Charles S. Tashiro | Agoura Hills, CA USA | 02/07/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"At their best, Joseph Losey's films are as sleek and sexy as the cool jazz he uses in many of them. "The Servant," one of his best known films, is most famous as the first of the director's collaborations with playwright Harold Pinter. Its success rescued Losey from years of blacklisting and his disastrous experiences on a film he personally valued more, "Eva." The film is also famous for Dirk Bogarde's performance as the butler-you-love-to-hate, Hugo Barrett. A successful matinee idol, Bogarde insisted on appearing in a series of commercially risky, but artistically daring productions, of which "The Servant" is one of the first. Like Kubrick's "Lolita," "The Servant" was made at a time when it was possible for filmmakers to flirt with previously forbidden topics (pedophilia in the first, sadomasochism in the second) as long as they suggested more than they showed. The indirection works to the advantage of both. "The Servant" is an insidious movie that works on your imagination far more effectively than an explicit exploration of the subject. The relationship between Hugo and his master Tony is never much more than a gradual, vaguely deepening dependency. That makes the action much more plausible and frightening. As Hugo slowly takes control of Tony's life, we watch in horrified fascination, desperate to stop it, but powerless to do so.Much like Alfred Hitchcock, Losey's films exploit fear as much as desire, although that's where the similarities end. Hitchcock makes you nervous, but you always know the cause of the trouble, and you're ultimately brought safely home. Losey's films rarely locate their source of fear, and you're seldom let off the hook. Hitchcock alternates bravura suspense sequences with sophisticated comedy. Most of Losey's films are notoriously humorless, slowly building tension, never quite letting go, so that by the end you're likely to feel worked over. But worked over by a master. Be warned: if you find yourself watching "The Servant" beyond the first quiet, slinky scene between Barrett and Tony, you are almost certainly trapped. Even if you reject what you see, you're unlikely to turn away. Once Losey's feline, sensuous style has its claws in you, you'll watch the film slither through to the bitter end, almost in spite of yourself."
Acting masterclass served on a silver tray
D. Hartley | Seattle, WA USA | 01/12/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are no axe murderers lurking in the closet, but Joseph Losey's decadent class-struggle allegory "The Servant" matches Polanski's "Repulsion" as a classic of psychological horror. Dirk Bogarde delivers a note perfect performance as the "manservant" hired by snobby playboy James Fox (in his screen debut) to help him settle into his new upscale London digs. It soon becomes apparent (to the viewer) that this butler has a little more on the agenda than just polishing silverware and dusting the mantle. Actors talk about giving the character "an inner life"-just watch Bogarde's facial expressions and see a craftsman at work! A young (and quite alluring) Sara Miles is memorable as Bogarde's "sister" who is hired as the maid. If you've seen "Wings Of The Dove" or "Days Of Heaven" you will likely figure things out early on, but you'll enjoy the ride all the same. The expressive chiaroscuro cinematography sets an increasingly claustrophobic mood as the story progresses (Watch for the clever use of convex mirrors to "trap" the images of the principal characters). By the way, if you are a fan of 1960's British folk music, you'll want to keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for a rare, unbilled (and all-too-brief) glimpse of legendary (and reclusive) guitarist Davey Graham, playing and singing (live-not dubbed!) in a scene where James Fox walks into a coffeehouse. The DVD is bare-bones, but picture and sound are excellent. A must-see."
All-time British classic
www.DavidLRattigan.com | United Kingdom | 10/19/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The social metaphors may be a little worn nowadays, but Joseph Losey's film has lost none of its drama and intensity.Dirk Bogarde stars as the butler who responds to rather foppish architect James Fox's advertisement to find a servant. Enter Sarah Miles, and a complicated love triangle ensues. Order eventually descends into chaos as servant-master roles become blurred in this riveting allegory of social disintegration.It is the sheer brilliance of the ensemble here that makes this film a true classic: Much of the credit must go to the skillful black-and-white photography of Douglas Slocombe, one of the most talented British cinematographers of all time. Stylistically, this is quintessential sixties British realism. Also noteworthy are John Dankworth's jazz-oriented score and Harold Pinter's screenplay. It cannot be denied, however, that the film stands or falls on the strength of the performances, and the cast here are on top form, especially Bogarde in perhaps his finest role."
Who knew codependence could be this hot?
Robert F. Gaydos | Nashua, NH United States | 01/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Supremely dark Losey film starring the incomparable Dirk Bogarde, who takes what you think is going to be a routine "blank-FROM-HELL" role and turns it completely on it's head, insinuating everything and doing nothing overt..... making what he actually does so much more deliciously evil. Some of the shots here are instanious classics and still amaze (the shot of James Fox and his fiance busting Bogarde and his sister, revealing only a continually clarifying silhouette of Bogarde standing naked on the stair landing, while Fox stares up, both appalled and enthralled; Fox's shivering silhouette as he hides from Bogarde behind a shower curtain in a deceptively innocent "game"). Pinter's script is admirably daring, though it does turn a bit too fast from melodrama to allegory for my taste --- it's still Pinter, and all the more brilliant for it regarding pace, timing, and -- of course -- dialogue. "
Stick with it
J from NY | New York | 11/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Losey's "The Servant" is a film you really have to stick with in order to get to the meat and potatoes. It's almost like two movies in one. It opens up innocently enough, with Dirk Bogarde (Hugo) coming to playboy Tony's (James Fox in a performance that oscillates between being mind numbingly annoying to heart rendingly pitiable) house, offering to be his servant. From there it will take the viewer awhile to understand just how sinister and depraved Bogarde's Hugo is--for a good part of the film he just seems to be a confused, buffoonish servant trying to do his job. From there things get really, really sick.
Co-dependency, class struggle, loneliness, alcoholism and finally madness dominate the house as Bogarde accomplishes a slick mastery of Tony's psyche and then his life. He gets the weak minded and wealthy playboy to cheat on his fiancee, and then takes advantage of the ruins his life is left in afterward. By the end of the film you know everything is screwed in a royal (no pun intended) way. Sickness and betrayal crawl from every frame of the last half an hour, and the transformation the film undergoes is unbelievably well done.
You really don't know who to sympathize with, since the only character with a single intent and purpose is Tony's fiancee who quickly flees when the situation essentially becomes an orgy of broken minds and hearts. This as good and creepily understated a film as Alfred Hitchcock ever made. A must see."