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January 17, 2011

The Collector

(1965, Dir. by William Wyler.)

I don't show it enough here, but I'm a HUGE fan of classic cinema...even of the non-horror variety.  Once upon a time, when I was considering writing about movies a second time, it was a toss-up between starting a horror themed site or a pre-1970s Hollywood themed site.  Thankfully for you all, I struggle to take things seriously, and thus decided genre flicks were more worth my talents (or lack thereof).

But whenever I find an old-school horror-ish flick that I haven't experienced, I get a little excited.  Such was the case when I learned of William Wyler's The Collector, the tale of a timid butterfly collector who tries to make a young woman love kidnapping her and keeping her locked in the ridiculously cool basement of his secluded estate in the British countryside.

Even though Wyler is a director who was nominated for his 12th Best Director Oscar (He had won three times already) for this film, I will admit that I was most excited about the film because it stars a young Terence Stamp.  Stamp is also the star of one of my favorite films, 1999's The Limey, but I hadn't really seen him in anything earlier in his career than his iconic turn as Zod in Superman II.  The Collector introduces him to us only three years after his debut (playing the title role in Peter Ustinov's adaptation of Billy Budd), and it's a revelation to see him so young and restrained.
In the tradition of Norman Bates before him, Stamp's performance as Freddie Clegg stays as far away from getting in our face as is possible.  The comparison with Bates is a little off - Freddie's mother is only slightly involved in the film - but the reclusive awkwardness of Anthony Perkins' groundbreaking role is echoed slightly in Stamp's mannerisms.  Unlike Bates, Freddie Clegg is an extremely calm and calculated antagonist, and scenes like the one in which his victim runs around looking for escape while he quietly clears the tea setting do a great job of showing us how devoted Freddie is to his psychotic cause.

Stamp's turn only works if the other half of the film succeeds, and Samantha Eggar's performance as his victim is nothing less than fantastic.  Eggar was nominated for the second of the film's three Oscars (the third was for the film's script), and does a fantastic job of showing fear in different ways as the film moves through the stages of being kidnapped.  This film takes place years before the condition known as Stockholm syndrome, which deals with victims showing positive feelings about their captors, would hit the news, but Wyler and Eggar seem to have seen into the future as they toy with the idea that poor old Freddie isn't as bad as society tells us he is.  Oh boy, and let's not get into Freddie's thoughts on society.  Let's just say he wouldn't be as far a critic of art and literature as folks like myself are about film.
Eggar's performance is certainly a bit scattered - she turns from fear to respect to hatred repeatedly - but I think the range of emotions she shows is crucial in selling the film's message.  Freddie Clegg is someone who has severe issues in how he deals with women, but his designs are relatively pure.  He feels that he truly loves Eggar's Miranda.  He doesn't want to sex her up, he doesn't want to cut her up and feed her to a vicious horde of monkeys, he just wants her to love him back.  And let's be honest, guys: we've all figured we can convince some lass they love us at some point.  The results of this approach vary, but in general they fall on the negative side of the spectrum.  (Ladies, on the other hand, have it easy in this department.  They have boobs.)  Freddie's got a lot to learn about the ladies, and Eggar just wants to survive his learning curve.

The Collector definitely runs a little longer than any studio would allow it to today, and there are a few lulls where the film seems to repeat itself, but the near love story between Miranda and Freddie is worth telling and kept me thinking throughout the film.  The final act is surprisingly harsh for a film of its era, but it allows the film to end an intriguing note that made me grin as I thought of the possible ramifications of Wyler's finale.
Long anticipated before its proper DVD release last December, The Collector most certainly didn't disappoint me as a fan of genre cinema or as a fan of classic cinema.  It's one part poetic and one part harrowing, with two fantastic performances and plenty of memorable twists.  Wyler was nearing the end of his run in Hollywood (he directed only three more films before retiring in 1970), but he did a good job of seeing where genre cinema might go with The Collector.  While it doesn't hit the highs of Psycho or Peeping Tom in the "repressed male in search of female companionship" subgenre, it's a treat that I'm excited to revisit in the future.


Jinx said...

I'm utterly ashamed to admit I haven't seen this. I'm aware of it, but never managed to watch it. Terrible form, especially as I love Mr. Stamp. Going to now though. Thanks, Mike! Wonderful stuff.

Malice said...

Jinx, you are not alone. I too, suck. Thank you The Mike, for slapping us upside the head.

deadlydolls said...

Yay! FINALLY I see The Collector in the heading of a blog post and it's actually about THE GOOD MOVIE and not that awful exterminator killing torture-y one from last year.

I ADORE this film. Agree that Eggar is perfect, scattered because she's simply trying every tactic she can to survive. This is such a haunting and ultimately really sad film that works for me so well.

Also, I highly recommend the book. It's written from both of the leads' points of view (as Miranada's diary and Clegg's stream of conscious) and makes for a great read. This is actually one of my favorite adaptations of a very good book.

R.D. Penning said...

I also need to watch this film, but I do not agree with Emily's comment. The Collector was one of my favorite films to come out last year, and I can't wait until 2 and 3 come out!!! Amazing movie!!!

The Mike said...

Thanks all!

Jinx & Malice - Don't feel too bad...I'd only recently heard of the freakin' movie! You're both far more awesome than you let on.

Emily - I realized shortly after posting as I perused for other content on the flick that it was YOU who introduced the movie to me through Deadly Doll's House. So good job to YOU!

And I will certainly look into the book!

Russ - I haven't seen the "new" Collector, so I am withholding judgment for now. But I think it's safe to say that this one is a bit more up my alley than that one will be.