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The Servant More at IMDbPro »

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Index 57 reviews in total 

49 out of 52 people found the following review useful:

Superb, sinister movie

9/10
Author: ian_harris from London, England
25 November 2002

This is a superb, sinister movie of the very highest class. Unlike the character Tony (James Fox) who is upper class without being high class, if you get my drift. You cannot really sympathise with Tony, who toys with some high falutin' development projects but basically is a wastrel just waiting to be ponced off. Tony is a later-day Bertie Wooster. The sinister element comes from the servant (Dirk Bogarde), who is no Jeeves. Barrett, like Jeeves , is a gentleman's gentleman or valet (not a butler as suggested in some other comments on this film). Tony needs a valet because he is incapable of doing anything much without help. Barrett and his accomplice Vera (Sarah Miles) take Tony to the cleaners, sweeping aside the fiancee Susan (Wendy Craig) in their wake.

Harold Pinter has written the screenplay in similar vein to the superb movie The Accident, also a Losey piece, which I also commend. The cinematography in both movies is simply excellent. The subject matter of The Servant suits Pinter, although much of the screenplay is not really in Pinter's voice. However, there is one scene, set in a restaurant, which includes a tiny cameo by Pinter himself and which contains a short Pinteresque exchange between two women. There is also one tense exchange between Susan and Barrett "do you wear deodorant" etc. which is very reminiscent of a scene in The Caretaker "you stink from arsehole to Thursday" etc. Indeed the story of The Servant resembles The Caretaker in many respects, except that in The Servant the interloper, Barrett, is on top and stays there, whereas in The Caretaker the interloper, Davies, lacks the skill and circumstances to dislodge the incumbent.

There is a homoerotic undercurrent to the film and this works so well because it is an undercurrent (in 1963 there could have been no more than an undercurrent even if they had wanted more). The overt debauchery with Vera and the orgy party towards the end of the film is the only bit of the film that has aged without grace. But I quibble.

This is a truly great film and it deserves to be more widely known.

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31 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

Disturbing but fascinating psychological drama

Author: Bobs-9 from Chicago, Illinois, USA
27 December 2001

Back in the late 1960's or early 70's I discovered this creepy psychological drama on local late-night TV. Once seen, it's never quite forgotten, and it's fascinating to see it once again beautifully restored and uncut in its new DVD release. Aspects of it stick with you years later, most especially the dark, moody torch song with some bizarre lyrics which is played repeatedly throughout the story on Mr. Tony's record player, seeming more sinister with each successive playing. By the time of its final hearing near the end of the movie, its effect is so oppressive that it's a relief when the record player is violently shoved off the table. One telling detail is in the scene where Mr. Tony is left alone after Barrett and Vera are expelled from the house, and his fiancee Susan also disappointedly leaves him. He dejectedly goes to an upstairs bedroom, and on the wall above the bed we see pictures of male body-builders.

The cast is uniformly excellent. This was apparently James Fox's film debut, as his credit indicates `Introducing James Fox.' He was obviously an experienced actor, though. In contrast, four years later he was affecting an American accent, singing and dancing, and amazingly, looking even younger in `Thoroughly Modern Millie.'

This is the sort of role that I always associate Dirk Bogarde with. The way Barrett's malevolent character is gradually revealed, not just through the script, but through Bogarde's facial expressions and body language, is a credit to this great actor's skill. This is one dangerous guy.

`The Servant' is a real gem of early 60's British film.

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33 out of 37 people found the following review useful:

Confusing, sexy and brilliant

8/10
Author: Framescourer from London, UK
16 November 2004

A super, confusing but entirely visceral experience, The Servant is a rich collaboration between Pinter (the writer) and Losey. Good performances from Fox and the doyenne of the slightly barmy 60's flick, Sarah Miles are mandatory in order to keep up with the entirely convincing theatrics of Dirk Bogarde's morally abstract butler, Barrett. Losey keeps everything claustrophobic: there's also an edginess through the stiltedness of set pieces - in restaurants and bars, and even in the Mounset's country pile. The only scene which seems comfortable is the snow(fight) sequence in which Susan and Tony affirm their love - and the moral height from which Tony must fall.

