“The past is a foreign county. They do things differently there.” No longer just a Silkworm lyric (from the same song that references “Willie” Somerset Maugham and possibly Casablanca), now back home in its proper element, or at least the film adaptation of its proper element.

A quality picture with excellent production design and fluid camera movement – like Carol Reed with a touch of Alain Resnais. It’s a perfect storm of my least-favorite types of movies: British upper-class period costume dramas and coming-of-age stories. But, highly recommended and Cannes-award-winning and all, I stuck with it and really loved the last half hour.

Kid named Leo is spending the summer with a family in the country, but his playmate Marcus (I like him – privileged asshole with a good vocabulary) gets the measles, leaving Leo to pal around with the grownups, getting involved in their secret affairs as a messenger boy. Julie Christie (between Petulia and McCabe & Mrs. Miller) is the young hottie of the household, promised to dull scarfaced Hugh Trimingham (Edward Fox of Day of the Jackal) but having a Leo-assisted affair with rough farmer Ted Burgess (Alan Bates of Secret Friends, also Chabrol’s Dr. M). Once the lovers are caught together and Julie seems lost to him, Ted shoots himself.

Fancy Hugh:

“We can’t expect to be happy all the time, can we?”

Fun sidetracks with Leo’s belief in occult curses. A dog with a name like “dry toast” (tri-toes?). A cricket ball is batted straight into the camera. A 1970’s love-triangle movie set among wheat fields, bringing to mind Days of Heaven. Little bursts of voiceover dialogue, like scenes omitted for time, or sometimes repeating what we’ve heard. An unexplained, unheard shot of a conversation between two characters we haven’t seen – only when going back through the screenshots did I notice the television set in the corner, definite sign of a flash-forward. The present day keeps breaking through into the early-century period story, and suddenly Leo is sixty (now Michael Redgrave of Mr. Arkadin, Secret Beyond the Door), summoned to visit Julie Christie (backlit to avoid displaying her old-age makeup).

“So you met my grandson”
“Yes I did”
“Does he remind you of anyone?”
“Ted Burgess”
“That’s it. That’s it. He does.”

Leo Redgrave:

Based on a famous novel, screenplay by Harold Pinter, who also wrote The Servant and Accident. Senses calls it Losey’s last great film and compliments Michel Legrand’s fine score. “Aside from its intelligence and insight, however, it hardly seems to be a Losey film—it is evocative, judicious, perfectly cast, but rather cautious.”

Shooting Down Pictures:

Occurring mostly in the past with occasional flashes to the present, Pinter’s manipulation of time feels perfunctory compared to what Alain Resnais was doing a decade prior, or even what Pinter managed in his script for Losey’s Accident. More interesting is Losey’s entymological dramatization of British manor life, exhibiting both gentility and prejudice with near-emotionless decorum. Pinter’s dialogue pinpoints the neurotic weirdness underlying British politeness with unnerving precision, and is served ably by the ensemble, especially Dominic Guard as the boy, whose naivete and unwitting indiscretions stand sharply against the hypocrisy and innuendo surrounding him.

“What are we looking for? A man with a twisted mind. It could be anybody.”

Losey needs to sue Edgar Wright:

Opening music sounds like a variation on “when you wish upon a star,” then the movie proceeds to introduce and murder little Elsie, who bears the same name and receives the same balloon which drifts evocatively into the same power lines as the Fritz Lang original. Killer David Wayne has a less distinctive voice than Peter Lorre, and plays a tin flute, and the movie has a less distinctive, shadowy and angular look than the original. I thought the movie would have more of a reason to exist, maybe some anti-McCarthyism sentiment beneath the surface, but it’s really just an English version of the Lang movie, with a few changes.

You can just see the “M” reflected in the Chiclets mirror:

I’m not against the changes, either. I always felt the original was a little over-long in the second half. This one tightens it up, and expands the role of the man chosen to defend the killer after the criminals abduct him from his shopping-center hideout. Langley is a lawyer who became a hopeless drunk and now works for crime boss Charlie (the movie never considered that crime bosses might prefer a sober, competent lawyer). In the parking garage he’s given the task of defending Wayne so the riled-up crowd won’t dispatch the killer before the cops show, but Langley rises to the occasion and turns on his boss, who shoots Langley in front of the just-arriving police force, who cart away both the murderers together. In exchange for the lawyer additions, the movie cuts details of the beggar organization from the original, which was always one of my favorite parts.

David Wayne and prey, trapped in a mannequin shop:

Losey and actor Howard Da Silva (chief inspector on the case) would soon be on the hollywood blacklist. I assume Larry Cohen was responding to this when he cast Da Silva as the President in his Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover. D.P. Ernest Laszlo had just shot D.O.A., would later handle Kiss Me Deadly (with director Robert Aldrich, who assisted on this picture) and While The City Sleeps for M originator Fritz Lang.

I liked the blind balloon vendor. John Miljan had appeared in Buster Keaton movies (not the good ones) in the early 30’s.

Lawyer Langley (below right) was Luther Adler of D.O.A. and House of Strangers, and his boss (below center) was Martin Gabel of The Thief the following year. The prolific David Wayne played one of the millionaires in How to Marry a Millionaire, and I described him as “sort of an annoying Donald O’Connor” in Adam’s Rib. Generally in musical comedy roles, I have no idea how he ended up as a desperate serial child killer.

Careful phrasing in the media about the murdered children: “the kids were neither violated nor outraged.”