The Caretaker (1963)


(director: Clive Donner; screenwriter: from the play by Harold Pinter/Harold Pinter; cinematographer: Nicolas Roeg; editor: Fergus McDonell; music: Ron Grainer; cast: Donald Pleasence (Davies), Alan Bates (Mick), Robert Shaw (Aston); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michael Birkett; Janus Films/BFI-PAL format on DVD; 1963-UK)
More a theater experience than a cinema one.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

More a theater experience than a cinema one. Clive Donner(“What’s New Pussycat”/”Luv”/”Alfred the Great”) directs by keeping Harold Pinter’s 1960 three-character play, adapted by Pinter himself, theatrical without broadening it to be more of a movie experience. Nevertheless it features the three greatest stage interpretations of Pinter’s characters. Alan Bates and Donald Pleasence revise their stage roles, while Robert Shaw is recruited for the movie. The plotless story, shot in black-and-white serves as a brilliant actor’s film.

The soft-spoken Aston (Robert Shaw), treated with electric-shock for his mental illness before his hospital release, meets the scruffy elderly mentally ill bum Mac Davies (Donald Pleasence) outside a pub and invites the homeless man to stay the night in his one-room attic apartment in a home. The well-meaning Aston gives the bum, who uses the assumed name of Bernard Jenkins, some money, clothes, tobacco, a bed to sleep on and the next morning suggests he stay on as caretaker until he settles his business. Aston also tells of his ambition to have a garden shed in the backyard. The claustrophobic room is filled with a cluster of broken household goods, that Aston tinkers with to no avail. When the unemployed bum wishes to get comfortable shoes to go to Sidcup and retrieve his identity papers, he’s disappointed that Aston’s shoes are too small. Meanwhile Aston’s brother Mick (Alan Bates), the builder home owner, arrives when Aston’s out on an errand and discovers the bum in the house. Mick acts sadistic with the bum. Upon Aston’s return, the bum is caught between experiencing the different attitudes the brothers have to him. Eventually Mick reveals he would like to turn the dump into an uncluttered luxury house after a massive clean-up.

Pinter’s magical dialogue digs out in a darkly comical manner an enigmatic tale of how in the bleakest of times, like in the middle of winter, three lost souls can share their impossible dreams with others of trying to find a better life for themselves. The gloomy pic holds out a glimmer of hope that there’s a bond of humanity common to all that will help those in a time of need who are worse off than others and that in the name of humanity will treat everyone as brothers.

The pic was independently produced by celebrity and producer admirers of the play such as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Leslie Caron, Peter Sellers, Peter Hall, Harry Saltzman, Peter Bridge and Noel Coward.