Cul-de-Sac


1h 51m 1966

Brief Synopsis

A wounded criminal and his dying partner take refuge at a beachfront castle. The owners of the castle, a meek Englishman and his willful French wife, are initially the unwilling hosts to the criminals. Quickly, however, the relationships between the criminal, the wife, and the Englishman begin to shift in humorous and bizarre fashion.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Thriller
Release Date
Jan 1966
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 Nov 1966
Production Company
Compton-Tekli Film Productions
Distribution Company
Sigma III Corp.
Country
United Kingdom
Location
Holy Island, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 51m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

Two wounded gangsters escape to an old island castle on the coast of Northumberland. The castle is inhabited by George, an effeminate, middle-aged, retired businessman, and his young, bored, promiscuous, French wife, Teresa, who is having an affair with a neighboring summer resident. When one of the gangsters, Albert, dies from his bullet wounds, his brutish American companion, Richard, takes over the castle while awaiting telephone instructions from Kattlebach, the boss of his gang. Relations among the three bizarre characters are anything but harmonious as George becomes increasingly neurotic, Teresa more bored and mischievous, and Richard more violent. During a visit from some of George's wealthy, class-conscious mainland friends, Richard poses as a manservant while Teresa openly flirts with Cecil, one of the guests. When Richard finally learns that he can expect no help from his boss, he orders George to drive him off the island, which is connected by a causeway to the mainland. George, however, responds with wild violence; completely berserk, he seizes a gun and kills Richard. Cecil returns for a shotgun, and Teresa leaves with him. Alone, George walks to the beach, sits on a rock in the rising tide, and weeps for his lost wife.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Thriller
Release Date
Jan 1966
Premiere Information
New York opening: 7 Nov 1966
Production Company
Compton-Tekli Film Productions
Distribution Company
Sigma III Corp.
Country
United Kingdom
Location
Holy Island, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 51m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

Cul-De-Sac - CUL-DE-SAC - Roman Polanski's 1966 Absurdist Farce/Thriller on DVD


Quite a few black comedies have connected with audiences, films with a specific satirical target or targets in mind. But movies that carry over the full impact of the Theater of the Absurd are few and far between. The entire point of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is a sense of stasis that keeps the play from progressing while its characters wait for a miracle that never comes. Absurdism takes the point of view that existence is not rational to the human mind, and that people must invent their own fantasies or self-delusions if they want or need reasons "to be".

As a film artist in Poland Roman Polanski imbued his films with equal parts pessimistic social comment and absurdist humor, which is usually not "funny" in the commercial sense of the word. Two Men and a Wardrobe is the perfect absurdist film. The action is a blank allegory, yet we can identify with the heroes' predicament at each stage of the game. Polanski's breakout art feature Knife in the Water confirmed his technical and visual superiority, as well as showing him a master director of subtle relationships. The movie isolates a man, his wife and a young guest on a boat on a featureless lake, and is consistently gripping.

After spending some time in Paris Polanski gravitated to swinging London, presumably because of its greater access to film money. He and his new French writing partner Gérard Brach concocted a weird, indefinable script called When Katelbach Comes. The British exploitation-oriented company Compton-Tekli wanted something more mainstream, so the pair came up with the psychological horror film Repulsion. That hit launched Polanski's commercial career. Before filming his color and Panavision horror comedy T he Fearless Vampire Killers for MGM, Compton-Tekli allowed Polanski to make what would become his personal favorite, 1966's Cul-de-sac.

Middle-aged George (Donald Pleasance) has left his wife Agnes for the young Frenchwoman Teresa (Françoise Dorléac), sold his factory and purchased a private island retreat, a 'fortress' of his own. An 11th century castle sits imposingly on a dramatic rock separated from the English mainland by a causeway that floods at every high tide. Although she is not faithful, Teresa seems to understand George, who in his freedom is becoming quite an eccentric.

Into this safe haven barges Richard "Dickie" (Lionel Stander), an American gangster fleeing a botched robbery with his partner Albie (Jack MacGowran). Both are wounded. Their car breaks down on the causeway and is swamped by the incoming tide. Dickie invades George's island home to await rescue by his gang boss Katelbach. Dickie holds the couple at gunpoint but the three form an unstable relationship. Then a group of uninvited guests arrive, at which point Dickie must pretend to be a servant. George reaches the end of his patience with the obnoxious guests. Disgusted by her husband's meek acceptance of Dickie's tyranny, Teresa would rather slip away to the sand dunes with a handsome guest (Iain Quarrier). Dickie sympathizes with George against the wayward Teresa, as he claims to know her type well.

