The Film: Cul-De-Sac (1966)
The Principles: Roman Polanski (Director). Donald Pleasance. Francoise Dorelac. Lionel Stander. Jack MacGowran
The Premise: Richard and Albie (Stander and MacGowran, respectively) are a couple of gangsters fresh off a botched robbery. When they find themselves stranded by the tide on the only road on or off of a lonely, remote island, the injured Richard leaves the critically-wounded Albie behind to go search for a place to hole up while they wait for their boss to rescue them. What he finds is an old castle occupied by the neurotic, paranoid George (Pleasance) and his young, distractable wife Teresa (Dorleac). Quickly establishing himself as superior to the slightly-effeminate George (an assertion that George passionately argues against, yet does nothing to disprove), Richard takes the couple hostage. But George and Teresa have issues of their own and the two gangsters’ presence only serves to exacerbate things.
Is It Good: Objectively, yeah, as there’s a tremendous amount of talent on display here at practically every level. The script is tight, the performances are aces, the cinematography is stylish and fluid and Polanski shows a confidence here that obviously sets him up for future triumphs.
Thematically, Polanski is more than a little preoccupied with masculinity and the ways men interact with one another with regard to territoriality and the whole alpha-male trip. George is the obvious projection for that, as he carries himself with a certain arrogance that unravels into self-doubt and overcompensation as he realizes just how little control he has over not only the hostage situation with Richard, but his life in general.
Not that Richard isn’t susceptible to peacocking himself. It’s a bit more subtle though, as his predicament forces him to take control of the situation early, but once he sees just how desperate George is to validate and assert his own masculinity (and once he realizes help isn’t coming and his own desperation sets in), Richard becomes increasingly less concerned with maintaining control over a hostage situation and more with having a territorial tete a tete with George, all while Teresa – growing more bored and antagonistic with each scene – plays both sides against the middle.
It swells to a climax that’s equal parts shocking and expected, if only because it plays it completely straight and manages to distill every thought and critique that it wants to express down to a single, perfect, final shot.
Is It Worth A Look: Absolutely. And on top of everything I mentioned above it happens to be really funny, which is a pretty impressive balancing act all on its own. It’s on Instant, and at just under two hours it manages to be really brisk.
Random Anecdotes: Apparently out of all of his own films, this one is Polanski’s favorite. I can understand that. Also it’s been a while since I’ve seen Knife in the Water, but given what I remember of it, this is enough of a spiritual sequel (remake?) to it that the two together could be a sort of companion piece to his Apartment Trilogy. Speaking of, I still need to see Repulsion, which I just discovered is on Crackle, so hooray for finally finding a use for that channel on my Roku!
Also, I started off the “Is it Good” segment with the word “objectively” because while I can certainly see and appreciate all the qualities this film without a doubt has, I never could actively connect with it, and I’m not entirely sure why. As well-crafted as it is, and as well as it lends itself to thought and analysis, it just kind of feels kind of cold and distant. Maybe that’s the point, but it doesn’t really feel that way.
Cinematc Soulmates: The aforementioned Knife in the Water. A bunch of other movies that I honestly can’t think of at the moment. I’ve let you all down. Sadface.