COP-OUT is a ridiculous title… the film’s other name, STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, is generic but acceptable. This is the sole film directed by Bulgarian producer-writer Pierre Rouve (BLOW-UP), and he hasn’t quite got the hang of the job — some of the results are fun, though.
The cast is a trivia quiz entry in the making — what film stars James Mason, Geraldine Chaplin, Ian Ogilvy and Bobby Darin? And based on a novel by Georges Simenon? Mason plays an alcoholic lawyer enticed, like Paul Newman in THE VERDICT, to take on one last case. This one involves his daughter’s boyfriend as murder suspect.
James Mason gives one of his greatest line readings —
The father-daughter relationship is the heart of the film, and Mason holds up his end just as you’d expect. His character is incapable of expressing affection, which has resulted in his wife leaving him and his daughter despising him. Mason relishes the character’s acerbic speeches and air of loathing, both self-directed and more extrovert. Unfortunately, Chaplin is flat and clichéd, the worst I’ve ever seen her. It does seem like the director is pushing his cast to telegraph their characters’ emotions as blatantly as possible. Mason and some of the others (Yootha Joyce!) can triumph over this, but the younger players struggle.
Chief among these is Ogilvy, actually pretty interesting as a character written as impotent but obviously played as gay. The Oge, as I call him, often tends to struggle for either sympathy or interest, even in his most celebrated film, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but here he has a genuine ROLE for once, where he doesn’t have to worry about being liked and he’s actually got something to play. He’s great! Somebody you actually look forward to seeing in his next bit.
Bobby Darin, on the other hand, is rather fascinatingly awful. I always had a theory crooners could automatically act (Sinatra, Dino, something to do with a mastery of words which rock stars lack), but this guy doesn’t seem to have a natural aptitude. An unnatural inaptitude might be more like it, and again, the blame may really lie with the director. “If you start by asking for effects, effects is all you’ll get,” the great Dudley Sutton told me on my first film. Darin plays his character, a criminal sailor, as a rather loose impersonation of Frank Gorshin’s impersonation of Burt Lancaster. The result is that he seems to be pretending to be an American, rather than actually being one, which should have been easy enough…
Rouve livens things up with modish costumes and visuals, including white-painted flashbacks which are visually rather delightful but all wrong for Simenon’s glum tale. The theme, of a distant father reconnecting with his estranged child, has horrible resonance with the great tragedy of Simenon’s life, which culminated in a phone call —
“Tell me that you love me.”
“I love you, my daughter.”
“No. Tell me you love me.”
Pause. Muffled gunshot.
With that background, the story should be emotionally raw and riveting, but it only glances against the kind of drama it should have embraced. Still, the various elements, effective or otherwise, are all interesting at least.