The Servant Film Details
Overview: Upper-class Tony hires servant Hugo Barrett, who turns out to have a hidden agenda.
Review: When I first saw this I believed it was a drama about the conflict between two guys — one rich master of the household(James Fox) and one working class servant (Dirk Bogarde) — to see who was going to be boss of the place, with Fox getting a nudge in the accepted direction once in a while from his fiancée, Wendy Craig of the ski-slope nose. Now, with a bit more experience — okay, a lot more experience — I can see that writer Harold Pinter and director Joseph Losey were after a good deal more than that. The subject isn’t just masculine striving, it’s the social structure of England. Essentially, Fox is a proper, spoiled upper-middle-class lawyer’s son with an Eton hair cut and spacious town house in London. Craig’s family is better off. We’re talking one of those vast country estates run by two completely out-of-touch parents who can’t tell a “poncho” from a “gaucho.” Fox and Craig are in love and everything looks rosy. Then Fox, tired of keeping his own house, hires Dirk Bogarde as a live-in manservant. Boy, is that a mistake. Bogarde is properly dressed and appropriately obsequious and suitably quiet as he slowly goes about keeping house and cooking. But he wangles his sister, teen-aged Sarah Miles, into the house as a maid. Miles, as you may or may not know, has this plump lower lip that runs from one side of her mouth to the other, a rack that, if set loose, would devastate the countryside, and a trembling girlish voice that bespeaks a sexual history that is at once debauched and virginal. One night, when Bogarde is presumably asleep upstairs, she stumbles upon Fox in the kitchen. Drops spatter slowly from the kitchen faucet into the tin basin as Fox gawks at her. (This is symbolic.) “Ewww, isn’t it hot in here?”, she asks in tones that carry the contours of adolescence. “I’m so hot. Are you hot?” (The drops quicken their tempo.) Miles hitches her tiny skirt up an inch or so, sluices her haunch up onto the kitchen table, slips her girlish hand under her sweater and pats her little belly because of the torrid atmosphere. They should never eat from that table again. I don’t have space to describe all the felicities of this production and artistic discretion prevents me from revealing too much of the plot. But I must say that Joseph Losey’s direction is nearly impeccable. He has a painter’s masterly eye. The compositions of each shot are exquisite without calling too much attention to themselves. Well, one example, so you’ll know what I’m talking about. Miles has been thrown out and Bogarde is more or less in charge of the house, when the doorbell rings. It’s a dripping wet Miles, apologizing fulsomely and begging to borrow a few quid. Josey has placed the camera almost at floor level in the vestibule. We see Bogarde open the door and an argument begins. Then Fox’s dark trousers swish before the camera as he enters the scene and tells Bogarde to let her in. Bogarde is furious. He pulls Miles inside and throws her to the floor. She lands, sliding slightly, until her face is almost against the lens. All of this telling incident is captured in one longish take. It’s like watching an illusionist perform an impossible trick on stage. I’d like to mention too the insane game of hide-and-seek the two men play, with a terrified Fox behind the bathroom curtain, and Bogarde with a demonic grin slowly searching, purring tauntingly like a child, “Where arre you, puss, puss, puss? . . . Somebody has a guilty seee-cret . . .” And meanwhile Fox’s back lighted profile is cast on the shower curtain’s slightly billowing folds so that his nose seems to grow and shrink by degrees. I’d like to mention that but I won’t. I’ll mention the oddball dissonance of the score, featuring a bassoon, instead. I don’t know what Robin Maugham’s book was like but Pinter’s screenplay is rife with homosexual symbolism, Bogarde’s own orientation being completely irrelevant one way or the other. You couldn’t be too direct in 1963. And maybe after all it’s better to say “bisexual” because neither Fox nor Bogarde seem disinclined to dalliance with the nubile Miles. Come to think of it, maybe “pansexual” would be still better. Who knows what went on in those late-night parties hosted by the now-dominant Servant? What a gripping exercise in style this is. Many critics didn’t seem to care much for Pinter and Losey but I don’t know why. The use of words like “mannerisms” doesn’t help much. (What is “mannerism” anyway?) Don’t we all have tics and tocs? Aren’t some better — more suited to their context — than others?
Country: United Kingdom
Duration: 116 min
Also known as: The Servant,Слуга,Il servo,O ypiretis,O Criado,Der Diener,Le domestique,召使,Służący,El sirviente,Meshitsukai,Genç hizmetçiler,Ο Υπηρέτης,Betjänten,A szolga,Tjeneren,Sluga,Palvelija,Servitorul,Snylteren,Слугата