Fox and Bogarde bounce sharp dialogue back and forth and are captivating as the psychosexual tension increases between them. Through subtle visual clues Losey artfully blurs sexual boundaries to create one of cinema’s most memorable relationships.
Losey and Pinter’s first collaboration (they would continue their rapport in ACCIDENT 1967 and THE GO-BETWEEN 1970), THE SERVANT imposes an alluring tale of a subversive master-and-servant relationship, with heavy **** erotic undertones (the author of the source novel Robin Maugham is “defiantly ****”) way ahead of its era, so it is time to revive this hidden gem to make it circulate to a more open-minded demography for its sheer marvelousness.
A young aristocrat Tony (Fox) hired Barrett (Bogarde) as his servant to administer his house, but Barrett has his own plan to manipulate Tony to be completely reliant on him, so assisted by his complicit Vera (Miles), and hampered by Tony’s supercilious fiancée Susan (Craig),
it is a binge of seduction, betrayal, debauchery, drug abuse and mind games.
Douglas Slocombe, the prestigious British cinematographer, brings the film to life with his ingenious camerawork, the setting is largely confined interior to Tony’s residence (dominantly in the shots is a bookshelf-shape door to the living room, camouflage beyond the veneer is a running theme here), Slocombe is ravishing the eroticism and tautness by his superlative deployments with mirrors (it is in the poster!), shadows, shades (Tony’s silhouette hiding behind the shower curtain during a hide-and-seek) and sublime focus-alteration, refracted by the B&W prism, the potency is mind-blowing and soul-cleansing, up to the very end, the transcendent oddity of the situation could only pique one’s curiosity for more, for the imbroglio is so fascinating, so nihilistic, anticipates A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971, 8/10)’s benumbing ridicule.
John Dankworth’s alternately light-mood, lyric, jazz-infused and riveting score is a handsome companion to Pinter’s satirical and pun-slinging screenplay (under the weather? poncho and gaucho?), when Tony addresses to Susan that “he (Barrett) looks like a fish”, it hits the bull’s eye. Bogarde continues his bold glass-ceiling-breaking endeavor after VICTIM (1961, 8/10), bags another self-revealing role and unleashes his nefarious audacious in the duality of Barrett’s servant-and-master changeover; while his on-screen prey James Fox, who, indeed, is equally brilliant in his breakthrough picture, out of four main characters, none of them are good-natured, but he is the only one can collect viewers’ sympathy, and one may not root for him, but witness his downfall nevertheless needs more than the fondness of his willowy figure and innocent eyes. Miles and Craig, the two female companions, can not receive the same laud, Miles has a strident voice and being excruciatingly annoying whenever she talks and her performance is in excess of theatricality, which luckily would tune down in her later effort in RYAN’S DAUGHTER (1970, 7/10) and THE HIRELING (1973, 6/10); Craig, whose snobbish and frigid poise is off-putting, albeit she has the most recondite sensibilities to present in the frenzied coda, the efficacy is beyond her ken.
THE SERVANT may be Losey’s finest work and should be appreciated more, it is a divine psychological drama with a latent **** struggle which perpetually beleaguers human nature and finally we reach the opportune time when we can look directly into each other’s eyes without feeling ashamed or offensive anymore.