Sleeping Tiger, Crouching Dirk

“Must be hard getting servants these days,” muses Dirk Bogarde –

– before tripping the poor skivvy and sending her crashing to the floor amid crockery and glassware –

– and leering over her misfortune in sexual fashion…

THE SLEEPING TIGER is a somewhat eggy juvie delinquent melodrama made by Joseph Losey, recently blacklisted in Hollywood and now using producer Victor Hanbury as a front — while no blacklist applied in England, it was thought wise for blacklistees to work pseudonymously to avoid any problems with American distribution. Within a few years Losey would be working openly under his own name, but he would never film in the States again.

Joe and Dirk both reported;y thought this film was sheer hocum, but got on well and saw each other’s potential, resolving to work together again on something worthwhile. THE SERVANT in 1963 would give them that opportunity in spades. Dirk plays Frank Clemmons, a troubled young criminal taken in by psychiatrist Dr. Clive Esmond, played with unbridled lassitude by Alexander Knox. Knox, a Canadian who worked in Hollywood before settling in Scotland, would soon play another woolly liberal for Losey in THESE ARE THE DAMNED.

Inspector Hugh Griffiths of the Yard casts a beady eye over some dodgy Joan Miro.

Mrs Esmond, token yank Alexis Smith, is soon smitten with the arrogant D.B. Catching him bullying the servant, she blazes, “I wish I were a man!” before snogging him violently. It would be ungentlemanly of me to suggest that the feeling was mutual.

Losey puts far more into this film than into his next British time-waster, FINGER OF GUILT / THE INTIMATE STRANGER. Although much of the film passes in short, montage-like sequences devoid of any tension or dramatic gristle, whenever there’s a longer scene of interpersonal conflict, he pulls the stops out and goes for maximum sizzle. Extreme angles and sinuous camera moves provide nicely modulated variation between snapping whipcracks and seductive oozings of emotion. The seeds of THE SERVANT are sewn. The film actually aspires to the theatrical, and through it reaches the cinematic, in fits and starts. There are genuine flickers of that Pinter Wonderland of menace and powerplay, often stifled at birth by the rather inane script. Every fade-out feels like a betrayal.

Since Dirk is committing robberies while under Doc Knox’s care, AND cheating with the Doc’s wife, we can’t help but feel that the liberal head-shrinker is a bit of a sap. Which leaves the film without a point, unless it’s a right-wing Daily Mail type point, since Dirk should clearly be in jail, Knox should be struck off, and Smith should take a cold shower.

“One day we should run up to Scotland,” suggests Knox, who lived there. Bogarde, who endured an unhappy childhood in Glasgow, makes a sour face.

Losey goes mad in the jazz cellar scenes, just loving it, daddy-O, and here we see what a really inventive director he is: the same dynamic style showcased in the scenes of domestic conflict, but sexed up with music and mood lighting and eroticism and WOW!

Far from being a second feature, SLEEPING T unites Losey with the editor of THE RED SHOES, the future composer of BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and cinematographer Harry Waxman (THE WICKER MAN) all of whom acquit themselves admirably, when the sketchy plot allows them space to do so. Harry Waxman’s photography of nocturnal London streets is particularly fine, and Losey has him try even more trick mirror shots than are found in THE SERVANT.

I keep trashing the script, which is by blacklistees Harold Buchman and Carl Foreman, but as Gavin Lambert wrote, “There is a splendour about this film, which has one of the most absurdly extravagant plots on record, and never flinches from it.” Which shows that Lambert was way ahead of the curve as far as appreciating Losey in the UK. I just wish the film (which is a pretty nippy 89 mins) allowed the psychodrama time to build, while avoiding all the scrappy little scenes of fishing and horse-riding which do nothing for the plot (and really, how could they?).

Then, unexpectedly, the shrink has a Dirk breakthrough and our juvie is cured, alright. Several minutes of desperate vamping ensue as the plot seems to be over, then Dirk announces he wants to go to jail to pay his debt to society, but it’s really to escape the doc’s clingy wife, and now suddenly SHE’S the psycho one, and it all ends in a high-speed car chase with a thrilling syncopated jazz fusion abstract montage smash-up into a symbolic tiger billboard!

Moral: women are evil.

18 Responses to “Sleeping Tiger, Crouching Dirk”

  1. Haven’t seen this one–and I’m surprised that a Carl Foreman script could be crappy. But I guess we all have our bad days.

    I’ll keep my eye out for “The Sleeping Tiger”. Thanks…

  2. Did you ever get to see that multi-part Dirk documentary made a few years back — I think for Channel 4 ? It had interviews with his sister, his lover/manager Anthony Forward’s son (who he raised, being the boy’s “second father”– Glynis Johns was the birth mother) and clips from home movies Bogarde shot and wanted destroyed. Fascinating stuff. His closet had closets. He claimed he wanted to marry Capucine. Well didn’t we all, darling?

  3. The dialogue is mostly OK, but the plot is goofy and the structure broken-backed. When Losey had a tight time structure like in The Big Night and Time Without Pity, it really helped. Foreman had one on High Noon and that worked like gangbusters.

    David Lean wasn’t too taken with Foreman’s work on Kwai, as I recall, but I think Foreman was trying to use the novel’s satirical aspects and Lean didn’t want that. Viewed as straight drama, the extract of Foreman’s work printed in Brownlow’s Lean book would be indefensible…

    The big problem with Tiger is probably with the source novel, and maybe Foreman’s collaborator Harold Buchman deserves some of the blame.

