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United Kingdom 1966
Directed by
Roman Polanski
111 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
5 stars

Cul De Sac

Polanski's follow-up to his brilliant psychological horror film, Repulsion (1965) was this outstanding black comedy that pulls off a priceless marriage between absurdist theatre and B grade thriller. The story involves two petty criminals, Dickie (Lionel Stander) and Albie (Jack MacGowran), on the run after a botched robbery that has left Albie badly wounded. Somehow they turn up at Rob Roy, an isolated 11th-century castle on Lindisfarne Island in Northumberland owned by George (Donald Pleasence) who has rejected his past by selling his factory, divorcing his wife Agnes and begun a new bohemian life with his young French bride Teresa (Françoise Dorléac, sister to Catherine Deneuve who had starred in Repulsion).

Pleasance gives a hysterically over-the-top performance as the cuckolded husband driven to near madness by his wife's infidelities which she flaunts in his face, most memorably in the scene when she dresses him in her nightgown and applies make-up to him. Opposite him is the priceless Lionel Stander, stalwart of countless B grades from the 30s and 40s whose Dickie is George's absolute antithesis - literally, brutish masculinity - and who immediately takes over the castle as a hideaway whilst he waits for his boss to send help. It is the interaction between these two, with Dorléac's Teresa doing her best to antagonize both men, that provides most of the humour although there is also much fun had when a group of George's friends from his straight past come to visit and Dickie is assigned the role of butler.

Yet for all the fun underlying the film is a dark streak of tragedy that revolves around George's lack of masculine identity (the theme of sexuality and identity being a very popular one in the early and late 60s as seen in film like The Servant (1963) and Performance, 1970) and that ultimately brings the film closer to Repulsion, also scripted by Polanski and Gérard Brach (and photographed by Gilbert Taylor) than might at first appear.




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