(director/writer: Roman Polanski; screenwriter: Gérard Brach; cinematographer: Gilbert Taylor; editor: Alastair McIntyre; cast: Catherine Deneuve (Carol Ledoux), Ian Hendry (Michael), John Fraser (Colin), Patrick Wymark (Landlord), Yvonne Furneaux (Helen Ledoux), Renee Houston (Miss Balch), Valerie Taylor (Mme. Denise), Helen Fraser (Bridget), James Villiers (John); Runtime: 104; Compton-Cameo; 1965-UK)
“This is an austere, scary, and timeless Grand Guignol work — one with little dialogue.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Roman Polanski sets up a tense atmosphere for this macabre tale where every black-and-white shot is subjectively motivated by the deranged character played with quiet brilliance by Catherine Deneuve, until the final shot becomes one of objective reality.
Carol Ledoux (Deneuve) is a young lady from Belgium. She’s a very attractive blonde but a timid soul, working in an upscale hairdresser’ salon as a manicurist. She is sharing a dreary flat in London’s Kensington section with her sexually liberated older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). She’s depressed and repulsed by everything she comes across. She looks with disgust at an elderly, wealthy matron salon customer getting a mudpack; she’s repulsed at eating a fish and chips lunch and at a would-be pushy boyfriend, Colin (Fraser), who tries unsuccessfully to date her; and, when she comes home, she is repulsed by her sister’s nervy boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry). That evening she lies awake in her bed and is repulsed by her sister’s intimate moans and groans during lovemaking, which she hears from her adjoining bedroom.
Carol’s world comes apart when her sister goes off on a holiday to Italy with her boyfriend and leaves her alone in the apartment. She starts hallucinating and having nightmares, which show her loneliness and sexual repressions. She watches as cracks in the wall appear to widen, hands come out of the wall groping her, and she imagines herself being raped. Unable to get her mind in order she appears unfit at work and is sent home, and this is after three days of staying home from work without calling in.
Warning: spoiler to follow.
When Carol’s would-be boyfriend goes into a rage that she wouldn’t see him or answer the phone when he calls, Colin breaks into her apartment and Carol responds to his sexual advances by fatally bopping him over the head and dumping his body in the bathtub. The landlord (Patrick Wymark) comes by for the late rent owed him and then calls the flat a pig sty, observing the deteriorating cooked rabbit carcass still uneaten on her dinner plate which is attracting flies. Nevertheless he finds himself attracted to her and tells her if you look after me, you can forget the rent. She will also brutally murder him when he makes a sexual advance towards her. The only thing to be said in favor of these ghastly murders are that these men were not nice and were extremely pushy, wanting to use her and not caring that she didn’t even show the slightest interest in them.
This is an austere, scary, and timeless Grand Guignol work — one with little dialogue. It is the first Roman Polansky film in English and his second feature (the first was “Knife in the Water“-1962). This one might be his best work. It is eerie, unsettling and intelligently created, showing Deneuve’s emotional breakdown in psychological terms of deterioration and not as a creation of special effects.
REVIEWED ON 3/21/2001 GRADE: A