Bizarrely, the film is erotic for the first half but then simply frightening for the second, the drama wound around a single moral trajectory - downwards - throughout. We are engulfed from the start with open-ended sexual permissiveness and suggestion, which runs alongside the class divide whose tension drives the drama to the same degree. In the final scenes I couldn't remove Berg's opera on Wedekind's play Lulu from my mind, given the sax-fronted jazz of John Dankworth colliding awkwardly with a simultaneous orchestral score. It's just a brilliant, original film - analysis resistant, but entirely absorbing nonetheless 8/10

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31 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

Fighting for Power in the British Class Warfare

8/10
Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
17 May 2007

The aristocratic Tony (James Fox) moves to London and hires the servant Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) for all services at home. Barrett seems to be a loyal and competent employee, but Tony's girlfriend Susan (Wendy Craig) does not like him and asks Tony to send him away. When Barrett brings his sister Vera (Sarah Miles) to work and live in the house, Tony has a brief hidden affair with her. After traveling with Susan for spending a couple of days in a friend's house outside London, the couple unexpectedly returns and finds Barrett and Vera, who are actually lovers, in Tony's room. They are fired and Susan breaks with Tony. Later, Tony meets Barrett alone in a pub and hires him back, and Barrett imposes his real dark intentions in the house, turning the table and switching position with his master.

While watching the quite unknown "The Servant", at least three points called my attention. The first one is the impressive cinematography and the camera work and movements, shooting in unusual angles inclusive with a great use of mirrors. The second one is the stunning performance of Dirk Bogarde, in the role of a sinister, amoral and cynical character that plots a Machiavellian dark plan to achieve power in the British class warfare. Last but not the least, the ambiguous screenplay, with eroticism and insinuations that Tony is actually bisexual, missing the "services" of his servant. I do not know if my mind is quite dirty with the sexual liberty of the present days, but I saw many elements indicating that Tony's connection with Barrett is actually sexual attraction. In 1963, I believe the censorship would be strong regarding sex and drugs and the screenplay is open to more than one interpretation. Sarah Miles is extremely beautiful in this highly recommended movie. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "O Criado" ("The Servant")

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31 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

Power Plays

9/10
Author: harry-76 from Cleveland, Ohio
9 January 2004

About midpoint Tony's girlfriend Susan asks servant Hugo, "What do you want from this house?" It's a direct and pointed question that's ambiguously answered ("I'm just the servant, mum.")

That ambiguity carries the dramatic tension along its murky but intriguing path, as a strange play of power and manipulation unfolds. Yet after a series of quirkly developments transpire and the tables of manservant and master are reversed, what's the real gain?

What was there in the house in the first place that was worth all the fuss and bother to acquire? Satisfaction of taking over the master role?

Whatever the goal, it all seems a tawdry victory. After the shoe's on the other foot and a few points are scored in this cheesy power game, where's the spoil?

What does drive this drama is Pinter's genius for inventing small talk that gives the illusion of grandeur Losey's direction is right on the mark, and the production design, score, photography--and the acting--are all top drawer.

As in his subversive play, "The Homecoming," Pinter manages to hold the attention with his unique pregnant pauses and hypnotic ambiance, which are actually illusionary. It could be a play about something very important or about nothing.

One thing is for certain: once "The Servant" is seen, one never quite forgets it.

This remains Dirk Bogarde's defining cinematic role.

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21 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

THE SERVANT (Joseph Losey, 1963) ***1/2

8/10
Author: MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) from Naxxar, Malta
24 August 2006

I first watched Losey's most famous work - but not quite his best, in my opinion - on the big-screen at London's National Film Theatre in 1999, just a few months after star Dirk Bogarde's death; it's certainly one of the latter's most significant roles (along with the homosexual composer of DEATH IN VENICE [1971], perhaps his most representative), though I still feel that VICTIM (1961) is the finest film he's ever been associated with!