Cul-de-sac is not a satirical tale but an altogether original exercise in extended absurdity, with a filmic personality difficult to describe. The situation is a bizarre sidebar to a gangster tale, which becomes a muted situation comedy. The characters are amusing, especially Lionel Stander's outrageously straightforward Dickie. Other ironies make us smile but there are no calculated punch lines. Poor Albie, stuck in the car as the water rises around him, calmly observes that things are getting sticky. George laughs himself silly as he allows Teresa to dress him in a nightie and paint his face like a girl. Knowing Polanski's penchant for classic horror imagery, we suspect that George is made to look like one of the male pinheads that passes for female in Tod Browning's Freaks. Gravel-voiced tough guy Dickie bosses George about and calls him a Little Fairy, but soon takes his side. Like any red-blooded American hood Dickie doesn't trust dames, and Teresa seems willing to cheat on George with anything that comes along. Determined to show both men who is boss, Teresa at one point gives Dickie a hotfoot with burning newspaper between his toes. When Dickie takes a switch to her, it's almost as if he's become a tough-love marriage counselor. As if for fun Polanski places the stunning Jackie (Jacqueline Bisset) as a quiet observer among the unpleasant lunch guests; it's one of her first movies.

Polanski and Brach imbue Cul-de-sac with all the marks of absurdist comedy. Nothing works the way it was intended. The brute gangster has no use for the beautiful female hostage. The guns are mostly useless and Dickie's feared submachine gun is only good for blowing up the henhouse. Dickie cuts the phone line only to later realize that he needs it again to communicate with Katelbach. Dickie misreads approaching cars and airplanes as signs that the hoped-for Katelbach has arrived. Surrounded by chickens, George can't find his omelet pan, and ends up with broken eggs on the floor. George's annoying, snooty lunch guests refuse to mind their bratty son, who bites and kicks George, and threatens the entire group with a shotgun.

Cul-de-sac's weirdness is engaging because Polanski and Brach's characters are so vivid, especially the near-infantile George and the charismatic thug Dickie. Teresa is mostly sincere but we doubt that she'll be a permanent mate for George. Hollow greetings and promises to have future get-togethers seem all the sillier when one greets guests on one's private "fortress" stuck out in the middle of the sea. Everybody wants to escape but the title itself announces a dead end -- and a last laugh on private plans.

Roman Polanski would cement his commercial career by reinvigorating the genres of the horror film (Rosemary's Baby) and the classic detective thriller (Chinatown). At one point he was deeply involved developing The Day of the Dolphin, a sci-fi conspiracy adaptation and not a project for a director committed to intellectual film art. But much of Polanski's work displays his affinity for mordant Absurdism, which creeps into The Fearless Vampire Killers, the soft-core Alice in Wonderland farce (What?) and the now virtually vanished box office failure Pirates. Polanski's sly and darkly absurdist attitude informs all of his best work, even when relegated to the details: that incongruous wardrobe crops up in film after film.

The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray rescues Roman Polanski's quirky masterpiece Cul-de-sac from the memory of the murky 16mm repertory prints that once circulated. Filmed in poor weather on an English location known for its cold and damp, Gilbert Taylor's cinematography manages to make much of the show look sunny and warm. And the matching is so good that, when part of the final night scene had to be filmed back at a London studio, the location change is imperceptible.

Composer Krzysztof Komeda provides a couple of jazz themes that communicate the weirdness of events while mocking the characters. Komeda was Polanski's closest collaborator until his untimely death at age 37, soon after composing the score for Rosemary's Baby.

The disc features an excellent documentary called Two Gangsters and an Island, built-around a candid interview with Roman Polanski. We hear plenty about problems with actor Lionel Stander (the best thing in the movie). Polanski tells us that Donald Pleasance took it upon himself to show up with his head shaved bald, and that the shoot was a difficult one owing to bad weather. Polanski also expresses his admiration for Jack MacGowran, who so impressed him that he fashioned The Vampire Killers just to give the actor a plum role. Polanski, producer Gene Gutowski and cameraman Taylor all comment on a miraculous lengthy beach scene that Polanski executed in one unbroken take. The airplane arrived perfectly on cue on the second take; a third attempt failed when actress Dorléac collapsed in the freezing water.

