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on August 17, 2011
Judge Clark Douglas, DVD Verdict-- There are some creepy moments (especially early on, as we don't quite have a handle on who the characters are or what they're attempting to accomplish--Polanski fills in the blanks in a deliberate, methodical manner), but after a while it becomes clear that Cul-de-sac works best when Polanski is being playful.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that it's easier to switch from chills to laughs than vice versa. There are some squirm-inducing yet entertaining moments during the first hour of the film, as the flustered husband and his sneering wife engage in a series of amusing interactions with the American. It's tempting to feel that Polanski is making a larger cultural point, as he seems to have infused each of these three characters with the worst stereotypical traits of the countries they represent: the rude, boorish, violent American; the stammering, spineless, indecisive Englishman and the devious, cruel, self-serving Frenchwoman. The actors push and pull off each other in some intriguing ways (with Pleasance doing particularly good work as a man ever-so-slowly reaching his boiling point).

However, the film shifts from engaging to brilliant with the arrival of several unexpected guests. Over the course of twenty-five minutes or so, we're treated to an increasingly hilarious comic set piece in which the players are spun around in a variety of interesting ways until Pleasance finally explodes in cathartic rage. Polanski builds up to this moment in giddy fashion, transforming the gruff gangster into a faux butler, introducing a particularly overbearing gentleman with a tendency for sticking his nose into everyone's business, delivering an immensely enjoyable skewering of pretentious dinner guests and allowing the world's snottiest little kid to run rampant through the mansion wreaking all manner of havoc. It's a fantastic stretch of direction which blends subtle satire with enthusiastically broad physical comedy, and it allows Polanski to use his strengths in wonderfully atypical fashion.

Unfortunately, the film's ambitious conclusion isn't able to stick the landing. After the aforementioned portion of comic delight, Cul-de-sac plunges into dark territory in supposedly horrific fashion. The ending works nicely on a symbolic level (and some of the comedic commentary continues in this section), but it's too forced and overwrought to really send a chill up the spine. The film seeks to blend the intensely personal terrors of Repulsion with the pleasures of a great farce, but it really only succeeds in the latter department. Still, that's enough to make it well worth your time.