Even so, Bogarde's performance (recipient of the BAFTA award) is understated most of the time - which rather suits his enigmatic title character, a self-described "gentleman's gentleman" but actually harboring sinister ambitions. Interestingly, when Joseph Losey fell ill in mid-production, the directorial chores were thrust into the hands of the leading man until his recovery - who, amusingly, initially turned Losey down by saying that he "couldn't direct a bus" if his life depended on it!

While he was still some years away from the deliberate formalism that virtually characterized all his later output, Losey's style is here more controlled - for lack of a better word - than in, say, THE CRIMINAL (1960) or EVA (1962); this may have been due to the 'failure' of the latter (see my review elsewhere), or perhaps his collaboration with screenwriter (and influential playwright) Harold Pinter may have had more to do with this than anything else. Still, Douglas Slocombe's sleek black-and-white cinematography (also a BAFTA award winner) of the gloomy London settings - abetted by Johnny Dankworth's wistful score - is certainly among the film's most notable assets.

James Fox's fine performance as the usurped master of the house led him to short-lived stardom (and even copped the young actor the "Most Promising Newcomer" award at the BAFTAs); his career went on an extended hiatus some years later (which ended in the mid-Eighties) following his traumatic experience on the set of PERFORMANCE (1970), curiously enough a film dealing with a similar role-reversal situation! Though the women are subservient to the central relationship between Bogarde and Fox, both Sarah Miles and Wendy Craig serve their characters well; especially interesting is the battle of wits between the latter (as Fox's upper-class girlfriend) and Bogarde, whom she mistrusts from the get-go and is obviously proved right beyond her wildest imagination!

For a two-hour dialogue-driven film, the plot is pretty sparse - typically of Pinter, dealing in symbolism rather than presenting a straightforward narrative (despite being based on a novel by Robin Maugham) - but the tension between the various characters holds the viewer's attention all the way...though the final descent into depravity and degradation comes off as rather too abrupt and now seems more farcical than shocking (as it must have seemed at the time)! The cast also includes bit parts by two alumni of Losey's THE CRIMINAL - co-star Patrick Magee and screenwriter Alun Owen, sparring amusingly as a couple of clergymen in a bar! - as well as Pinter himself (a former actor in his own right, appearing as a 'society man' in the same scene, actually one of the very few set outside Fox's mansion).

There's a hilarious scene in which James Fox goes with Wendy Craig to visit her "mummified" high society parents. This enables Bogarde and Miles to live it up at the house during their absence. However, they cut short their visit and catch them romping about in their master's bedroom, whereupon he sacks them on the spot. This leads to the film's best scene, in my opinion: the chance meeting in a bar between Bogarde and Fox (who has, in the interim, fallen on hard times) where the Mephistophelean Bogarde paints a pitiful picture of himself which, inevitably, leads the lonesome Fox to engage his services once more. The way Losey shoots this marvelous sequence is masterly - with a minimum of camera movement and the actors strategically placed within the frame.

Trivia note: I own a British periodical from the early 80s called "The Movie" - a collection of essays strung together more or less by theme and running for an impressive 158 volumes - in which THE SERVANT was among the films chosen for a two-page critical evaluation, accompanied by a detailed synopsis and illustrated by numerous stills; I've leafed through it and read the review (written by Derek Prouse) so many times that these images from the film have become fixed in my mind and, as I lay watching, I was actively looking out for each one of them!

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16 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Dark psychological drama

8/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
30 August 2009

Dirk Bogarde is "The Servant" in this 1963 film written by Harold Pinter and also starring James Fox, Sarah Miles, and Wendy Craig, and directed by Joseph Losey.

Fox plays Tony, a wealthy young man who doesn't do much in the way of work. There is vague talk of a project or two, but basically he fools around with his girlfriend Susan (Craig) and that's about it. He hires Hugo Barrett (Bogarde) as a manservant. Barrett is quiet and efficient, but he makes Susan uncomfortable, and she encourages Tony to get rid of him. Barrett brings in his sister Vera (Miles) as a maid for the household, and it doesn't take her long to seduce Tony. He later finds Barrett and Vera in his bed and learns that they're not related - except in purpose.

