The Servant (1963) Poster

(1963)

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Disturbing but fascinating psychological drama
Bobs-927 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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9/10
Superb, sinister movie
ian_harris25 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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8/10
Dark psychological drama
blanche-230 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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8/10
Fighting for Power in the British Class Warfare
Claudio Carvalho17 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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8/10
Confusing, sexy and brilliant
Framescourer16 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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9/10
Power Plays
harry-769 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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8/10
THE SERVANT (Joseph Losey, 1963) ***1/2
MARIO GAUCI24 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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10/10
Divine Decadence
Martin Bradley3 August 2007
Warning: 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 blasé 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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Perverted Jeeves
meitschi22 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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9/10
The Fatales – Homme & Femme.
Spikeopath18 May 2013
The Servant is directed by Joseph Losey and adapted to screenplay by Harold Pinter from the novelette of the same name written by Robin Maugham. It stars Dirk Bogarde, Sarah Mles, Wendy Craig and James Fox. Music is by John Dankworth and cinematography by Douglas Slocombe.

When well-to-do Londoner Tony (Fox) hires Hugo Barrett (Bogarde) as his manservant, he gets more than he bargained for. Especially when Hugo's sister Vera (Miles) also arrives on the scene…

The Servant remains as enigmatic today as it was back on its release in the early part of the 1960s. It's a film that defies classification, that rare old cinematic treat that continues to cause debate about not only its worth as art, but also its very meaning(s). A head bothering delight that revels in toying with your perceptions as much as Hugo Barrett enjoys toying with his supposed master. Lets play master and servant - indeed.

Set predominantly in the confines of Tony's swanky Chelsea abode, there's a disturbing claustrophobia that pervades the narrative, and this before we even begin to ponder the power of man, his ability to dominate and manipulate, or the reverse side that sees another's lack of ability to not succumb to the downward spiral instigated by a supposed lesser man.

Sprinkled over power issues are sexual desires, obtained, unfulfilled or simmering away unspoken. As the literate screenplay comes out in sharp dialogue snatches, breaking free of Pinter's other wise cement ensconced writing, there's evidence that this is a psychological study as opposed to the class system allegory that many thought it was way back then. This really isn't about role reversal, the finale tells us that.

Visually it's a box of atmospheric tricks as well. Losey and Slocombe use deep angular black and white photography to enforce the chilly dynamics at work in the story, the longer the film goes on, as it gets to the nitty gritty, the more jarring the camera work becomes – delightfully so – the house no longer an affluent person's residence, but a skew-whiff place of debauchery and mind transference. And mirrors - reflections, important and used to great effect.

Some scenes are striking and rich. Hugo at the top of the stairs standing in the bedroom doorway, in silhouette, an overhead shot of Hugo and Tony playing a childlike ball game on the stairs, a sex scene on a leather chair that we don't see but understand totally. And many more as Losey finds the material that allows him to show his skills.

Cast performances are across the board terrific, particularly Bogarde who gives a visual acting master class, and Fox who beautifully shifts a gear from toff twit into dependant dead beat. While Dankworth's musical accompaniments add flavour to the unfolding machinations. 9/10
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Subtleties
david-pollock16 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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9/10
So hard to get good help these days.
Robert J. Maxwell10 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
When I first saw this I believed it was a drama about the conflict between two guys -- one rich master of the household(James Fox) and one working class servant (Dirk Bogarde) -- to see who was going to be boss of the place, with Fox getting a nudge in the accepted direction once in a while from his fiancée, Wendy Craig of the ski-slope nose.

Now, with a bit more experience -- okay, a lot more experience -- I can see that writer Harold Pinter and director Joseph Losey were after a good deal more than that. The subject isn't just masculine striving, it's the social structure of England.

Essentially, Fox is a proper, spoiled upper-middle-class lawyer's son with an Eton hair cut and spacious town house in London. Craig's family is better off. We're talking one of those vast country estates run by two completely out-of-touch parents who can't tell a "poncho" from a "gaucho." Fox and Craig are in love and everything looks rosy.

Then Fox, tired of keeping his own house, hires Dirk Bogarde as a live-in manservant. Boy, is that a mistake. Bogarde is properly dressed and appropriately obsequious and suitably quiet as he slowly goes about keeping house and cooking. But he wangles his sister, teen-aged Sarah Miles, into the house as a maid.