Cul-de-sac arrives on Blu-ray sporting a decent 1080p/1.66:1 transfer. While the level of detail is solid enough, this is a good deal shabbier than many of the black-and-white releases Criterion has delivered thus far (Repulsion included). The exceptional cinematography is hampered slightly by the general flatness of the image, and there's some print damage which can be a little distracting at times. Audio is similarly acceptable yet underwhelming, as some lines of dialogue sound very muffled and the music is occasionally a bit shrill and pinched. While I'm sure Criterion has done what they can with what they had to work with, this isn't a movie to use as a showcase for your fancy home theatre equipment. Supplements include an excellent making-of featurette called "Two Gangster and an Island" (23 minutes) featuring interviews with Polanski and other crew members, an archival interview with Polanski (27 minutes), a couple of trailers and a booklet featuring an essay by David Thompson.
-Full review at
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on October 28, 2012
Do we all have a breaking point? Cul-de-sac is a film from the early Roman Polanski cannon. It is a unique film and Polanski all the way.
It came out in 1966 and features a prime time Donald Pleasence. If you are a Pleasence fan, this is most certainty for you. Pleasence is one of the all time greatest movie madmen. In the story George (Donald Pleasence) and his wife Teresa (Françoise Dorléac) live on a remote island farm. It could potentially be the most peaceful place in the world if it wasn't for the constant bickering between the newly wed residents. Their house is stormed by a team of wounded criminals passing through post botched heist. One is seriously wounded and the other is seriously demanding. One of the criminals is a brutish American criminal named Richard (Lionel Stander). Richard takes the couple hostage and they clash in questionable, threatening, and often time humorous ways. The wife is so board she barely even cares. The husband is already on the edge of sanity and this situation does nothing to help his dire situation. The comedy in this film is blackened to a crisp in the charming 60s style.
Pleasence is submissive and humiliated throughout the film. He is trying to find the courage to fight back. His performance is striking, fearless, and human. One of the main features of Cul-de-sac is the beautiful locale. Overall, the film is really pretty simple and very effective. It is a human situation that spirals into madness. This is a deeper Polanski cut. This film may remind you that we are all not far from craziness. Polanski, Plesence, and the rest of the cast in Cul-de-sac were not afraid to remind us of this uncomfortable fact.
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on August 27, 2011
1966's Roman Polanski film, "Cul de sac" just got recognized by Criterion and the result is as well as expected. Donald Pleasence, Lionel Stander and Francoise Dorleac star in a film of unstable people. The film was made at just the right time in Polanski's career when it had been on the shelf and after "Repulsion" (1965) Polanski was able to pull it together. Written by Polanski and long-time collaborator Gerard Brach who worked with Dario Argento on his "Phantom of the Opera", one can not help but admire the creative talent at work, much better than "Repulsion"'s limited means, more perplexing than entertaining, but quite a good film nonetheless. Criterion did a good job as usual. I hope no one forgets the creativity that went into early Polanski films as they admire his later work. Though Polanski's world is a dark world and "Cul de sac" is no exception.
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on September 24, 2014
Released in 1966 right after Repulsion, Cul-de-sac is Roman Polanski's third feature film and one of his favorites according to his autobiography. In a world that acclaims Repulsion as being not only his masterpiece but also one of the greatest films ever made, it is revealing to read the great director dismissing his `greatest achievement' as a mere cash cow needed to fund the real labor of love that followed it. Cul-de-sac did win the Silver Bear at the 1966 Berlin film festival, but it's hardly accepted as a major work even today although it is good to see some positive posts here on Amazon. It flopped disastrously in the States and even in Europe it fell into the shadow cast by its predecessor. It's a shame really because I think in its own unique way it is rather wonderful. In fact all early Polanski is essential viewing, and Anchor Bay's 4 DVD set of Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Cul-de-sac and a selection of his bizarre short films from the late `50s would be self-recommending if it wasn't so expensive.

Cul-de-sac is undeniably an odd affair. Co-written by Polanski with Gérard Brach, it's a mixture of gangster flick and jet black comedy related in a style reminiscent of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter which makes for a film which is difficult to pigeon-hole. Think The Petrified Forest (1936, Archie Mayo), Key Largo (1948, John Huston) and The Desperate Hours (1955, William Wyler) crossed with Waiting for Godot and The Birthday Party, and you might get close to describing Polanski's exploration of themes that became obsessive for him across all his films - especially sexual repression, gender games, psychological retardation and the tendency of human beings to assert themselves by destroying those around them. Apparently all was not well between members of the cast who were at each other's throats by the end of the shoot. Perhaps this was a situation deliberately cultivated by Polanski as the film is about how a collection of ill-assorted misfits collide with each other in a most unlikely location designed purposely to bring out the worst in them. They scratch and trap, pushing themselves ever deeper into a dead end, a cul-de-sac from which there is no exit.

