the mood of the film.
On the island is the retired neurotic Donald Pleasence, prancing around in his wife's (Francoise Dorleac) nightie, mascarared and effeminate, until he is humiliated by the nocturnal meeting with Stander. The tide separates the island, and they rescue Alby En his car. They all get drunk and the humour startles when Alby presses some binoculars to his eyes. His telescopic glasses crack and he squeaks, "I can't see the Little Bear!" They bury him (and almost Pleasence) and Stander takes over the island. He is waiting for Katelbach (Godot?) to come to the rescue, a mysterious gangster who is only heard in a series of inane telephone calls.
Francoise is carrying on with a youth from a neighbouring island. Some friends arrive, and when Stander plays the "perfect Hollywood butler" the dialogue sings.
"Well, I think, I'll make an omelet." "Can't I help you?" "Two to make an omelet; Are you joking?" The farce persists, recalling especially the Marx Bros and the best of Blake Edwards.
The friend's small son runs around the castle digging into Alby's grave, hitting hens, scratching records, kicking people and firing a double-barrel shot gun at the St. Cuthbert stain-glass window. They are finally humiliated by Pleasance and Co., beyond endurance and are sent whimpering away.
Afterward, Dorleac places newsprint between Slander's toes, and lights it. He is so enraged he beats her with a rope and smashes into Pleasence, breaking his glasses. He attempts to retrieve a tommy gun from his car and Pleasence shoots him repeatedly. Spitting blood, he fires at his car, and blows it up. It is a curiously chilling and ironic scene. Dorleac is rescued by one of the friends, and Pleasence is left running through the water, and quietly sobbing, sitting on a rock in the middle of the ocean.
Gilbert Taylor has photographed this lunatic romp in beautiful black and white entirely on location on Holy Island. His subjective manoeuvres in keeping up with the actors, running walking with them, distorting their ugly faces, even uglier, is kept in control. Polanski, like Wilder, has learnt to respect the art of detail too—glasses, eggs, windows and Rob Roy.
Pleasance is remarkable, and quite mad, yet articulate—it's a shimmering spasm of a performance. Lionel Stander (an old Hollywood pro) wno has "a voice full of gravel, and a face full of cauliflowers," is glum and cheeky, and La Dorleac (who was killed in a car smash last year) is lovely and French to the bone. It's all Polanski's way of beating up beautiful performances, and watching them suffer in a constant ecstacy, at our expense.