This is a fascinating, murky psychological drama about seduction, the classes, and the strong versus the weak, with homoerotic undertones. The servant slowly becomes the master by preying on the vulnerabilities of a purposeless upper class playboy.

The John Dankworth score, with vocals by Cleo Laine, has been mentioned. Frankly, I found it intrusive sleazy '60s music that contributes to dating "The Servant." It's a shame, because the cinematography by Douglas Slocombe is exceptional, showing the house as it changes throughout Barrett's tenure and its gradual darkening, and his use of shadows and odd angles is exemplary.

The acting is tremendous, with James Fox pathetic as the weak-willed Tony, and Sarah Miles sexy and vulnerable as Vera, and Wendy Craig is appropriately cold as Tony's fiancé.

But the star is Dirk Bogarde. As a predator of the weak and corruptible, Dirk Bogarde is fabulous - restrained, sinister, dignified, he gives no doubt who holds the power in the household. And when he drops the manservant act, shirttails hanging out, hair uncombed, and cigarette dangling from his mouth, he's downright scary. Bogarde began a new, non-matinée idol career for himself beginning with 1961's controversial film Victim, and his roles would grow more and more interesting as the years progressed. Bogarde is well-known in the U.S., perhaps becoming increasingly more well-known with his films being shown on TCM, but it's hard for us to measure his tremendous fame overseas. It's probably on a par with Gregory Peck's - they were both post-war stars who worked into the late '90s. My sister lived in England in the '70s, and I asked her if he was big over there, and she said, "Uh - YEAH." Definitely worth seeing for the direction, acting, camera-work, and those Pinter touches.

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20 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

Perverted Jeeves

Author: meitschi from Vienna, Austria
22 August 2002

"The Servant" was a film I had to think a lot about. Though I would not consider it as being flawless, it is a very interesting and indeed memorable piece of British cinema.

The characters itself could have been taken from P. G. Wodehouse's hilarious series of comic novels about the perfect butler Jeeves and his 'master' 'Bertie' Wooster, a young, superficial, and careless dandy who could not make one step without Jeeves constantly caring for him.

In "The Servant", a similar relationship is twisted in a much darker way: Hugo Barrett is not at all the faithful servant devoted to his master - though he appears to be at the beginning -, but a scheming, quite evil person who knows very well what he wants. (Though the real motives of his deeds do not become completely clear in the story - but this makes him probably even scarier.)

Dirk Bogarde was just wonderful. Most impressive. His body language, shifting from servile to casual, menacing or frivolous is meticulously developed and executed. The supporting actors were also good, notably James Fox. Sarah Miles tried everything to bring life to her rather cartoonish character, though she never could make me understand how Tony could be so sexually attracted to a woman like her in the first place.

I loved the homoerotic undertones of the Barrett-Tony relationship, especially in the second half of the film, after Barrett's return. They two men often act like a (gay) couple, especially in their disputes. There is also a great piece of dialogue between the two, written in tongue-in-cheek manner by Pinter, when they talk about feeling being "pals" and mention that they have felt like that "in the army before". The loveliest scene was the one where Barrett tells Tony that his "old flame" (Susan) has arrived and then says in a flirtatious manner "one yesterday - and one tonight" while holding Tony's face in his hand. We don't know yet at this point that he has invited some prostitutes, so this remark seems quite ambigous for a moment...

The symbolism is great, the many mirrors in the film forming a substitute for Barrett's gaze, never leaving Tony and Susan. There is also some phallic symbolism (most openly in the long shot of the garden just after the scene when Vera arrives at Tony's house). And Douglas Slocombe's black-and-white photography is just about incredible.

What I liked less about the film was that it was a weird mixture of what is basically a 19th century morality tale, but set in the 1960s and shot in the manner of the 1930s (the latter being no problem at all, but rather increasing the value of the film). The scenes with the women, especially the "erotic" scenes, were also rather awkward and very Sixties in style, so many of them seemed quite out of date, viewed today. The morality of the story was also quite flat in my opinion, and I must admit that I didn't care too much for Tony, this lazy and not very intelligent rich young dandy. In fact, I rather enjoyed Barrett catching the fly in his web...