Polanski appears again in a 1967 television interview, not long after the premiere of Vampire Killers. He relates the story of his childhood in Poland, leaving out the uglier details of his survival and his progress from one state school to the next. If Polanski's talent weren't so evident from the very beginning of his film work, we'd have to say his career was one incredibly lucky move after another. The director remains modest on the subject but was obviously a very calculating and clever survivor from childhood forward.

Two original trailers show the British distributor desperately trying to make the indefinable Cul-de-sac appear to be a normal comedy thriller, a hopeless ambition if ever there was one. Critic David Thompson provides the essay for the disc's insert booklet. Criterion is also releasing the disc on standard DVD.

For more information about Cul-De-Sac, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Cul-De-Sac, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson
Cul-De-Sac - Cul-De-Sac - Roman Polanski's 1966 Absurdist Farce/thriller On Dvd

Cul-De-Sac - CUL-DE-SAC - Roman Polanski's 1966 Absurdist Farce/Thriller on DVD

Quite a few black comedies have connected with audiences, films with a specific satirical target or targets in mind. But movies that carry over the full impact of the Theater of the Absurd are few and far between. The entire point of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is a sense of stasis that keeps the play from progressing while its characters wait for a miracle that never comes. Absurdism takes the point of view that existence is not rational to the human mind, and that people must invent their own fantasies or self-delusions if they want or need reasons "to be". As a film artist in Poland Roman Polanski imbued his films with equal parts pessimistic social comment and absurdist humor, which is usually not "funny" in the commercial sense of the word. Two Men and a Wardrobe is the perfect absurdist film. The action is a blank allegory, yet we can identify with the heroes' predicament at each stage of the game. Polanski's breakout art feature Knife in the Water confirmed his technical and visual superiority, as well as showing him a master director of subtle relationships. The movie isolates a man, his wife and a young guest on a boat on a featureless lake, and is consistently gripping. After spending some time in Paris Polanski gravitated to swinging London, presumably because of its greater access to film money. He and his new French writing partner Gérard Brach concocted a weird, indefinable script called When Katelbach Comes. The British exploitation-oriented company Compton-Tekli wanted something more mainstream, so the pair came up with the psychological horror film Repulsion. That hit launched Polanski's commercial career. Before filming his color and Panavision horror comedy T he Fearless Vampire Killers for MGM, Compton-Tekli allowed Polanski to make what would become his personal favorite, 1966's Cul-de-sac. Middle-aged George (Donald Pleasance) has left his wife Agnes for the young Frenchwoman Teresa (Françoise Dorléac), sold his factory and purchased a private island retreat, a 'fortress' of his own. An 11th century castle sits imposingly on a dramatic rock separated from the English mainland by a causeway that floods at every high tide. Although she is not faithful, Teresa seems to understand George, who in his freedom is becoming quite an eccentric. Into this safe haven barges Richard "Dickie" (Lionel Stander), an American gangster fleeing a botched robbery with his partner Albie (Jack MacGowran). Both are wounded. Their car breaks down on the causeway and is swamped by the incoming tide. Dickie invades George's island home to await rescue by his gang boss Katelbach. Dickie holds the couple at gunpoint but the three form an unstable relationship. Then a group of uninvited guests arrive, at which point Dickie must pretend to be a servant. George reaches the end of his patience with the obnoxious guests. Disgusted by her husband's meek acceptance of Dickie's tyranny, Teresa would rather slip away to the sand dunes with a handsome guest (Iain Quarrier). Dickie sympathizes with George against the wayward Teresa, as he claims to know her type well. Cul-de-sac is not a satirical tale but an altogether original exercise in extended absurdity, with a filmic personality difficult to describe. The situation is a bizarre sidebar to a gangster tale, which becomes a muted situation comedy. The characters are amusing, especially Lionel Stander's outrageously straightforward Dickie. Other ironies make us smile but there are no calculated punch lines. Poor Albie, stuck in the car as the water rises around him, calmly observes that things are getting sticky. George laughs himself silly as he allows Teresa to dress him in a nightie and paint his face like a girl. Knowing Polanski's penchant for classic horror imagery, we suspect that George is made to look like one of the male pinheads that passes for female in Tod Browning's Freaks. Gravel-voiced tough guy Dickie bosses George about and calls him a Little Fairy, but soon takes his side. Like any red-blooded American hood Dickie doesn't trust dames, and Teresa seems willing to cheat on George with anything that comes along. Determined to show both men who is boss, Teresa at one point gives Dickie a hotfoot with burning