Miles, as you may or may not know, has this plump lower lip that runs from one side of her mouth to the other, a rack that, if set loose, would devastate the countryside, and a trembling girlish voice that bespeaks a sexual history that is at once debauched and virginal.

One night, when Bogarde is presumably asleep upstairs, she stumbles upon Fox in the kitchen. Drops spatter slowly from the kitchen faucet into the tin basin as Fox gawks at her. (This is symbolic.) "Ewww, isn't it hot in here?", she asks in tones that carry the contours of adolescence. "I'm so hot. Are you hot?" (The drops quicken their tempo.) Miles hitches her tiny skirt up an inch or so, sluices her haunch up onto the kitchen table, slips her girlish hand under her sweater and pats her little belly because of the torrid atmosphere. They should never eat from that table again.

I don't have space to describe all the felicities of this production and artistic discretion prevents me from revealing too much of the plot.

But I must say that Joseph Losey's direction is nearly impeccable. He has a painter's masterly eye. The compositions of each shot are exquisite without calling too much attention to themselves. Well, one example, so you'll know what I'm talking about. Miles has been thrown out and Bogarde is more or less in charge of the house, when the doorbell rings. It's a dripping wet Miles, apologizing fulsomely and begging to borrow a few quid. Josey has placed the camera almost at floor level in the vestibule. We see Bogarde open the door and an argument begins. Then Fox's dark trousers swish before the camera as he enters the scene and tells Bogarde to let her in. Bogarde is furious. He pulls Miles inside and throws her to the floor. She lands, sliding slightly, until her face is almost against the lens. All of this telling incident is captured in one longish take. It's like watching an illusionist perform an impossible trick on stage.

I'd like to mention too the insane game of hide-and-seek the two men play, with a terrified Fox behind the bathroom curtain, and Bogarde with a demonic grin slowly searching, purring tauntingly like a child, "Where arre you, puss, puss, puss? . . . Somebody has a guilty seee-cret . . ." And meanwhile Fox's back lighted profile is cast on the shower curtain's slightly billowing folds so that his nose seems to grow and shrink by degrees. I'd like to mention that but I won't. I'll mention the oddball dissonance of the score, featuring a bassoon, instead.

I don't know what Robin Maugham's book was like but Pinter's screenplay is rife with homosexual symbolism, Bogarde's own orientation being completely irrelevant one way or the other. You couldn't be too direct in 1963. And maybe after all it's better to say "bisexual" because neither Fox nor Bogarde seem disinclined to dalliance with the nubile Miles. Come to think of it, maybe "pansexual" would be still better. Who knows what went on in those late-night parties hosted by the now-dominant Servant?

What a gripping exercise in style this is. Many critics didn't seem to care much for Pinter and Losey but I don't know why. The use of words like "mannerisms" doesn't help much. (What is "mannerism" anyway?) Don't we all have tics and tocs? Aren't some better -- more suited to their context -- than others?
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8/10
Perfect portrait of class warfare
aemmering6 July 2006
While this little known British classic has been badly neglected for the last thirty years or so, it shouldn't be; it is one of the most expertly realized portraits of British class warfare ever. Aside from Bogarde's (obviously) letter perfect portrayal of a sinister lower class valet with some ugly designs on his upper crust victim (well played also, by James Fox, who came to specialize in similar roles), one scene in particular stands out, and underlines beautifully the whole film's entire message. When Fox's aristocratic girlfriend (played by Wendy Craig) comes to visit, she has an amazing encounter with Bogarde. She suspects he's moving in on her boyfriend, ready to replace her in his affections. She imperiously orders him into the front room, abruptly quizzing him for his opinions on just about everything. She isn't concerned with his answers-she just enjoys ordering him around, Queen Victoria style. The effect is stunning-Bogarde clearly wants to strangle the bitch, but must restrain himself, he's only the servant after all. But he's still a man, and will get his revenge soon enough. The whole upper class system will be turned on its head. The resolution (if it can be called that) is not totally satisfying. In fact, it seems just as confused just and messy as life itself is.

