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From the Back Cover
Winner of three British Academy Awards including Best Actor to Dirk Bogarde. In this landmark drama of class struggle and moral decay, a pampered playboy (James Fox) acquires an elegant townhouse complete with a dedicated man servant (Dirk Bogarde). But when the young man's fiancée (Wendy Craig) becomes suspicious of the servant's intentions, he and his "sister" (Sarah Miles) thrust the household into a sinister game where seduction is corruption and power becomes the most shocking desire of all. The Servant marked the first of three brilliant film collaborations between director Joseph Losey and playwright Harold Pinter, and was nominated for eight British Academy Awards including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Film, Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay.
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Top customer reviews
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Surely, some of you black-and-white lovers (of which I count myself one) remember another character named "Hugo," from a movie 18 years senior to this one, who ruins his master's life and takes away his sanity. Last Name's Fitch. The, ah, master is played by an actor who may even be a little superior to Bogarde...and there're not too many of those, and you may disagree. And in case you hadn't noticed yet, Vera, after the two of them are busted turning on in Tony's bedroom, calls down the stairs after Barrett, "I've been waiting for you...." As for "Barrett," I see from other reviews that it IS necessary to say that Bogarde's movie immediately preceding* this one ("Victim," 1961) had a character named Barrett (not played by Bogarde), who is sweet and unsuccessfully self-sacrificing--in short, just the opposite of our Barrett here, whose name is repeated almost as many times as "Barrett!" is in this movie. Unless of course the original "Servant" novel or short story by Robert (or Robin) Maugham (nephew of the more famous writer) predates both of these, and the name was already in place.... enough of that (except, in my favorite "Columbo".... FORGET IT).
I've seen the movie twice, own it, and hate it. It is perfect--the acting, the character-I hate to say development!--, the glorious cinematography, the music, the sets, the costume design, the economical and perfect dialogue. I keep telling myself I hate it because I hate or despise (or both) everyone in it, but I hate or despise everyone in Madame Bovary (Flaubert) and The Red and the Black (Stendahl)--and I love those. I think it's because Barrett's really only turned on by his own sadism and others' reaction to it. It's hard to figure him out on first viewing, because his character--I'm not talking about Bogarde, but Barrett, "acts" all the time. I think he had the whole thing planned from the beginning, starting with downcast eyes, and perfect service, then the opening of the eyes and dropping of the perfect English, and so on. I don't think the-very few!--surprises that came his way (getting busted in Tony's bedroom; Tony showing himself to be not unsusceptible to the sexual attentions of a man; Susan's kissing him at the last party) changed anything, a whisker. I do NOT think he "ran into" Tony accidentally in that bar (what a crock of lies he told him there!). You know...maybe Vera really WAS his sister! The only people who really change are Tony, who disintegrates, and Susan, who is, at least temporarily, destroyed.
Considering that nearly everybody has sex with nearly everyone else in this movie, it is hardly what I would call a sexy movie. This is because, except for two early scenes of Tony and Susan (she's his fiancée? He asked her to marry him, but she didn't answer the question), the second interrupted by an extraordinarily light knock by Barrett, they all involve Guess Who, for various purposes of his own. The intense, in no way innocent game of hide and seek is accompanied by Barrett's spitting out words of hatred ("You've got a guilty secret! But you'll be caught!"). His enthusiasm is intensified by his natural sadism.
It's not because no sex is shown, but only understood, that the movie isn't sexy; it's because...it's so cold in this movie! Only toward Vera, whom Barrett probably has no sexual feeling for, is he--slightly--affectionate. (As I said: maybe she is really his sister!). And that phonograph record, playing five different times: "Now that I love you alone..." each times less loving than the last.
The sexiest thing in "The Servant" is the playing and singing of guitarist Davey Graham,which Tony not only hears in the coffee shop, but all the way home, at full volume. Not too loud; just right. The last verse goes:
Baby, baby, in your big brass bed,
Rock me Mama, till my face turns cherry red
Rock me Mama, rock me slow
Rock me one more time before you go.
It's like an oasis.
Never hire a manservant (I believe the most popular review mentioned this), no matter how innocent he is, and if you do, for God's sake, don't hire his sister, no matter how competent she is. The last thing you need in your home having to deal with an oligarchy! (other than your own)
Next weekend, I'm going to see another Losey movie, "The Go-Between," which has Hugo Fitch's master's last performance* at the end of it. The role doesn't call for any speech (a woman is beseeching him to do something he doesn't want to do), but by the '70s, Redgrave was probably more comfortable not talking, anyway. There--I told you his name.
* (Not quite!)