Cul-de-sac (1966)


(director/writer: Roman Polanski; screenwriter: Gérard Brach; cinematographer: Gilbert Taylor; editor: Alastair McIntyre; music: Komeda; cast: Donald Pleasence (George), Françoise Dorléac (Teresa), Lionel Stander (Richard), Jack MacGowran (Albert), William Franklyn (Cecil), Robert Dorning (Philip Fairweather), Marie Kean (Marion Fairweather), Trevor Delaney (Nicholas), Iain Quarrier (Christopher), Jacqueline Bisset (Jacqueline); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Gene Gutowski/Michael Klinger/Tony Tenser; Criterion Collection, The; 1966)
It’s an actor’s pic, where plot is insignificant.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Roman Polanski (“Knife in the Water”/”Repulsion”/”Death and the Maiden”)directs this absurd oddball dark comedy about a kinky couple,Teresa (Françoise Dorléac)and George (Donald Pleasence),who choose to run away from the world to live in a beachfront castle on a secluded Northumberian island in Britain. The psychological thriller is scripted by Polanski and Gerard Brach.

The timid middle-aged George sold his factory and retired to live with his perky pretty young wife in isolation, raising chickens and doing some amateur painting. Their tranquility is interrupted when a wounded fugitive criminal named Richard (Lionel Stander) and his dying partner Albert (Jack MacGowran) take refuge at their castle and hold the couple hostage.

The bossy Richard is armed and orders the couple around in a gruff way, insults them, mocks George for being a fairy and destroys their orderly world of living the simple life. Richard calls his boss to say they botched the job and expects him to send someone to the castle to take them back home, since their car broke down in the sand. That person never arrives, but George’s horrid friends (Robert Dorning, Marie Kean, Jacqueline Bisset, William Franklyn) and a bratty child (Trevor Delaney) arrive unexpectedly and won’t take the hint that they’re not welcome until George in a crazy manner asserts himself and gives them the boot.

Cuckolded by the insensitive Teresa and relentlessly bullied by Richard, the whiny George at last completely cracks and finds a way to get rid of his wife and all the unwelcomed visitors.

Funny in a perverse way, as Polanski creates a maddening claustrophobic atmosphere for his unlikable characters to make living in the ideal castle a nightmare. It’s an actor’s pic, where plot is insignificant. I thoroughly enjoyed Pleasence’s over-the-top performance and he was matched by Stander’s entertaining flamboyant one.