Tuesday, August 2, 2011

414. The Servant (1963)

Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: Joseph Losey
Written By: Harold Pinter, from novel by Robin Maugham
Main Cast: Dirk Bogarde, James Fox, Sarah Miles, Wendy Craig


Last night, in need of a movie to watch and still waiting on the "Jurassic Park" replacement disc, I decided to fire up the Blu-Ray player and check out "The Servant" via the streaming portion of Netflix. It's one that I've been eyeballing for some time now and I can say that I was neither disappointed, nor thrilled with it.

When the young and wealthy Tony (Fox) moves into a new house, he decides that he'll need to take on a man servant to keep up the day to day duties of maintaining a household. When our tale begins Hugo Barrett (Bogarde) is on his way to Tony's new residence, preparing himself for his initial interview. The interview goes well and Barrett gets the job and the two actually hit it off quite well. Barrett proves to be a capable and reliable man servant, going all out with the "Yes Sir's" and "No Sir's", keeping up with all of the cleaning and the cooking. The only problem that presents itself at first, is the fact that Tony's fiance doesn't care too much for Barrett. Susan (Craig) sees Barrett as a nosy, unneeded pest around the house, but Tony sticks up for him and insists that he stay on. When Tony shows interest in taking on a maid as well, Barrett brings his sister in from out of town, stating that she'd be a good candidate for the new maid position. Tony agrees and now both Barrett and his sister Vera (Miles) are working at Tony's residence. Vera proves right away that she's not as irreplaceable as Barrett, but is kept on for Barrett's sake. Soon, however, Tony and Vera begin a little fling, sneaking off in the middle of the night to make love and making sure that Barrett doesn't find out about it. But does Barrett already know? And are Barrett and Vera even really brother and sister?


The positives that came out of "The Servant" were more subtle than obvious. I was totally taken by the score. There are several absolutely hypnotizing scenes between Tony & Susan and especially Tony & Vera, that are accompanied by the sweet jazz melodies, slow dialogue that barely escapes the lips of the actors mouths and camera angles that totally entranced me and sucked me into the odd world of the picture. In fact, the camera angles were quite extraordinary, as the camera seemed to seek out and find what it wanted, rather than waiting for it to come. Very tight shots seem to be the agenda for the camera operator and it worked to really get across that sense of claustrophobia and invasion of space. Bogarde and Fox were also terrific actors and I'd like to say the same for Sarah Miles, but she more annoyed me than anything else.

But, what was the ultimate message in "The Servant". Or rather, what is ultimately happening in "The Servant". If you read synopsis, they'll tell you that this is a story about a servant and his master, who ultimately switch roles. But that fact really wasn't conveyed very well to me. Some fans and studiers of the film will tell you that there are definite homosexual undertones between the characters of Tony and Barrett, but I didn't pick up on that at all. I'm not denying that fact, simply saying that it didn't enter into my head until the film was over and I was scouring a message board dedicated to this movie. What actually happens in the end of this film? Well, I suppose I could interpret my own opinions.

Everything seems pretty copacetic up until Tony realizes that Barrett and Vera aren't brother and sister. Up to that point, we simply have a pretty engaging tale about a man and his servant and the fact that the man is having an affair with his maid, who just happens to be the servant's sister. Throw into that the fact that the man's fiance hates the servant and all of the great, natural qualities of the film (cinematography, music, acting) and you've got yourself a pretty intriguing little picture. However, the whole time that this is all playing out, there's a feeling of uneasiness and I had the feeling that something bigger was waiting in the horizon. So now then, you've got Tony who now knows that his lover and his servant are actually engaged and they're out on their ears. Tony retreats to his room and cries it out, because obviously he's just been handed some heavy news, plus he's all alone now.

Later on, Barrett and Tony meet up in a bar and Barrett apologizes and says that he'd really like to have his old job back. Tony agrees and Barrett comes back. But that's where things get strange. The very next scene that is shown, shows Barrett and Tony bickering, because Tony has apparently made a mess and now Barrett has to clean it up. Barrett never raised his voice to Tony before, but now that he's on thin ice with his boss he's raising his voice? I mean, the guy just forgave him and gave him his job back and now Barrett's showing some disobedience? Doesn't make sense to me. Plus it all just happened so fast. One minute Barrett is a perfect man servant, the kind you read about in Man Servant Monthly, then he's out, then he apologizes and now he's mouthy - just like that? Then we get a scene of the two eating dinner together (something else we never saw pre-argument) and they're being fairly quaint. Then a scene of the two playing ball on the staircase. It just seems like such a quick turnaround and everything is all of a sudden totally different. It definitely had me going through all sorts of "WTF" moments.

Is it possible that everything post-Tony collapsing on the bed in tears (after throwing out Vera and Barrett) is a dream? If Tony really did have sexual feeling for Barrett, then everything after he meets Barrett in the bar is kind of like what would happen in a perfect world. He meets him in a bar, Barrett buys him a drink, he rehires him, they sometimes bicker and sometimes have nice dinner conversation. They play ball together and now they're equals. Maybe that's what Tony wanted all along.

OR maybe it wasn't a dream. Maybe the desires of Tony and Barrett were so strong, that things just turned out the way they both wanted. Of course, they wanted these things for different reasons. If Tony really did have feelings for Barrett, then his fantasy would be for the two to become equals and share the home together. Barrett, as a servant, would probably wish he was Tony's equal too, because then he wouldn't have to clean house, cook dinner and he'd have a few dollars to throw around. They both wanted the same thing, but for different reasons - so, in turn, that caused the role reversal to happen. Hmmmmm....now I'm just rambling, so I'm gonna' call that a review.

RATING: 7/10 I can't in good conscience go higher than a '7' and by rights, I should've gone '6.5', but when I type that much ^ - then you know the film has really perplexed me and yet, intrigued me...so that's always a good sign.


August 2, 2011 4:19pm

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