The location is Lindisfarne Island (otherwise known as Holy Island) off the coast of Northumbria. On it is a castle named Rob Roy and in the castle lives an eccentric Englishman named George (Donald Pleasence), an effeminate and neurotic millionaire with self-esteem issues who has cashed in his factory for splendid isolation. Living with the Englishman in his castle is his beautiful young French tart of a wife Teresa (Françoise Dorléac). The couple is as ill-matched as is possible to imagine. She specializes in goading him with taunts about his manliness and lack of prowess in the sack while torturing him psychologically by throwing herself at every other male that comes near in the knowledge that George is emotionally dependent on her. Into this hornets' nest of marital woe come two shot-up gangsters Richard (Lionel Stander) and Albie (Jack MacGowran) on the lam after a misfired caper. The first image of the film sees them loom out of the distance, Richard pushing their crippled car towards the camera along the causeway that connects Lindisfarne with the mainland at low tide. Albie is dying in the car's driving seat while Richard pushes from the rear. The situation is clearly absurd. What kind of caper could these city gangsters possibly have been pulling out here on the wild coastline a million miles away from anywhere? Richard spies a telephone line and leaves Albie at the mercy of the rising tide to call his boss whose name is Katelbach. The phone turns out to be in Rob Roy and soon the gangsters have George and Teresa under their thumb while they await their boss. Just as in Waiting for Godot we are given no clues about the background of these characters, no precise information about the man they are waiting for and (as with Beckett) the wait proves to be equally enigmatic. Much of the fun is had with the psychological mind-games played between the characters. George is the butt of most of the black humor as he is dressed in a nightie, covered in make up and abused by Teresa for not being man enough to defend her. He is alternately embarrassed, abused, humiliated, submitted to drink alcohol on his stomach ulcer and even almost buried alive. Lionel Stander is no Humphrey Bogart and though he quickly takes the upper hand in controlling the situation we sense it was his stupidity that stymied them in the first place.

More mind games take place when George is forced into throwing an impromptu house party for unwanted quests ironically named `Fairweather'. They wreak havoc on George's isolation and enable Teresa to turn the tables on Richard forcing him to be a servant for the occasion. This induces some memorable lines from Stander mimicking Jeeves the butler with a horrendous English accent. I won't spoil the film by going into every detail, but the tone Polanski adopts is fascinating being at the same time hilarious and frightening. As with Pinter we are forced into the discomfort of laughing at something that really shouldn't be funny at all. Looking at these weird characters acting out a farrago in the middle of nowhere we can't help but see aspects of ourselves in them. Like all of cinema's best psychologists Polanski knows the paradox of the human condition where we are all defined by the people that surround us. We need to both befriend and attack others to remain vital as people. There is something acidic and deeply twisted about Polanski's view of human nature which reminds me of Hitchcock. Perhaps Cul-de-sac is the kind of film Hitch would have loved to have made if he wasn't so committed to keeping his commercial reputation intact. Just think what The Trouble with Harry (1954) for example could have been if Hitch had really let his dead pan imagination go...

On the acting front the film really belongs to Donald Pleasence who here gives a ridiculously enjoyable performance. He annoyed Polanski no end by shaving his head completely bald the day before the shooting began. Then throughout he tried to hog every scene and milk everything to his advantage which got up everyone's noses. Then there's Lionel Stander playing the American gangster like a fish out of water, his macho gravelly voice contrasting marvelously with Pleasence's effeminate whining. Jack MacGowran does a lot with little material, bringing along as he does his reputation for playing Pinter in the theater (Polanski gave him a much bigger role in his next film, Dance of the Vampires [1967]). Françoise Dorléac was Catherine Deneuve's sister who died tragically in a car crash not long after the film wrapped. Her role is one-dimensional as the object of all male sexual desire, but is important as she is the variable in the experiment which affects the way all the males act around her. There's also Jacqueline Bisset in a minor role. As with Repulsion, Gilbert Taylor provides superb b/w imagery which makes the most of silhouettes and the wild Lindisfarne location which exists as it looks in this film to this day. The whole film looks marvelous from start to finish and the very last image of George perched ridiculously on a rock like a diseased pelican surrounded by the sea has become iconic. It's a film of great pungency in the script highlighted by a series of extraordinary images - unmissable in my view.

