Thursday, July 16, 2009


Cul-de-sac, 1966
Dir: Roman Polanski
July 13, 2009

So I've really wanted to see this for a long time, being a big Polanski fan, and there is no DVD release in the US, I'm pretty sure. Anyway, I'm cruising along Hulu, just browsing the movies they have (some really bad, others phenomenal) and there it is. I almost thought it might be a movie of the same name by a different director. But I am happy to say that is the real deal, so props to Hulu for uploading a decent version of it.

Cul-de-sac, for intents and purposes, is a psychological thriller, but I'm sure that Polanski thought that it was a black comedy. It's full of his school boy humor and his penchant for the sexually perverse. Two gangsters botch a job and have to hide out on a tidal island off Northumberland, England (think Scotland, or Tyneside), cut off by the rising tide. One (Jack McGowran, who is a dead ringer for The Professor from Tintin) has been shot in the belly, so the other gangster, Richard, or "Dickie" (Lionel Stander), who only got it in the arm, goes to the dark castle on the island hilltop to phone for help, and take hostage the couple living there (Donald Pleasence and Françoise Dorléac). The couple must then deal with Dickie's gruff manner and then uninvited guests until they hope a time that the gangsters will leave, rescued by their mysterious boss Katelbach.

Pleasence is particularly brilliant as the effeminate George, who is constantly berated and emasculated by his young wife, and also has no wish to stand up to Dickie or even protect his wife from him. His eventual collapse and downfall, as he screams "I'll break your legs!" over and over again as he smashes everything in sight, even when there is no point anymore and no one is there to see his manly outburst, and Teresa's leaving the castle with a "real" man signify a lot about things that Polanski is particularly interested in. Dorléac, as the beautiful young French wife Teresa, does a great turn as an ice queen (to George) and prissy bitch, just as her little sister Catherine Deneuve did in Polanski's Repulsion (1965) the year before. As you can tell, Polanski was movin' through them pretty fast. She is brazenly cheating on George with a young neighbor, and flirts constantly with a handsome man that comes unexpectedly (The summary that I read actually labeled her as a nymphomaniac). The two eventually come to a strange understanding with Dickie, who immediately lets George know who's in charge with his gravelly voice and aggressive demeanor, until the guests come and they all have play a part to get them to leave.

While not his best film, it is very Polanski, and if you dig that, you will dig this. The themes of masculinity and femininity play a huge part of the film, as is being trapped in an enclosed place (a typical Polanski usage), making the setting of the "dark island castle on a tidal island" pretty friggin' awesome. It's also a great way to see the superbabe Dorléac in action, who was sadly killed in a car crash in 1967 at 25. One of the best things about the film is that the usual ending, in which George would finally find his courage and become a "man" by killing Dickie, is completely subverted by Polanski, as George's neurosis and shock cause him to lose all. Hilaroius, Roman.

1 comment:

Glacier said...

your description of this reminds me of "Straw Dogs." Have you seen that movie? Emasculated man, and violent outbursts aplenty.