The Servant Reviews
Harold Pinter has written the screenplay in similar vein to the superb movie The Accident, also a Losey piece, which I also commend. The cinematography in both movies is simply excellent. The subject matter of The Servant suits Pinter, although much of the screenplay is not really in Pinter's voice. However, there is one scene, set in a restaurant, which includes a tiny cameo by Pinter himself and which contains a short Pinteresque exchange between two women. There is also one tense exchange between Susan and Barrett "do you wear deodorant" etc. which is very reminiscent of a scene in The Caretaker "you stink from arsehole to Thursday" etc. Indeed the story of The Servant resembles The Caretaker in many respects, except that in The Servant the interloper, Barrett, is on top and stays there, whereas in The Caretaker the interloper, Davies, lacks the skill and circumstances to dislodge the incumbent.
There is a homoerotic undercurrent to the film and this works so well because it is an undercurrent (in 1963 there could have been no more than an undercurrent even if they had wanted more). The overt debauchery with Vera and the orgy party towards the end of the film is the only bit of the film that has aged without grace. But I quibble.
This is a truly great film and it deserves to be more widely known.
A young aristocrat Tony (Fox) hired Barrett (Bogarde) as his servant to administer his house, but Barrett has his own plan to manipulate Tony to be completely reliant on him, so assisted by his complicit Vera (Miles), and hampered by Tony's supercilious fiancée Susan (Craig),
it is a binge of seduction, betrayal, debauchery, drug abuse and mind games.
Douglas Slocombe, the prestigious British cinematographer, brings the film to life with his ingenious camerawork, the setting is largely confined interior to Tony's residence (dominantly in the shots is a bookshelf-shape door to the living room, camouflage beyond the veneer is a running theme here), Slocombe is ravishing the eroticism and tautness by his superlative deployments with mirrors (it is in the poster!), shadows, shades (Tony's silhouette hiding behind the shower curtain during a hide-and-seek) and sublime focus-alteration, refracted by the B&W prism, the potency is mind-blowing and soul-cleansing, up to the very end, the transcendent oddity of the situation could only pique one's curiosity for more, for the imbroglio is so fascinating, so nihilistic, anticipates A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971, 8/10)'s benumbing ridicule.
John Dankworth's alternately light-mood, lyric, jazz-infused and riveting score is a handsome companion to Pinter's satirical and pun-slinging screenplay (under the weather? poncho and gaucho?), when Tony addresses to Susan that "he (Barrett) looks like a fish", it hits the bull's eye. Bogarde continues his bold glass-ceiling-breaking endeavor after VICTIM (1961, 8/10), bags another self-revealing role and unleashes his nefarious audacious in the duality of Barrett's servant-and-master changeover; while his on-screen prey James Fox, who, indeed, is equally brilliant in his breakthrough picture, out of four main characters, none of them are good-natured, but he is the only one can collect viewers' sympathy, and one may not root for him, but witness his downfall nevertheless needs more than the fondness of his willowy figure and innocent eyes. Miles and Craig, the two female companions, can not receive the same laud, Miles has a strident voice and being excruciatingly annoying whenever she talks and her performance is in excess of theatricality, which luckily would tune down in her later effort in RYAN'S DAUGHTER (1970, 7/10) and THE HIRELING (1973, 6/10); Craig, whose snobbish and frigid poise is off-putting, albeit she has the most recondite sensibilities to present in the frenzied coda, the efficacy is beyond her ken.
THE SERVANT may be Losey's finest work and should be appreciated more, it is a divine psychological drama with a latent homosexual struggle which perpetually beleaguers human nature and finally we reach the opportune time when we can look directly into each other's eyes without feeling ashamed or offensive anymore.