TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 January 2010
This smart box set of seven films comes with an eighteen-page booklet of extracts from John Coldstream's biography of this fine actor, including twelve plates. (I thought it so good, I went ahead and bought the book!) Anyway, what films does this box contain? Well, a fair old mixture from 1950's `Blue Lamp' to 1967's `Accident', so covering a fair period of his acting career. It's interesting that in these films Bogarde plays either a villain or a victim. What does this say about Bogarde the man?
Dirk was already twenty-nine when he made THE BLUE LAMP (Basil Dearden), a crime drama in postwar London, but his youthful good-looks consistently allowed him to play parts far younger than his actual years. Dirk appeared third on the cast list and played a criminal `delinquent' (to use the terminology of the voiceover) with a Cockney accent who sinks deeper into a life of crime, coming out with phrases like "You don't know nothin', understand?" His was not a complex role - a bad man who turns badder - but there is still scope for his skills to shine as becomes ever more desperate. Ah, life was so different then (apparently), with bobbies on beats night and day, when troubles could be sorted by a nice cup of tea, and children could play unsupervised in the streets and on bombsites. According to Coldstream, the film caused great shock when it was first released, featuring as it does the killing of a policeman. Guess who pulls the trigger? There are no extras on this disc.
The next disc is HUNTED (Charles Crichton) of 1952 also has no extras. Here Dirk got top billing, playing another baddie in another bombed area of London. The implication is that Bogarde's character has murdered the man whose body lies in the bombed-out basement, but Bogarde cannot bring himself to kill the boy who stumbles into his world. The boy's inconvenience - played by Jon Whiteley - soon gives way to him having his uses. They head north to Scotland, Bogarde seeking to evade capture by the police. When Bogarde tries to dump the boy, the lad follows him in this nice taut chase-thriller. Bogarde is good if a little melodramatic in expressing his anger and frustration, but of course it's Jon Whiteley who steals the show.
In THE SLEEPING TIGER (Victor Hanbury - but really Joseph Losey) of 1954, Bogarde is another criminal, this time a robber whose background interests a psychiatrist that he has attempted to rob. The psychiatrist takes him on as a houseguest in an attempt to reform his character. Bogarde is here a real nasty piece of work, assaulting the maid, causing criminal damage, seducing the wife. Circumstances produce a climax where Bogarde's character's relationship with his dead father is revealed as the underlying cause of his criminality. Bogarde becomes a reformed character, naturally, but the manner of the film is not as crass as it might have been in another's hands. This film sees his conversion as an actor in this collection from playing a baddie to becoming a victim. No extras on the disc.
THE SPANISH GARDENER (Philip Leacock) of 1956 is often derided now and was so at the time but I remember the film with some affection from when I first saw it as a child in the 1970s. Again, there are no extras, and again Bogarde gets top billing above an excellent Michael Hordern as the jealous cruel prig of a father, and Jon Whitely (again, but now four years older). But this time we are in Spain and this time we are in colour! Bogarde makes no real attempt to speak with a Spanish accent but physically he passes quite well. This time he is definitely the victim. The original book from which the film derives had a darker edge with homoerotic overtones between the father and the gardener, but these are missing from the film - alas! Just think how interesting Bogarde would have played that!
The 1961 film VICTIM (Basil Dearden) was the one that marked a real break in the forty-year-old Bogarde's career as he took on more difficult and less popular roles. It's another police drama but this time involving blackmail among London's homosexuals. The script is sometimes stilted in the hands of some of the actors, but Bogarde himself is excellent as the married barrister coming to terms with himself and with society's attitudes. It's amusing if also sad, to see Bogarde's character address a blackmailed actor with the words, "You're a star Callaway. People like you set a fashion. If the young people knew how you lived, might they think that an example to follow?" But, of course, it was illegal then. This time there is an extra: a revealing twenty-eight minute interview from 1961.
THE SERVANT (Joseph Losey) of 1963 won plaudits all over Europe and showed that Britain was capable of making continental-style films of a neo-realistic nature. It's London in the 1960s and Bogarde is the corrupting valet to James Fox. Bogarde's Lancashire accent is great in such lines as, "Mandarin red and fuchsia is a very chic combination this year, sir." The film, with a script by Harold Pinter, explores changes in class relationships. It starts with Fox asleep as Bogarde arrives for his interview, and it ends with Fox asleep with Bogarde triumphantly in control. All films are of their time, but this one is especially so. The disc comes with a twenty-minute analysis by Ian Christie, who alludes to the Faustian nature of the story.
The last film, and only the second in colour, is ACCIDENT (Joseph Losey) of 1967. Here Bogarde's character is both villain and victim in his portrayal of a university don whose unwillingness to grasp opportunities is a sign of his lack of confidence. What's he up to? What is he thinking? What's troubling him? But as he silently makes an omelette his eyes and face say it all. These days his words to the countess who struggles to free herself from the car wreckage - "You're standing on his face" - are not so chilling. It features a luscious young Michael York, and Harold Pinter's appearance as a TV executive is quite comical. The copy on this DVD is unfortunately a little poor, but not so bad as to make it unwatchable. It does come with a thirty-minute subtitled French documentary of 2005, featuring Pinter and the voice of Losey, but I'm not sure if the film's garlanded reputation is wholly deserved.
So a fine introductory set. Now you need to fill in the blanks and also extend the series to include his European work for the likes of Visconti et al.