Thursday, 22 July 2010

Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter.

Losey with James Fox and Harold Pinter
Joseph Losey’s Hollywood career ended in 1951with the notorious McCarthy era investigation into his supposed connections with the Communist Party after which he was blacklisted by Hollywood and as a result came to work in Britain. Hollywood’s loss was our gain with his new and important work influencing the formation of British Art Cinema of the 1960’s. There’s no doubt that Losey did his best work in the 60’s when his movies dealt with some very British subjects. It has been said that The Servant was more ambitious than the social realism of the British New Wave films; I can agree that Losey's movie had a stronger European feel but certainly dispute whether it’s more ambitious. He continued to work in England until his death in 1984

Harold Pinter who achieved widespread recognition as Britain’s leading dramatist and screenwriter of the 1960’s was born in London in 1930. His fame as a screenwriter began with The Servant (1963), which he adapted from a 1949 novella, which was the first of three screenplays directed by Joseph Losey, the other two being Accident (1967) and The Go Between (1971). He also adapted his own stage plays for the screen including 1964’s The Caretaker. Other notable 1960’s screenplays were The Pumpkin Eater (1964) and The Quiller Memorandum (1966)

The Servant. (1963)

The screenplay for The Servant is classic Pinter; it’s a direct comment on the British class structure and catches an entire society in moral decay recording the collapse in a dark visual style. This intriguing story, set in the world of ‘men’ with women portrayed as only pawns, has the theatrical discipline of a stage play.

A wealthy minor aristocrat returns from Africa to stay in London until his business interests in Brazil come to fruition after which he will return abroad. On acquiring a smart well-appointed Town House, Tony (James Fox) advertises for a personal manservant. After interviewing various candidates Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) is appointed. All goes well for a while until we realise that Tony’s sinister manservant is slowly and deliberately attempting to control his upper class master. Barrett’s psychological mind games include undermining Tony’s snooty girlfriend Susan (Wendy Craig) and passing off the sexy young housemaid Vera (Sarah Miles) as his sister. Barrett’s task is made easier when his master becomes dependant on alcohol and drugs. Losey’s clever build up of sexual tension between Vera and Tony includes the imaginative use of a dripping tap! A turning point in the narrative is when Susan and Vera are forced to leave the house and Losey, not for the first time, lets us perceive not only an exchange of power but also an unspoken sexual relationship between the two men.

With the role of Barrett, Bogarde finally traded in his matinee idol image some thing he began with his brave portrayal of a homosexual barrister in Victim (1961) he went on to make a further three movies with Losey, King and Country (1964) Modesty Blaise (1966) and the brilliant Accident (1967). The Servant launched the cinema careers of both James Fox and Sarah Miles.

Douglas Slocombe intense black and white cinematography makes wonderful use of tone and shadow. John Dankworths Jazzy soundtrack along with Cleo Laines song All Gone gave the film its haunting atmosphere.

Accident. (1967)

In 1967 Losey made what is widely regarded in some quarters as his best film Accident. This beautifully paced character driven movie involves Anna (Jacqueline Sassard) a young Austrian student who willingly becomes the focus of a sexual power struggle between two married Oxford dons and a student. Stephen (nobody does repressed sexuality like Dirk Bogarde) is her handsome tutor; William (Michael York in his film debut) is a wellborn fellow student; Charley (Stanley Baker) is Stephens’s athletic friend and rival. The film starts with Stephan alone in his large country house at night, his wife Rosalind (played by Vivien Merchant who was Harold Pinter's wife at the time) is at the maternity unit waiting to go into labour. He hears the roar of an engine and then a crash; going out side he finds a car on its side with two people in it. William is clearly dead, but Anna seems uninjured. Stephen pulls Anna out of the wreck, the police are called but the girl has mysteriously disappeared, the story is then told in retrospect. Nicolas Mosley’s novel is the source for Harold Pinter’s brilliant screenplay. Losey's fine direction allows time for the story to unfold and the viewer to saviour each scene, which can be likened to an artists painting.

A wee point of interest, the actress that plays Bogarde five year old daughter Clarissa is Carole Caplin who went on to be the style advisor to Cherie Blair and was involved in the scandal referred to as Cheriegate because of her involvement with a convicted conman who assisted the then Prime Ministers wife with the purchase of two flats in Bristol!!

The Go-Between. (1970)

The beautifal teenage sister (Julie Christie)
The third collaboration between director Joseph Losey and screenwriter Harold Pinter is the 1970 film The Go-Between considered by many critics to be the best of the three winning the Palme d’or at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. Based on the autobiographical novel by L P Hartley which linked the present with the past taking an ageing bachelor back to a long hot English summer when he was twelve-years-old and lost his boyish heart to a beautiful headstrong young women who exploited his adoration to suit her own purposes.

In this costume drama, set in 1900, two young boys, Marcus and Leo, arrive at Branham Hall in Norfolk for the duration of the summer holidays. The grand house belongs to Marcus’s family and the first thing that catches Leo’s attention is Marian, his hosts beautiful teenage sister with whom he quickly becomes besotted. After a family dinner it’s agreed that Leo, because of the unbearable hot weather, should have a lighter suit to wear. Marion volunteers to accompany the eager young lad into Norwich and while there Leo see’s her talking, quite passionately, to Ted Burgess the estates tenant farmer! When the naïve young lad first visits Burgesses farm he is asked to take a letter to Marian but is not allowed to mention its existence to anyone. There begins Leo’s complicity in the clandestine love affair.

Alan Bates and Julie Christie
This very entertaining forerunner of the modern costume drama excels on detail with grand colours and superb country landscapes. Losey’s take on the English upper classes with its simmering passions and social repressiveness stars Julie Christie as Marion and Alan Bates as Burgess with Edward Fox as Hugh Trimingham a war hero and the man Marian is expected to marry. Dominic Guard who went on to appear in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Gandhi (1982) portrays the adolescent Leo Colston.

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