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15 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Divine Decadence

10/10
Author: Martin Bradley (MOscarbradley@aol.com) from Derry, Ireland
3 August 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Joseph Losey's (and Harold Pinter's, for that matter) masterpiece never ceases to give me a thrill but only recently has it stopped making my skin crawl; (it is an insidiously decadent film). You know it's probably bad for you, (you want its 'villian' to make mince-meat of its wan, effete 'hero'), but you're addicted. From its opening frame it draws you in and it never, never lets you go. It's almost too easy, too blas to say it's about corruption or even that it's about evil. (Is Barrett evil because he destroys Tony and latterly Susan?). Rather, I think, it's a movie about need, the need too be desired or wanted or simply loved, (though if it's a love story you might say it's a very peculiar one; it's the one emotion that appears to be peculiarly absent). It's based on a novel by Robin Maugham but it's a vast improvement on the book. A good novel can create space where our imagination can roam free. Even a densely plotted novel will leave room for us to fill in the blanks. Films tend not to do this. What appears on the screen is often literally what is intended. (Some movies deliberately leave things out; some movies make us work hard for our enjoyment). The film of "The Servant" is both literal and elusive. Losey's mise-en-scene is very deliberate. The pleasures a movie affords like decor, crisp (and 'intelligent') imagery, the use of music to heighten a mood or an emotion are all there. The acting is flawless, (but more of that later). The elusiveness comes from Harold Pinter's script. Here his famous 'pregnant pauses' become 'gaps' in what drives the characters. We think we know them but really we don't. People are not what they seem. (As if to stress the point he gives us a scene in a restaurant where we eavesdrop on the conversations of diners where one character says something that is misunderstood by another or simply by us, the audience). In particular, he makes ambiguous the sexuality of the principals. This may have been dictated by censorship though, to be honest, the ambiguity is slight; the mutual attraction and the master/slave relationship which develops seems to me to be clearly homosexual. This is heightened by the extraordinarily fine performances of Dirk Bogarde (Barrett) and James Fox (Tony). Barrett is a prissy old queen and Tony is the ever so slightly effeminate younger man in thrall of him. But Barrett can be 'butch' as well as 'nancy' when he has to be. (It's a part Bogarde probably played only too well in real life). He doesn't quite let you get a handle on him. Fox was new to movies but you would never know it. This is a remarkably mature reading of an immature young man. You can see that Fox can see the shadings in the character that Pinter provides in the script and he gets under Tony's skin completely. There are two other two other superb performances in the film. As Vera, the sluttish maid brought into the house to seduce Tony, Sarah Miles exudes sexuality and vulnerability in equal measure, (she, too, was new to movies and wasn't encumbered with the mannerisms of more seasoned performers), while Wendy Craig is icy-cold, aloof and oddly sympathetic as Susan, the rich girl engaged to Tony. I have seen this film many times and each time it comes up fresh but now I have warmed to its insidious charms or maybe I've just become more jaded through my exposure to it. Handle with care.

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20 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Subtleties

Author: david-pollock from London England
16 January 2005

If you watch closely you will find that not only does the internal decoration of the house change (in ways not included in the plot) to become gradually darker as Tony is gradually undermined and seduced by Barrett but also the excellent (but very much of its time) soundtrack by Johnny Dankworth & (surely - or is my recollection wrong?) Cleo Laine - though the same LP is put on the turntable many times, the arrangement of the same theme is different. (I did not notice this at first but found it pointed out in a special issue of the Oxford University magazine Isis at the time the film was released that was entirely devoted to it.) The film has recently reappeared in England as a stage work: Play without Words, seen at the National Theatre, is (was, I guess, is more accurate) a superb piece of dance theatre in which the ambiguities of the characters' motivations, or the discrepancies between their thoughts and actions, are portrayed by having more than one dancer per character. Sometimes only one is seen, sometimes they move in unison, sometimes in separate ways. It is extremely effective.

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