marks the start of one of the most potent creative partnerships in 1960s British cinema, between ex-pat American director Joseph Losey and playwright-turned-screenwriter Harold Pinter--a teaming that also gave birth to Accident
(1967) and The Go-Between
(1970). It was a key film for Dirk Bogarde, too, the first of four he made with Losey that let him make the transition from lightweight matinee idol ("I was the Loretta Young of my day") to seriously regarded actor.
The Servant--amazingly, Pinter's first screenplay--quivers with sexual and social tension and unspoken menace. Tony (ex-child actor James Fox in his first adult role), an affable but none too bright young man living in Chelsea, advertises for a manservant to keep his household in order. What he gets is Barrett (Bogarde), buttoned-up and porkpie-hatted, whose deferential courtesy barely conceals his lacerating contempt for Tony and everything he stands for. Steadily he proceeds to take over, ousting Tony's posh fiancée and installing his sluttish "sister" (Sarah Miles) to complete the hapless young man's downfall. Douglas Slocombe's insidious camera, sidling and lurking to catch unexpected angles as the mood darkens, subtly maps the shifts of the power relationship. Here, as in their two later films together, Losey's outsider viewpoint catches the nuances and cruelties of the English class system in a cool, beady-eyed stare, while Pinter's flair for the unstated meanings between and behind what's said sharpens the pitch-black comedy as it slides towards nightmare.
On the DVD: the only extra feature is the theatrical trailer, stylishly understated. The print's flagged as "widescreen", which is a bit overstated for 1.66:1 (the original ratio). No sign of remastering on either sound or vision, but it's a good clean transfer. --Philip Kemp
United Kingdom released, Blu-Ray/Region B DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Digital 2.0 ), English ( Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio ), English ( Mono ), German ( Dolby Digital 2.0 ), German ( Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio ), German ( Mono ), English ( Subtitles ), French ( Subtitles ), German ( Subtitles ), WIDESCREEN (1.66:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Black & White, Booklet, Cast/Crew Interview(s), Interactive Menu, Photo Gallery, Scene Access, Trailer(s), SYNOPSIS: Wealthy wastrel James Fox hires insouciant cockney Dirk Bogarde as a valet. No sooner has he donned his working clothes than Bogarde begins exercising a subtle but insidious control over his master. Suggesting that the house could use a little fixing up, Bogarde nearly bankrupts Fox with expensive new furnishings. But this is just a warm-up session for Bogarde, who by mid-film is calling all the shots in the Fox household, all the while pretending to keep his place. Fox's fiance Wendy Craig sees through Bogarde's game. To keep Craig at arm's length, Bogarde brings his own lady friend Sarah Miles into the house. At Bogarde's insistence, Miles seduces Fox, thereby loosening Craig's hold on the confused young man. And so it goes. The homosexual subtext of The Servant disturbed some of the more hidebound critics of 1963; Harold Pinter based his cryptic screenplay on a novel by Robin Maugham. SCREENED/AWARDED AT: BAFTA Awards, Venice Film Festival, ...The Servant (1963) (Blu-Ray)