Cul-de Sac ~ (UK, 1966) ~ Netflix

This is Polanski’s 4th feature film after his Knife in the Water (1962) debut. I didn’t think I had seen it and I had not. It’s an odd duck of a film, with Donald Pleasance starring as the owner of a seaside/mountaintop abode that (as he tells it) was once the home of Sir Walter Scott (he tells guests that Scott wrote Rob Roy there). George (Pleasance) has married a younger French woman, Teresa (Francois Dorleac). But this is a bit ahead of the game. The film opens with what appears to be static shot of a rural road as the opening credits roll. Then off in the distance, something is coming toward the camera. Turns out to be a man behind the wheel who is driving erratically. We learn this after his companion who is pushing the car, runs it into a post. The companion is Richard, who speaks with an extremely gravelly voice and a Brooklyn accent. Richard is portrayed by Lionel Stander, who I read was blacklisted in the McCarthy era for being a member of the Communist Party.

Stander does a remarkable job here as does Dorleac. Pleasance I’ve never been fond of, although here the role seems to fit him. I’m ahead of myself again. The two have been traveling in a stolen cab and after the driver complains of discomfort and Richard removes a tommy gun from behind his back, we begin to see what these two are all about. Richard leaves his partner Albie (Jack MacGowran) to find help, leaving Albie in the car as the tide rolls in. By the time Richard gets back with help Albie has nearly beeen swept out to sea. The Two castle owners and Richard push the car (Albie still behind the wheel) back to the Sir Walter Scott retreat. It’s that kind of odd movie – a mix of comedy (slap-stick and black humor), gangster film (the two are part of some kind of gang), and menacing thriller. One never knows when the menace will bubble over into real violence. There are several unusual scenes that may be of the sort that pop up in our heads with the questions: Where did that come from?

This is Polanski perfecting his craft. A Golden Bear winner at Berlin FF, 1966.


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