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UK/USA 1965
Directed by
William Wyler
119 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Collector

William Wyler, who emigrated from Germany to the US in 1920 at the age of 18, is best known for his marquee Hollywood films such as Ben-Hur (1959) but with The Collector, which was based on the novel of the same name by John Fowles, he made an icon of 1960s British cinema (although it was a UK/USA co-production it is entirely set in Kent, England) and a film that with along with Jerzy Skolimowski‘s Deep End (1970) reflects a Zeitgeist preoccupation with obsessive male sexual desire.

Terence Stamp, in his first major screen role and certainly one of the best performances of his career, plays Freddie Clegg, a literally buttoned-down bank clerk and avid butterfly collector whose win on the football pools enables him to buy a old country house and carry out his plan to abduct art college student Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar) and keep her under lock and key in what he has deludedly convinced himself is little more than an accelerated courtship.

Although credit must be given to Fowles’s original text, Wyler and his writers, Stanley Mann and John Kohn, take what is essentially a two-hander (there are only two brief scenes in which there are other speaking parts) and deftly crafts a story of the relationship between the two young protagonists. He achieves a compelling degree of sympathy for both parties and although the story is is one of sex and violence,it never strays into the salacious or exploitational.

British-born actress Samantha Eggar who never again had such a major role gives a convincing performance as a young woman both bewildered by and angry at her captor but also unsure of his intentions. Here we can really feel Wyler’s  directorial hand (he made sure that she stayed isolated from the rest of the crew, particularly Stamp, during filming) as Miranda’s hopes rise and fall with her repeated bids to outwit Freddie (there is no indication of Stockholm Syndrome here. Stamp’s performance suggests some kind of arrested development for Freddie that the film never pursues leaving it as something that we can take as given.

More questionable is the film’s ending which departs from that of the novel and is both simultaneously kinder to Freddie (in the novel his treatment of Miranda is more callous) and effectively abandons much of the alleged raison d’être for his actions, reasons which made us sympathize with him in the first place, and bringing the story to a disappointingly conventional ending.  

Whilst there are small quibbles such as Freddie keeping Miranda prisoner for a month but the film simply ignoring  the dictates of female biology (a trip to the chemist is mentioned) and as there is not a lot of dialogue, often leaving Stamp alone Maurice Jarre’s score is at times intrusive.

With The Collector Wyler, in what was his last film of note, has delivered a story which although in many ways belonging to the horror genre is realized with intelligence and flair.

FYI:  Apparently the first cut of the film ran three hours.  In the re-cut version Kenneth More’s part as Miranda’s older paramour was completely excised.  Anyone interested in British abduction movies should also check out Bryan Forbes' Séance On A Wet Afternoon that came out the previous year whilst another variant of the sexual obsession theme is dealt with in Mike Nichols’ Carnal Kowledge (1971).




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