Wha

Picked up Faber & Faber’s published screenplay for The Heat of the Day, written by Harold Pinter, based on Elizabeth Bowen’s novel, filmed by Granada Television in the UK. The script is excellent — love Pinter — but my favourite line was on page 20. The character Harrison is being cryptic and menacing. He will be played by Michael Gambon, she by Patricia Hodge. The teleplay airs in 1990.

HARRISON

[…] if you and I could arrange things between us, things . . . might be arranged.

STELLA

Oh, for Christ’s sake, get to the point! What the hell are you talking about.

Silence.

Well said, Stella! What absolutely everybody would want to say if they could climb into a Pinter scene. Also note the very deliberate omission of the question mark, which makes the line dismissive rather than inquisitive.

The line isn’t in the novel — I own a copy, having bought it because I love Darkness Falls from the Air by Nigel Balchin and I read an article that lumped the two together. But I haven’t actually read it, I keep meaning to. But I checked the early chapters and found the Harrison-Stella scene. All the dialogue is different, but it all sounds amazingly Pinteresque. Comedy of menace. But since Pinter had to condense, he’s thrown out all the specific words and just kept the tone.

Here’s a bit of Bowen:

Harrison uttered a deprecating laugh. He then said: ‘Ever mentioned my name?’

‘You mean, has he mentioned your name to me?’

‘No; have you mentioned my name to him?’

‘I’ve no idea; I may have; really I don’t remember.’ She paused and ground out her cigarette. ‘Look here,’ she said, ‘you asked yourself here this evening — it would not be too much to say that you forced your way in — because, you said, it was urgent that you should tell me something. Just exactly what have you come to say?’

‘As a matter of fact, that is what I’ve been getting round to. Now we’ve got there, I hardly know how to put it.’

She, on her side, could not have sat looking blanker. It was a trick of Harrison’s to drop rather than raise his voice for emphasis: he thus now said ultra-softly: ‘You should be a bit more careful whom you know.’

‘In general?’ Stella returned, in a tone which by contrast was high and cool.

He had, as though under instruction, kept his eyes on the photograph. ‘Actually, I did rather mean in particular.’

And on like that for pages, marvelous pages. Insinuation and deflection. Pure Pinter, avant la lettre, and at greater length than a TV play could allow.

So I suppose I have to read the novel, and I ought to watch the TV play. But now that I’ve read this I’m more inclined to watch BETRAYAL and TURTLE DIARIES, also scripted by Pinter, and read his script for The Proust Film, which I also bought — Joseph Losey’s unmade, untitled Proust project. Instead of which I’m reading Connie Willis’ Blackout and All Clear, also set in WWII, and just watched EICHMANN, with Thomas Kretschmann, written by Snoo Wilson of all people and directed by Robert VAMPIRE CIRCUS Young. But I don’t have anything to say about it.

11 Responses to “Wha”

  1. When you have a chance watch SLEUTH–Pinter’s farewell effort. It is one last go-round on the Pinter carousel, and Branagh turns out to be an excellent interpreter of Pinter’s work. He doesn’t re-direct the screenplay as many directors do, but follows the direction intrinsic to the script. I wish someone would publish the screenplay.

  2. Amazing that’s not been published. But it’s online: https://secureservercdn.net/198.71.233.96/p2z.144.myftpupload.com/pdf/Sleuth.pdf

    I like the original too much, flawed as it is. I didn’t think they improved on it.

  3. Thank you so much for the link.

    A Mankiewicz movie that is flawed? Surely you jest, sirrah.

    SLEUTH (1972) is perfect for its time–the homoerotic tension/attraction just three years after Stonewall, and JLM ratcheting up the class conflict (as he did in SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER). If Milo had settled for a tie score, he would be alive still. His (class) aspirations to beat Andrew (at his own game) do him in.

    SLEUTH (2007) is pure Pinter. You are right that it does not improve on the ’72 version. I do no think that it has anything to do with the earlier version. It seems Pinter read the original Shaffer play once, and then wrote his screenplay. The menace, the games, the deep male attraction and disdain for women–that’s all Pinter. In fact, I see it as more transparent/direct than Pinter had been about these subjects–especially male-male attraction.

    For me, Pinter was always better writing about/creating men than women. “No Man’s Land” is my favorite play of his, and SLEUTH feels like a latter-day extension of that work. I wonder if he knew SLEUTH would be his last hurrah. He had not written a play or screenplay in seven years, had just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and would be dead fourteen months after the film’s release.

    SLEUTH is the old cricketeer’s last at bat, and he made it a memorable one.

  4. Reading about Sleuth in Pictures Will Talk gave me an insight into why it seems a little rough around the edges: Larry was having trouble with his lines, since he had taken on a bit too much with the National Theatre AND a starring role in a dialogue-heavy two-hande. It’s still a smart romp.

    I have a friend on the second film’s makeup team – sadly, nobody had heard that the makeup man on the original turned Caine into a replica of himself. It was would have been hilarious, to me, anyway, if Jude Law had undergone a similar transformation into my chum’s likeness.

  5. And as the bio also reports, the cameraman disagreed with JLM’s visual strategy. The issue with Olivier and his lines means (I think) a little more cutting than might have been otherwise.

    Fun facts: SLEUTH has the same running time as ALL ABOUT EVE–138 minutes.

    The film has been restored by the Academy, but does not seem available for screenings. I wonder if it is a rights issue.

    After I hit “post,” another thought came to me: Pinter said he wrote mostly from his unconscious, and I wonder how much of his Andrew Wyke is Pinter’s oblique sketch of himself–for good and bad. The poster of Wyke with the tagline “Master of Menace” seems a nod in that direction.

  6. Has to be.

    I love the story, from a journalist who spent a day with Pinter and a day with Alan Bennett, and said that every encounter Bennett had in his day felt like it had been written by him, and Pinter’s likewise.

  7. “every encounter Bennett had in his day felt like it had been written by him, and Pinter’s likewise.”
    Would there have been a Sleuth-like battle of wills if they’d met?

  8. It’s a lovely thought. Pinter finds himself being taken over by the Bennettverse, strangling himself to keep from going on about chips in the sugar…

  9. This discussion inspired me to watch the Branagh/Pinter SLEUTH again (Pinter is the co-auteur of the film).

    As much as we call Pinter the master of menace, he is also the poet of pugilism–male pugilism especially. To an even greater and more transparent extent than I remembered, SLEUTH (2007) is a battle between two men over one woman–a long-acknowledged narrative vehicle for exploring homoeroticism and homodesire.

    Branagh’s stylized mise en scene feels perfect–never overwhelming Pinter’s words or the performances, but also not receding too much, and becoming mere attractive ornamentation. One lovely touch (not in the screenplay): when Milo says he will have Scotch, Andrew retrieves a drink that has already been poured–as if this were a play/game that has been performed many times before, and possibly will be again many times in the future. Milo vs. Andrew is a continuous battle. Branagh also eliminated a scene Pinter placed between the two acts of the script, where Maggie kisses the head of Milo who is lying in a bed in corpse-like fashion. Branagh goes from the end of Act I to shots of a car travelling rural roads and approaching Andrew’s home.

    Pinter plays down the class issue that Mankiewicz emphasized (as he did when he filmed Tennessee’s SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER), focusing on the battle, and how male pugilism is often engaged in/manifested as a smokescreen for homodesire. Nothing new here for Pinter, except in its increased nakedness. JLM’s urbanity is supplanted by Pinter’s bare-knuckled brawling. The stakes feel higher in SLEUTH (2007) than in SLEUTH (1972). I am glad to have both.

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