The film is available in many presentations and surely the afore-mentioned Anchor Bay box set is a tempting (if expensive) proposition. This is a review of the Japanese region 2 NTSC disc which I bought very cheaply. There are no extras, but the b/w resolution is excellent, the picture widescreen and the sound very good for the period. The Criterion region 1 NTSC disc is supposed to be excellent as well, but again I note the expense. Still, whichever version you opt for, you surely won't regret adding this to your collection if absurdist humor is to your taste.
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on March 22, 2015
I had never heard of this movie until I saw it at amazon, and it starred Donald Pleasence and Lionel Stander. What a magnificent story, part drama part comedy, uncomfortable sometimes, but I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this movie. Pleasence is not the strong figure I was used to seeing. Here he is a cuckhold with a young wife who holds him in contempt, and into this mix stumble a dim witted gangster. Tension, drama and hilarity ensues, along with a great castle and bleak coast, and the making of is as entertaining as the movie, revealing a lot about the movie making process and hilarious stories about Lionel Stander.
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on July 8, 2008
The unavailability of this flick in DVD is proof of just how under rated this early Polanski masterpiece remains.
Cul de Sac is the second major feature of the Polish director produced and filmed away from his motherland, a condition that would so decisively mark the character of all his films. The human condition with all it's drama and comedy is portrayed with constant scrutiny into deeper and deeper layers of the human psyche. Obsession, Perversion, brutality or silliness begin to be addressed here and would later become recurring themes all the way into his blockbuster features. In removing the rug under our feet Polanski is a Master and by setting up the simplest yet most delirious situations Cul de Sac would be in my opinion the peak of his creative force. It deals with the awkward intrusion of two gangsters into the life of a couple with marital issues which results in something like Bergman meets Film Noir. One of cinema's true Jewels still awaiting for a proper reception from both audiences and critics. Incredible that no US version exists! Just imports like this Mexican version.
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on May 25, 2011
This Roman Polanski film, made right after Repulsion, was a shelf-project of the director and writer Gérard Brach. After the success of Repulsion they could resurrect this comedy the producers had rejected. Watch the film may strike the usual Polanski viewer (like myself) for the lack of sinister mood and plot so common in the works of the director. The film basically depict three completely different people stuck together in a old isolated castle, somewhere I read the film is a upside-down story of a knight saved from the princess by the dragon. A good definition of the film.
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on February 28, 2012
Cul-De-Sac is a total original offbeat something or other that defies description but remains delightful, charming, gritty, and unpredictable. Roman Polanski must have pulled off a once in a lifetime beatnik, castle on rock mad cap comedy, oft time thriller meets crime, amongst social niceties with the upward noble British sans 1966. its a completely nuts film but aims askew and hits the mark. Criterion has now released Polanski's first three films and each is unique and diverse that their unusual and uniqueness is their common thread. this is way beyond art house with a witty cast, script, and location of a lifetime. do not miss this one if your
river of cinematic auteurs runs deep, south of normal, black and white, with accents that sound a bit fowl.
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on January 23, 2016
Roman Polanski's "Cul-de-Sac" (1966) is one of the most superbly realized blendings of black comedy and psychological thriller in film history - and a masterly example of 1960s cinema of existentialist absurdism (clearly influenced by the playwrights Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter). And just for good measure, there's a bit of hilarious British-themed social satire added to the mix. Gilbert Taylor's black-and-white cinematography is stunning and fluid, and the acting by the once-in-a-lifetime cast -- principally the brilliant Donald Pleasance, the legendary Lionel Stander, the alluring Françoise Dorléac (in one of her last films before her sudden, tragic death at the age of 25) and the esteemed Beckettian actor Jack MacGowran -- is absolutely matchless. Tremendous auteur piece by director Roman Polanski, who teamed with Gérard Brach on the original screenplay.

Another triumph for Criterion, which provides a 20-page booklet containing an informative and insightful seven-page essay by author David Thompson; a fascinating 23-minute feature on the making of "Cul-de-Sac"; a fairly in-depth 27-minute 1967 BBC interview with Polanski, as well as a pair of trailers for the film.
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on January 10, 2008
Bizzare, to say the least about two gangsters, one critically wounded, who take to inviting themselves into an even more bizzare couple's castle home. Worthy follow up to Polanski's previous, "Repulsion" - the film that put him on the map for American audiences. Good cast, and hysterical to see a very serious, Donald Pleasence of "Halloween" fame dressed in drag with makeup. Oh, yes this is different...
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