newspaper between his toes. When Dickie takes a switch to her, it's almost as if he's become a tough-love marriage counselor. As if for fun Polanski places the stunning Jackie (Jacqueline Bisset) as a quiet observer among the unpleasant lunch guests; it's one of her first movies. Polanski and Brach imbue Cul-de-sac with all the marks of absurdist comedy. Nothing works the way it was intended. The brute gangster has no use for the beautiful female hostage. The guns are mostly useless and Dickie's feared submachine gun is only good for blowing up the henhouse. Dickie cuts the phone line only to later realize that he needs it again to communicate with Katelbach. Dickie misreads approaching cars and airplanes as signs that the hoped-for Katelbach has arrived. Surrounded by chickens, George can't find his omelet pan, and ends up with broken eggs on the floor. George's annoying, snooty lunch guests refuse to mind their bratty son, who bites and kicks George, and threatens the entire group with a shotgun. Cul-de-sac's weirdness is engaging because Polanski and Brach's characters are so vivid, especially the near-infantile George and the charismatic thug Dickie. Teresa is mostly sincere but we doubt that she'll be a permanent mate for George. Hollow greetings and promises to have future get-togethers seem all the sillier when one greets guests on one's private "fortress" stuck out in the middle of the sea. Everybody wants to escape but the title itself announces a dead end -- and a last laugh on private plans. Roman Polanski would cement his commercial career by reinvigorating the genres of the horror film (Rosemary's Baby) and the classic detective thriller (Chinatown). At one point he was deeply involved developing The Day of the Dolphin, a sci-fi conspiracy adaptation and not a project for a director committed to intellectual film art. But much of Polanski's work displays his affinity for mordant Absurdism, which creeps into The Fearless Vampire Killers, the soft-core Alice in Wonderland farce (What?) and the now virtually vanished box office failure Pirates. Polanski's sly and darkly absurdist attitude informs all of his best work, even when relegated to the details: that incongruous wardrobe crops up in film after film. The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray rescues Roman Polanski's quirky masterpiece Cul-de-sac from the memory of the murky 16mm repertory prints that once circulated. Filmed in poor weather on an English location known for its cold and damp, Gilbert Taylor's cinematography manages to make much of the show look sunny and warm. And the matching is so good that, when part of the final night scene had to be filmed back at a London studio, the location change is imperceptible. Composer Krzysztof Komeda provides a couple of jazz themes that communicate the weirdness of events while mocking the characters. Komeda was Polanski's closest collaborator until his untimely death at age 37, soon after composing the score for Rosemary's Baby. The disc features an excellent documentary called Two Gangsters and an Island, built-around a candid interview with Roman Polanski. We hear plenty about problems with actor Lionel Stander (the best thing in the movie). Polanski tells us that Donald Pleasance took it upon himself to show up with his head shaved bald, and that the shoot was a difficult one owing to bad weather. Polanski also expresses his admiration for Jack MacGowran, who so impressed him that he fashioned The Vampire Killers just to give the actor a plum role. Polanski, producer Gene Gutowski and cameraman Taylor all comment on a miraculous lengthy beach scene that Polanski executed in one unbroken take. The airplane arrived perfectly on cue on the second take; a third attempt failed when actress Dorléac collapsed in the freezing water. Polanski appears again in a 1967 television interview, not long after the premiere of Vampire Killers. He relates the story of his childhood in Poland, leaving out the uglier details of his survival and his progress from one state school to the next. If Polanski's talent weren't so evident from the very beginning of his film work, we'd have to say his career was one incredibly lucky move after another. The director remains modest on the subject but was obviously a very calculating and clever survivor from childhood forward. Two original trailers show the British distributor desperately trying to make the indefinable Cul-de-sac appear to be a normal comedy thriller, a hopeless ambition if ever there was one. Critic David Thompson provides the essay for the disc's insert booklet. Criterion is also releasing the disc on standard DVD. For more information about Cul-De-Sac, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Cul-De-Sac, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Has one of the longest continuous sequences in cinematic history (at the time of release) at 7 mins 28 secs (the beach scene).

Notes

Filmed on location at Holy Island, Northumberland. Opened in London in June 1966; running time: 111 min.

Miscellaneous Notes

Winner of the Golden Bear (Best Film) at the 1966 Berlin Film Festival.

Released in United States Fall November 7, 1966

Released in United States February 1966

Shown at Berlin Film Festival February 1966.

Released in United States Fall November 7, 1966

Released in United States February 1966 (Shown at Berlin Film Festival February 1966.)