Written by: Giuseppe Rijitano on September 12th, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: Date: UK, June 1966
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Roman Polanski, Gérard Brach
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Lionel Stander, Francoise Dorleac, Jack MacGowran, Iain Quarrier, Jacqueline Bisset.
DVD released: July 26th, 2010
Approximate running time: 113 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 12 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Odeon Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 0 (PAL)
Retail Price: £17.99
Albie (Jack MacGowran) and Dickie (Lionel Stander) are a couple of aging gangsters on the run from the police after a shootout which has left Dickie injured and Albie gutshot and slowly dying. Arriving at a beachfront castle owned by meek Englishman George (Donald Pleasance) and his willful young French wife Teresa (Francoise Dorleac), Dickie takes refuge and holds the couple hostage while he telephones his boss for help. Unfortunately for Dickie his hostages are nuttier than squirrel shit; Teresa’s a spoiled little slapper that’ll shag anything in trousers and her cuckolded husband is one paranoid step from going right over the edge into schizoville. The criminal’s arrival will be the catalyst that changes everything for the odd couple and Dickie will never be the same again either!
Roman Polanski’s third feature as a director and only his second in English. The script was developed by Polanski along with his frequent collaborator Gérard Brach (Repulsion, Fearless Vampire Killers, The Tenant, etc). After the metaphysical nightmarish fantasies of Repulsion, Polanski rushes headfirst into the very real minutiae of human behavior in this excellent little 60’s oddity. A precisely shot maelstrom of paranoia and jealousy with a couple of career best performances from it’s two male leads. Gravelly voiced Lionel Stander (best remembered as Max from TV’s Hart To Hart) is a force of nature here, a lumbering, sweating giant with a face that surely must have been used as a template by the animators of Shrek. Pleasance gives arguably his best on screen performance here as the jittery, nervous, upper class snob that slowly begins to mentally unravel before our eyes; it’s a hilarious and frightening portrayal.
Polanski’s main filmic themes abound; sexual perversity, fear, humiliation and corruption are ever present with the thin veneer of normality slowly cracking to uncover the seething chaos beneath. A sense of claustrophobic isolation pervades with seagulls and chickens teeming from every corner while the tension and uneasiness mounts unbearably. That said it’s also a darkly comic feature, mostly in Pleasance’s mannerisms many of which wouldn’t have looked out of place in Monty Python but here work to reveal the fragility of George’s sanity; witness his inability to communicate, his constant desperation, allowing Teresa to dress him up in her nightgown and make-up. The frankly gorgeous Francoise Dorleac, older sister of Catherine Denueve, has a compellingly feral and highly watchable on-screen presence and it’s a pity her career was cut so short by her tragic death just a year after this production.
It’s an offbeat tale to be sure, quite unlike anything else of it’s era – keep in mind this was the time of Doctor Zhivago and The Sound Of Music! Cul-de-sac features magical scenes by the bucketload; George on the rock at the end Gollum-like, Dickie and the chickens, the marvelous single take on the beach incorporating 8 full minutes of uninterrupted drunken dialog between George and Dickie as the camera swings back and forth to show Teresa running into the ocean and then incorporates an airplane swooping down on the paranoid pissheads! Despite never quite reaching the heights of his best films Polanski himself has cited Cul-de-Sac as his favorite out of all his features and it is something of a culmination of his career up to that point. The themes explored in his short films as well as Knife In The Water, and to some extent Repulsion, seem to be fully exorcised here allowing him to move on down other diverse avenues. His next film would of course be Hammer spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers starring Cul-de-sac’s very own Albie (Jack MacGowran) as Professor Abronsius alongside Polanski himself.
‘Digitally remastered’ anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer’ looks excellent despite some very minor print damage this is quite superb picture quality and detailing for a film this old. Excellent contrast levels showing off the depth within the striking cinematography. Without doubt the best I’ve ever seen this film look. The restored original mono soundtrack is also excellent; clean and clear dialog perfectly balanced with Krzystof Komeda’s bonkers jazz score.
Extras include -
Two Gangsters And An Island - A Blue Underground produced documentary from 2003 running at 23 minutes. This is an excellent little featurette containing interviews with director Roman Polanski, production designer Voyotek, actor William Franklin, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor and others. All have interesting anecdotes about the production including tales of working with Pleasance and Stander, both of whom were quite difficult apparently, and Gilbert Taylor even recounts how he punched out actor Ian Quarrier after a disagreement off set.
The South Bank Show - A 1980 edition of the UK TV, arts magazine show presented by Melvyn Bragg. Clocking in at 41 minutes this is an informal chat between Polanski and Bragg in a private theater as the director screens footage from his newly filmed feature Tess. He speaks in detail about the production of Tess as well as discussing his films Knife In The Water, Cul-de-sac and Chinatown at some length. He also talks about his early life and getting involved in filmmaking. A fascinating little documentary, well worth seeking out for Polanski fans!
Also included are a stills gallery and original theatrical trailers for Repulsion and Cul-de-sac.