Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. United Kingdom/USA, 1965. Collector Company, Columbia Pictures Corporation. Screenplay by John Kohn, Stanley Mann, based on the novel by John Fowles. Cinematography by Robert Krasker, Robert Surtees. Produced by Jud Kinberg, John Kohn. Music by Maurice Jarre. Production Design by John Stoll. Film Editing by David Hawkins, Robert Swink. Academy Awards 1965. Cannes Film Festival 1965. Golden Globe Awards 1965.
Terence Stamp was a poor clerk who won the lottery and now owns a beautiful mansion in the remote British countryside. His passion for pinning butterflies behind glass might seem a harmless hobby except it soon makes way for something far more sinister: he is in love with posh Samantha Eggar and, rather than woo her in any healthy way, he decides to kidnap her and keep her hostage in his basement. She wakes up in captivity and the horror of her situation leads to her coming up with all sorts of techniques both angry and sweet to get herself out, while he insists he will let her go if only she gives them a chance to get to know each other. This terrifying adaptation of the book by John Fowles shows director William Wyler in top form, skillfully helming a film that takes place in only a handful of rooms and using the small space to enhance tension without it ever feeling stagey or dull. Stamp is a bit too glamorous for the role, it’s very hard to believe someone that slick and beautiful as a loser, but he pulls off the character’s mad desperation without making a clownish stab at it, while Eggar is incredibly intense, her fear as palpable as her astonishment at the situation she finds herself in. It’s a surprisingly modern film that has aged extremely well, even if the understanding of class division that the story is so obsessed with isn’t something an American filmmaker can display with the kind of nuance that a British director could (or at least an American turned Brit like Joseph Losey did when he made The Servant); Stamp showing his proletariat origins by trying to discuss Picasso feels a tad bit hackneyed, but Eggar’s eyes as she struggles between setting him right and pacifying him to get herself out of trouble is pretty fascinating. She is as trapped in her class superiority as he is in his lowly status, and watching the power play work itself out is fascinating right down to the darkly humorous solution in the film’s ending.