  4. There were rumours that Capucine was a man.

    I’ve seen a couple Bogarde docs. There’s one on Youtube. Oddly, I think they leave out stuff Lawrie told me about (he knew DB fairly well) — Bogarde, a bad driver, caused a car crash that killed several people. He never drove again. There were various shadows in his life like that.

    That documentary speaks of “Luciano” Visconti and features the authorised biographer Sheridan Morley (son of Robert) — after reading that book, Lawrie remarked, “Dirk’s not gay, apparently.”

    Dirk’s weirdly camp non-denial denial to (gay) interviewer Russell Harty is quite something! Harty was trying to get him to talk about his private life, which seems reasonable since they were conducting the interview in the house Bogarde shared with Tony Forman. “I’m still in the shell, and you haven’t cracked it yet, honey!”

  5. Well if Capucine was a man I hope Charlie Feldman knew about it.

    Actually she was one of those highly placed mistresses of the all-powerful who were basically lesbian (see also Bella Darvi and Lizabeth Scott vis-a-vis Hal Wallis.)

    Dirk was geuinely odd about his gayness. Doing Victim was really and truly incredibly brave, and he gives an amazing performance in it, particularly in his big “Because I WANTED him!” speech. He said he took the part partially to break away from his matinee idol status in favor of serious roles because “I was the Loretta Young of England.”

    Now if that isn’t the greatest camp remark of all-time, call me Modesty Blaise !

    His best stuff for Losey was to come later with The Servant. Barrett’s sexuality is as complex as his motives. I’ve seen the film countless times and still can’t quite figure it out. Does Barrett have a master plan or is he improvising? Obviously taking over someone like Tony is easily done. But then what? After all these years the film’s baroque mystery lingers.

    Extra Losey bonus points: Alexis Smith was just a beautiful clothes horse at Warner Bros. The Sleeping Tiger shows the real actress underneath. She didn’t truly bloom until 1971 when she starred on Broadway in Sondheim’s Follies. I saw it twice. Her renditions of “Will I Leave You?” and “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” were some of the greatest things I’ve ever seen on a stage.

    Years later she teamed up with Losey again for a marvelous turn in La Truite. Remarkable woman.

  6. I’m glad Smith re-teamed with Losey. Her role in ST is kind of impossible, but she makes a good first of it. And she’s agreeably angular.

    The Servant is definitely on for this week, I’ve been offered a look at The Gypsy and the Gentleman, and there’s a lovely UK DVD of Figures in a Landscape… Plus lots to read and quote from.

    I saw Sylvia Sims talk and she was very proud of Victim, though she generally hated stiff posh wife roles, what she and Jean Simmons call “poker-up-the-arse parts.”

  7. Saw The Gypsy and the Gentleman many years ago and recall it as fairly lively. Figures in a Landscape sounds like the ultimate Losey title, but I found the film itself curiously bland. Still I’d like to take another look at it. I recall it as Jansco-esque.

  8. Excitingly, it looks like the source with Gypsy also has Blind Date, which is handy since Stanley Baker is arguably the other major collaborator besides Dirk and of course Pinter.

  9. Is Knox a liberal in The Damned? I’d say the film is pegging him as a conservative gone fascist.

  10. I bet you’re right — my faulty memory is to blame. Haven’t watched it properly for years. I remember various nice concerned types, but I guess he’s not one of them.

    I should run it again ’cause it’s fascinatingly strange. Does any other Hammer film throw together so many disparate characters and plots?

  11. Knox is the one the liberals are concerned about! To my mind, he actually comes off a bit better than the liberals, who are quite self-righteous. I love the film, though – along with Time Without Pity, it’s my favorite Losey. The collision of disparate plots is the whole idea, seems to me: the sci-fi apocalypse plot eats the social-observation youth-problem plot.

  12. There are certain Hammer films with mad plots, typically those Tony Carreras had a hand in — he had no gift for writing or directing WHATSOEVER, but was able to give himself those jobs, and ran the company into the ground. Then there is The Damned, which doesn’t follow standard procedure for genre or narrative, but is informed by intelligence throughout.

    As with Time Without Pity, Losey boldly throws away the element of surprise/mystery by opening on the kids, which is a wild move.

    It would make a great double bill with Kiss Me Deadly (a film with many possible pairings!)

  13. Have you seen how “Sleeping Tiger” makes an appearance in, of all things, “Daddy Long Legs” (1955)? Check the billboard at “5:21” …

  14. Very cool! I wonder if Losey had an old friend on the set. That’s one way to buck the blacklist!

  15. Did DB ride? He seems to be ridiog the big grey in at least some of the “Sleeping Tiger”footage and he may have done so in “Libel”,but a biographer says that,though he owned horses, they were just ‘for show’ at his English country home.Does anyone know anyone know more?

  16. I certainly don’t. What an odd question!

  17. The “did-Dirk-Bogarde-ride” question wasn’t quite that odd: the chapter in John Fraser’s ” Close Up”about the motorcycle in Bogarde’s attic and his camp,leather get-up in “The Singer Not The Song” suggest that he was a repressed “leather boy” who couldn’t/wouldn’t go out on two- or four wheels and who might have ridden horses as an outlet for his drives.He was said to like to play the country squire. J.H.

  18. But the motorbike scenario arose later, not at any English country home, but in France. I know that Dirk didn’t drive: the story I heard is that he killed somebody through incompetent driving, and gave it up.

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