From legendary director William Wyler, the man responsible for films ranging from The Heiress to Ben-Hur and countless other landmark titles comes this gripping thriller that I am almost ashamed to say I had never seen before. It’s rare that a film with really only 2 actors can work and keep one enthralled for 2 hours. Off the top, 1972’s Sleuth is the only other film that comes to mind. For this film we have 2 relative new comers who hold their own quite nicely.
Terence Stamp is terrifying at times yet gentle at others as the man child of the film responsible for the kidnapping or shall we say collecting of beautiful Samantha Eggar. His performance is riveting from outright cruelty to sexual immaturity when confronting his captive. It’s a very physical performance and shouldn’t be overlooked. If Norman Bates wasn’t an outright killer this is a look into what he may have done with a captive. Bates practiced taxidermy whereas Stamp’s character is an entomologist, a collector of butterflies. For his performance Stamp won the Cannes film festival’s award for Best Actor. The Best Actress award at Cannes went to his co-star Samantha Eggar who is pitch perfect as Stamp’s seemingly doomed captive matching him scene for scene. Stamp has gone on to a lengthy career ranging from General Zod in Superman to The Limey and is still active today. Eggar has gone on to do many films and television as well including The Brood and Dr. Doolittle.
The interplay between the two characters is well done thanks to Oscar Nominations for both screenplay and direction. I have to imagine that the film was ahead of it’s time considering what we have seen since when it comes to the subject material in films like Silence of the Lambs. Don’t let that deter you from checking out this 60’s thriller that actually plays like a first class Hammer film at times. When Eggar awakes in her new surroundings, it looks like a crypt with it’s arched ceiling right out of a Christopher Lee film. There are plenty of close calls as the film winds down to it’s inevitable close which plays out more like a film that has been made for today’s audiences as well.
As for trivia, the film’s first cut was apparently over 3 hours in length and I would love to see it although it probably doesn’t exist any longer and in the closing credits I noticed that billed as a dialogue coach was one of cinema’s great character actresses Kathleen Freeman. She of course appeared in countless films from Jerry Lewis comedies to playing the “penguin” in The Blues Brothers. This one is worth a look and is available on DVD.
Agreed, this is an amazing movie, such great acting. I rewatched it like a month ago and was impressed. Stamp is so creepy, perfect description of him as the man-child, such careful expert acting to combine clever, stunted, curious, awkward, and then be able to go from this to the other extreme of ‘Kneel before Zod” authority. So accurate to compare to both Psycho & Silence of the Lambs. and you remind me I should watch Billy Budd sometime.
Not sure how I have missed it all these years but picked up a copy about a year ago and it kind of got shuffled under one of the many piles on the shelf. Highly recommended for sure. Billy Budd has one of my favorite actors…..Robert Ryan. Samantha Eggar was really good and should not be overlooked either.