“Nothing is ever a lady’s fault.”

Our Losey Cluesies were from THE GO-BETWEEN.

Me Julie

(For some reason, Optimum Releasing’s DVD is in the old “postage-stamp ratio”. Not what *I* call Optimum.)

After wallowing a bit in some of Losey’s lesser works, it felt good to plunge into one of his most celebrated. THE GO-BETWEEN, his 1971 Palme D’Or winner, scripted by Harold Pinter, starring young Dominic Guard as a boy charged with delivering elicit messages from Julie Christie to her lover Alan Bates, under the nose of her mother, Margaret Leighton, and fiancé, Edward Fox.

I’m told that L.P. Hartley’s novel is even finer than Losey’s film, and has nothing to do with flash-forwards. Losey and Pinter’s contemporary scenes, with Michael Redgrave (returning to the Losey camp after TIME WITHOUT PITY) playing the protagonist as an older man, have always been a bit controversial. I liked the way they mixed things up, fracturing the narrative and injecting an otherness into the film whenever there’s a risk of Merchant-Ivoryitis setting in, but maybe they don’t pay off strongly enough. Some object to the spectacle of Julie Christie slathered in old age makeup like David Bowie in THE HUNGER, with an older woman’s voice (sounds like Leighton again) dubbed in. I thought that was GREAT. I can’t explain why, exactly, but I suppose the bizarreness of it worked for me. Losey hated naturalism, which seems the default mode for British period cinema (if we define naturalism as style-less, life-less and flat, which seems to be what’s generally aimed for) and an odd sight like Julie C with latex all over her boat is as good a way as any of rupturing that “aesthetic”.

Old Boiler

(Alexander Korda initially optioned the novel, but later the author discovered that Korda “never intended to make a film of the book … I was so annoyed when I discovered this that I put a curse on him, and he died, almost the next morning.” I love that “almost”. There is much talk of magical cursing in the movie, also.)

Curse of the Demon

But the film is pretty cinematically exciting even without that. The development of the story is slow but assured, and has the authentic feel of endless childhood summers. Stuff is happening but our hero isn’t aware of its significance, and sometimes neither are we, so there’s a sense of drifting aimlessly like a Pooh-stick along the story’s banks, occasionally grazing a knee on a sharp surface. All his helped hugely by Gerry Fisher’s sun-drenched photography and a marvellous score by Michel Legrand. Pinter says the book made him cry numerous times, and the music made me feel like I was going to, constantly. But being a Scotsman, I kept it in.

There’s a very enjoyable weirdness to the talk in this film, which goes well beyond Pinter’s usual elliptical doubletalk. The younger actors are quite strange, and the manners and customs of these Norfolk gentry are alien to modern viewers (I’ve never seen a film set in the relatively recent past that’s so clipped and foreign in its characters’ manners). Michael Gough is great value, sly and enigmatic (how come he never got typecast in all those horror movies he did, unlike Cushing and Lee and, to some extent, Pleasence?) and Leighton is frighteningly good. You don’t initially understand why an actress is playing the role at all, she has so little to do, but the part builds, from the odd highly significant glance, to a central role in the climax of the story. How different it might have been if Deborah Kerr had agreed to do it. I think Leighton is probably more worrying that Debs would have been.

After the Fox

Thrillingly, we also get the extraterrestrial Edward Fox, who gives my favourite performance in this film (though his best work is in THE CAT AND THE CANARY, where he invents an entirely new species of acting). We’re never certain how much he knows or suspects about what’s going on, or quite how he feels about it. There are plenty of hints of some kind of knowledge, but also the possibility that they’re imagined by the boy.

Rather than being a stiff piece of heritage cinema, THE GO-BETWEEN is an authentic “art film”, wrenched out of the British cinema with the greatest of difficulty. American finance had deserted the UK at the end of the ’60s, and Losey was fighting all sorts of entrenched attitudes. There were objections to the non-chronological structure from his editor and producers, objections to the score (too loud, insufficiently “period”) and insistence on casting stars regardless of whether they were appropriate, all of which Losey was able to work around to get the results he wanted. If his behaviour was often abrasive, I find that understandable. I’m just glad he was able to do what he did.

THE GO-BETWEEN got made, after many delays, in part thanks to the support of Bryan Forbes, who was in charge of production at ABC, the biggest film distributor in Britain. Forbes’ tenure is often written off as a disaster, but he commissioned THE RAILWAY CHILDREN and this, so I’m inclined to hand him some credit. He was certainly more of a risk-taker than John Davis, and is a fine film-maker himself. Losey complained that British cinema was full of people who didn’t care about films, but Forbes certainly wasn’t one of them.

