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JEAN-PAUL SARTRE'S cheerless thesis that the only thing wrong with the world is the people in it is rendered acutely plausible in the film of his one-act play, "No Exit".
By the time the three doomed and bitter persons who constitute the articulate population of the playone man and two vicious women, locked in a room in hellhave finished an hour and a half of snarling and verbally ripping one another to shreds, raking the coals of their spent lives and exposing their hot and hidden shames, the reasonably normal viewer is likely to feel he's in the hot place himself and be convinced that mankind is so rotten that, at least, he should give up writing plays.
Now, this may be precisely the reaction that Mr. Sartre wished and the film's director, Ted Danielewski, labored to stimulate. If so, they may have the satisfaction of knowing that this fairly faithful film has succeeded in infecting at least one viewer with incipient misanthropy.
But they should also know that the infection is not due solely to the persuasiveness of the play. It is due in some measure to the inertia and tediousness of the film.
Where Mr. Sartre's three-person discourse runs for less than an hour on the stage (which is long enough for anybody to have to listen to three actors talk), it is padded with more talk and business so that it runs a half-hour longer on the screen. Yet it reveals nothing more about the characters than is spewed out by them on the stage.
They are still three pretentious, poisonous persons who have failed in their lives on earth and are obviously doomed to endless failure with one another in this closed and barren room. The man is a revolutionary journalist who tries to deceive himself with the illusion he died a hero, when the fact is he was shot in cowardice. One of the women is a selfish social climber who has lovelessly married an older man, murdered her an older man, murdered her a lover to suicide. And the other woman is a ferocious cynic and an acknowledged lesbian who has taken her own life in sheer frustration and vicious contempt for mankind.
Locked in this sterile chamber, they are their own torturers. And the instrument of their torture is their endless self-lacerating talk. Insofar as their slashing conversation does lead the listener on into a maze of psychological involvements and a state of intellectual suspense, there is a certain cerebral interesteven excitementin the film. It does trace an intellectual mystery to a chilly intellectual expose.
But the whole thing is so antiseptic and is directed so stagily by Mr. Danielewski that it is visually monotonous on the screen. And the acting of Viveca Lindfors, Rita Gam and Morgan Sterne is necessarily so aggressive and yet so bloodless and emotionally withdrawn that the actors could as well be lying on couches, shouting at one another from there, for all the sense of personal conflict and menace that comes from them.
Furthermore, in his screenplay, George Tabori has done a cinematically natural thing that actually dissipates a valuea very strong valuein the play. He has inserted pantomimed flashbacks of experiences the characters verbally describe, so that frequently the viewer is taken outside the barren room. While this does give a little visual movement and glints of melodrama to the film, it relieves the horrible sense of inescapable confinement that is the most shattering effect of the play.
But, at least, this proves that "No Exit" is inappropriate material for a full-length.
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