The Collector – directed by William Wyler . Suspense. A nouveau rich young man traps the girl of his dreams in the cellar of his country house. 1hours 29 minutes Color 1965.
I want to praise it highly, for it is the film of a director – The Best Years Of Our Lives, The Little Foxes, The Letter, Roman Holliday – whose work I respect and enjoy, but the film is not as good as it would have been had the script been better than it is. Aside from two minor characters, the wonderful Mona Washbourne being one of them, it is a two-character piece. But the problem lies not with their casting or playing, but with the limited range they are forced to perform in by the script, or rather, the single story element in it they are allowed to respond to. For their choices for capture and escape are merely sexual, merely romantic. This means that the playing field between the two never has a chance to open up into any other dramatic possibility; they never find a common ground other than sex; they never come together as ordinary human beings, discussing Butterflies, say, or one’s preference for scrambled eggs as opposed to eggs over easy or whether they like to sleep on their right or their left side or what they dream of when they do. What we are given instead as the entire thing that divides them is the difference in their social classes, and this is presented as an absolute which neither can breach. And with this polemic the author, John Fowles, strangles the story, which becomes a repetition of identical roadblocks, whereas when people find themselves trapped in the Army or on a life raft or in a 12 Step meeting, no matter what social class they come from, they do find common ground, and in doing so an arena of accessibility, friendship, and accord, in which the need in the girl to escape can tempt her with the opposite, as can the need for the young man to keep her. So the film becomes a set up, a scold rather than a true story, and thus fails. Cast as the two are Samantha Eggar who is super as the red-haired young beauty who is kidnapped. Her casting is obvious: she is lovely, young, and a good actor. The casting of the young man is strange however, but for that very reason it works. No one is creepier than a creepy Englishman, and the person they have cast in this role was the sexiest young man in England at that time, a young man so beautiful and inviting, a sort of James Dean of The British Isles, that he could have any lady he desired. He would be the abducted, rather than the abducted. Terrence Stamp plays the part completely against his natural endowment, without ever making it grotesque to do so. All he does is hold his head to one side, do something odd with his hands, pitch his voice into a Roddy MacDowell alto, and button one too many buttons of his suit. Somewhere he finds his inner prude in order to always find reasons to both keep and repel her. If only she had really fallen for him, ah, what a strange and devastating story that would have made. Would he then be the one trapped? We’ll never know. The music is by Maurice Jarre, and is the best. It was shot in Hollywood by Robert Surtees, a great photographer shooting sets that don’t quite work as real, and by Robert Krasker in England which does quite work as real, because it is.