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Cul-De-Sac (1966)

cul de sac 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bubbling beneath the surface.

Albie and Richard (Jack MacGowran, Lionel Stander) are two gangsters on the run. Albie is injured with a gunshot wound and their getaway car has broken down. They come upon an isolated castle owned by George (Donald Pleasance) who lives there with his new wife Teresa (Francoise Dorleac, who tragically died in a car accident just one year after this film was released). George is very passive and timid and pretty much allows Richard to have his way as he takes over the place and his wife and yet as the situation progresses different shades of the character’s personalities begin to come to light.

Roman Polanski leaves his strong directorial touch from the exquisite opening shot, which shows an old car being pushed along on a desolate road amidst a very flat landscape until the end. In the hands of any other director this otherwise odd story probably would not have worked. Like with A Knife in Water Polanski makes great use of the quiet and serene atmosphere and as a viewer you feel like you are right there with the characters.  Filmed on-location at the Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island in Northumberland, England the movie makes great use of the tranquil setting. I found it almost hard to believe that there was a film crew there as the isolation really grabs you and sucks you in. The quiet moments are the film’s strongest and I just loved the hooting owl heard in the background. The idea of filming it in black and white nicely compliments the film’s dark psychological undertones.

The film’s novelty is watching how the characters evolve and interact with one another. Donald Pleasance gives one of his best performances as the cowardly George. There have been many weak and frighten characters in cinema history, but Pleasance makes the character here quite interesting and the way he finally shows some bravado at the least likely moment is fascinating. Stander also excels with a character that initially comes off as a brute, but at strange times reveals a trusting and even child-like manner.

The movie can be viewed in different ways and doesn’t fit distinctly into any type of genre. To a degree it can work as a dark psychological character study, a mystery, film noir, a thriller, or macabre comedy. Approaching it as a comedy works best Polanski has not always had great success in that area and some of his comedies in particular the ill-advised Pirates have been complete disasters, but this one works. The best scene is when some of George’s old friends come to visit and bring along their bratty son who becomes an absolute terror to everyone.

The odd ending is open to interpretation and leaves a lasting impression. This is also a great chance to see Jacqueline Bisset in her film debut. She appears during the second half wearing glasses and saying little, but is as beautiful and alluring as ever.

cul de sac 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 7, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Roman Polanski

Studio: Tekli British Productions

Available: DVD (The Criterion Collection) Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming