Acting the Gentleman

When Joseph Losey and Dirk Bogarde were thrust together for juvie delinquency drama THE SLEEPING TIGER, both men agreed that they could do valuable work together, just not in THE SLEEPING TIGER.

By the time they got back together, Losey had done more flawed junk, but also THE CRIMINAL and EVE, so his career had begun its second stage — he was now partway a European art film maker, and THE SERVANT continues this journey.

It’s interesting that leftwing Losey never had anything to do with the British new wave’s working class social realism. From SLEEPING TIGER through FINGER OF GUILT and EVE, he identifies more with the jazz-listening middle class, of which he was one (his friend Richard Lester another). Bogarde’s character in THE SERVANT is an exception, but being a gentleman’s gentleman he’ middle-class-adjacent. The light northern accent he and Sarah Miles put on is lovely.

It probably surprised everyone that Bogarde could play working class, his roles until then (and largely afterwards, OUR MOTHER’S HOUSE being an exception) had tended to be pretty upper-middle, or even aristocratic. It’s still startling when he says his army nickname was “Basher,” and then smuttily amusing when he explains it: “I was very good at drilling.”

James Fox, eh? His credit reads “Introducing,” but as a boy he was in pictures including the main role in THE MAGNET, as “William Fox” (his real name, I think) and he’d had a major but strangely uncredited role in THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER. So this fantastically posh lad had more connection with the Free Cinema than his former commie director.

The cinematic excellence of Wendy Craig will remain unappreciated until Robert Fuest’s JUST LIKE A WOMAN gets its due, but until then we have this and THE NANNY. Her later success on TV in Butterflies and The Nanny (no relation, at all) has tended to erase her more essential early work. She has a shot in the Fuest where she nods towards a toilet which, we are to infer, is not in the best condition, and she does it like someone pointing out the corpse of a small child: tragedy rather than disgust. Very amusing.

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Sarah Miles was dismissed by Robert Bolt as “a west country slapper” or something, before he changed his mind and married her. She’s absolutely at her most alluring here (those gleaming eyes): she makes sense in a way that’s not really apparent in a lot of her work. Losey and Pinter really, really help, with the dripping tap/ringing phone seduction scene (nobody answers phones in a timely fashion in this film, the filmmakers shrewdly exploiting out Pavlovian unease at the insistent ring in a way not topped until Leone in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA) and the staging which makes the sex look like murder…

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3 Responses to “Acting the Gentleman”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Among the early British Loseys you overlook “Time Without Pity” — the film that made him a MacMahonist God. Neglectful Dad Michael Redgrave saves errant son Alec McCowan from execution by catching the real murderer , Leo McKern. Great existential edge-of-seat stuff.

    It should also be noted that James Fox appears n “The Minniver Story” — the sequel to Greer Greer’s Big One.

  2. Tony Williams Says:

    David C, Really! The future Sir Dirk not known for playing working-class types? What about hIs William in Esther Waters (1948), one of the title characters in MANIACS ON WHEELS smarmy Borstal Boy in BOYS IN BROWN (1948)and working-class thug who shoots George Dixon in THE BLUE LAMP (1950)? Even Richard Todd crossed class lines in FOR THEM THAT TRESSPASS (1948) and THE LONG AND THE SHORT AND THE TALL

  3. Fair enough! I yield the point.

    Time Without Pity is indeed excellent, and Redgrave excels at this kind of flawed character. Both he and Losey knew a thing or two about alcohol.

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