Red, grave

Only fair to acknowledge that 90% of my Losey facts and figures come from David Caute’s fine biography Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life.

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15 Responses to ““Nothing is ever a lady’s fault.””

  1. “Thwe past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” One of the all-time truly great lines.

    Richard Rodney Bennett wrote a score for the film that Losey didn’t like and threw out. Michel then write one of his most famous score very quickly at the last minute.

  2. Brandon Says:

    Oops, I thought “the past is a foreign country…” was written by Silkworm. Either that, or it was a quote from W.S. Maugham. Check out the second-to-last song here:
    http://silkworm.net/disco/devel.html

  3. Losey had quite a bit of trouble with music (he obviously cared deeply about it, but not being a musician himself had to take it on faith somewhat). He didn’t like Legrand’s score at first either, then wrote a fabulous telegram saying he now realised it was great, then wrote an abusive telegtam after seeing The Thomas Crown Affair and thinking that Legrand had ripped it off from The Go-Between. Legrand wrote back that TTCA came first, and anyway they’re pretty different!

    Nevertheless, it is high time I inaugurated the Losey songwriting contest!

  4. That’s lovely.
    I was very sad to hear of his death, at really quite an early age. Once Losey week is done, I should screen Barbarella or Diabolik in his memory.

  5. Love the John Philip Law photo! It’s as if “8 and 1/2” had a quick insert directed by Bruce Weber.

  6. I loved “The Go-Between”; one of my top ten favorites to be sure. Does anyone have any idea who played Julie C.’s grandson in the flash-forward closeup? He looked very much like Alan Bates. Thanks!

  7. I’m sure he was very carefully cast for that reason. But alas, no idea who he actually is. Cheers.

  8. aplantage Says:

    Always happy to see Edward Fox appreciated. But I find him so attractive as a man that it is difficult for me to judge his acting with any degree of objectivity (as far as that is possible at all). It’s certainly hardly ever boring, and he makes the most of his intriguing idiosyncrasies, rather than completely disappear into his characters, so I would agree with “extraterrestrial” in a manic mood. But “a new species of acting”, and in the CAT AND THE CANARY? I haven’t seen him on stage, but since this is a very theatrical film, and the play already over the top, I suspect he’s simply transferring his stage style almost undiluted here, and that is a great show. He captures the play’s tone of horror and comedy perfectly. He hypnotizes the other characters (actors? audience?) into a state of near paralysis and as usual steals the few scenes he gets. He relishes words as much as his character relishes cruelty (e.g. the way he drawls out “claws”). Or how would you describe it? :-)

  9. It’s been a while since I saw it, but I do agree with your interpretation of what he’s aiming for. But I find his achievement of it fascinating in other ways, just because the results are so strange — his first big scene has him doing these pauses, where his expression sort of freezes and then slowly fades, until he takes up a new thought and becomes animated again. It’s like facial vogueing. I found it simultaneously creepy and hilarious, which is just what the film needed.

  10. aplantage Says:

    Indeed: creepy, hilarious … and add sexy, which makes it even creepier! And one is never quite sure whether the character or the actor is joking (at least I’m not). Both Edward and his brother James certainly seem to have a taste for the bizarre in general. I admire their courage.

    Regarding that scene in the den in THE GO-BETWEEN: Many people seem to have doubts about how much the characters know. I think the men know about Christie’s affair, but they don’t realize that the boy does too. It puzzles me though that Fox doesn’t seem at all hurt or angry about it. I do believe I detected a hint of satisfaction when he proposes to send Bates off to the army. What do you think? (Sorry that I use the actor’s names. I have a bad memory for character names.)

  11. I would have to see the film again (it’s been some time)… now that I think there’s a version available in the correct aspect ratio, maybe I will…

  12. aplantage Says:

    Please let me know if you do. Perhaps I will read the novel in the meantime. That might help clarify it.

  13. aplantage Says:

    I read the novel, but it didn’t help answer my question, since it is narrated through the boy’s point of view, whose understanding is limited, of course.

  14. BTW: I believe the TV aspect ratio version of THE GO-BETWEEN was just unmatted, not cropped. I posted the scene in the den from THE GO-BETWEEN and also the one from THE CAT AND THE CANARY on YouTube, if you care to check it out. Also some other clips, eg from SHOOTING THE CHANDELIER, which I think is great. Perhaps you would care to write something on it.

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