By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Husband is a pagan.
Vineyard owner Philippe (David Niven) is called back to the castle of Bellenac when it is found that they are suffering from another dry season. Philippe’s wife Catherine (Deborah Kerr) and his two young children follow him there a few days later despite his insistence that they not come. Once there Catherine finds everyone’s behavior to be quite odd including a menacing brother and sister (David Hemmings, Sharon Tate) who make Catherine uneasy, but nothing prepares her for the real reason that her husband is there nor its shocking outcome.
Although several directors worked on this project including Michael Anderson the credit is ultimately given to J. Lee Thompson, who is probably best known for his frequent collaborations with Charles Bronson. Despite the different directors the film is very fluid and well produced. In fact it is the directing that makes this film high enjoyable. The lighting, editing, imagery and evocative camera work make this a near brilliant work from a visual level. Turning down the sound and appreciating it for its aesthetic style alone is more than enough and the on-location shooting done at the Chateau de Hautefort is excellent.
Tate is stunningly beautiful and the photography makes the most of it watching her sit out and get drenched by the rain is actually kind of sexy. She had bit parts in two films previous to this, but this is still credited as her official film debut. Although her voice was dubbed she still is effective with a character that straddles the line between being sensual and creepy. The part where the Niven character viciously whips her while she wriggles around on the floor and then in the end turns around and smiles like she enjoyed it was year’s ahead-of-its-time and definitely pushing-the-envelope for that period.
Kerr came in to replace Kim Novak who was injured during filming and unable to complete the picture. Normally she always gives a superior performance, but her she seemed miscast. The only facial expression she seems able to show here is that of shock and fright and the character and scenario seems to be too much of an extension to the one that she did in The Innocents just a few years earlier. Both she and Niven seemed too old to be parents of such young children. He was already in his mid-fifties and she in her mid-forties and the film would have been better served had a young attractive couple in their 20’s been cast in the part.
Niven has always done so well being cast in likable roles that having him play someone with a dark personality doesn’t quite work and he looks uncomfortable in the part. Both Donald Pleasance and David Hemmings are underused and not given enough lines or screen-time.
The story itself is rather one-dimensional. The final sequence features some great shots and editing of Kerr running through some underground tunnels of the castle, but the outcome is quite predictable. The script lacks that added perspective or twist to make it truly memorable and is the weakest element in this otherwise visually arresting production.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: July 8, 1966
Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video