Some reviewers have stated that Ms. Craig was miscast as the classy girlfriend. Not so-as she imperiously and hatefully orders the helpless servant around, her face and voice become a hateful mask of the arrogance and cruelty of British snobbery. A minor classic of its kind, somewhat dated, but still relevant and brilliantly filmed in moody black and white, and Bogarde's best moments on film.
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8/10
A stunning achievement.
Rockwell_Cronenberg9 March 2012
An intimately crafted psychological drama, The Servant is a remarkable film that deserves to be seen by all. Written by Harold Pinter, based on a novel by Robin Maugham, it is a stunningly intelligent dissection of two men, the upper crust Tony (James Fox) and his new servant, Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde). Through these two characters, Pinter's script unravels sharp ups and downs of class warfare and sexual games, as the two men constantly play a tug of war for power in all forms. When they first meet the two seem to hit it off quite well, falling comfortably into their positions of servant and master.

However, once Tony's fiancée Susan (Wendy Craig) comes into the mix and disapproves of Barrett, things start to become more conflicted. Then, Barrett's "sister" Vera (Sarah Miles) comes to move in and her true nature, as Barrett's lover, throws an even stronger rift between the two and their class positioning. The intrusion of these women sets off a descent from their idyllic lifestyle and the two men spend the rest of the time clashing with one another, the walls slowly closing in on this gripping and powerful study.

Director Joseph Losey makes great work of his tools here, using a lot of unique camera techniques like splitting the focus and viewing the characters through reflective surfaces rather than directly, which all serve to heighten the already high tension. The structure is bizarre and the final act gets surprisingly dark and borderline surreal, as the two engage in a series of fascinating interactions to further dissect the state of their dynamic. The Servant would be absolutely nothing without the performances of it's two men, and they both deliver in equal measures. The women are both superb as well, Craig being sharp and vicious, Miles being naive and sensual, but it's the boys show all the way through.

Bogarde is breathtaking, convincingly portraying the "gentleman's gentleman" of a butler at first but slowly turning more sinister and terrifying as time passes on. He plays all sides of this character with total life, always remaining a mystery to the audience as we are never sure whether he is fooling Tony and us or if he's being sincere at any given moment. There's a scene between him and Susan where she digs into him and the pain on his face, the emasculation, actually allows the viewer to feel deeply for what could have been a very unlikeable character.

Fox is no dull edge either, meeting Bogarde with a heartbreaking descent, falling from the mannered and composed young man we first meet into the shriveled and destroyed wreck by the end. The shifting dynamics between the two are always engaging, and Pinter embeds the film with just the right amount of emotion, comedy, terror and homoerotic subtext. It's a shattering work, marvelously performed by everyone involved.
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9/10
An immaculate conception, not to be missed
Frances Farmer27 August 2013
This movie has so much going for it one hardly knows where to begin. The tale is simple enough... a handsome, boyish aristocrat courting alcoholism and marriage at the same time inherits a large fortune following his father's death. This requires him to take a house in London and, with the house, a manservant to run things. Enter Dirk Bogarde's Barrett, who initially seems innocuous enough. Sharp witted, polished and able, Barrett takes charge of all his master's domestic details with aplomb and the partnership between the two seems at first to go off swimmingly. Quickly enough, though, the contempt felt for Barrett by the master's fiancée (Wendy Craig as the implacably shrewish Susan) sets things on a dangerous downward path leading James Fox's Tony, by degrees, into an inferno of self destruction.

The acting is uniformly superb. Bogarde is a marvel, as usual... here he is sly, devilish, calculating several moves ahead of his putative boss as he engineers a quiet and invidious sort of mayhem. Sarah Miles plays a seemingly idiotic coquette who exercises total command of the proceedings behind a succession of cunning masks. James Fox handles his transformation from n'eer do well gentleman to something out of a painting by Goya or Francis Bacon with great finesse.

The cinematography and editing are beautiful and greatly contribute to the strained and intensely suspenseful atmosphere pervading this movie. The only weak point in the whole thing, and it is a minor weakness, is the overuse of one song throughout the movie. The producers should have splurged a bit more on the music or kept it more unobtrusive.

I think "The Servant" was the inspiration, at least partly, for several other works I previously enjoyed. If this movie had never been made, would we have ever had Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" or Pasolini's "Teorema" or Tennessee Williams' short story, "The Killer Chicken and the Closet Queen"? I'm not sure but they all seem to flow from this amazing source in one way or another.
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8/10
dark sinister and disturbing but a brilliant psychological drama
HelenMary18 May 2013
As films from the early 60s go, this is one of the darkest and most disturbing I've seen and dealt with very explicit and frightening issues. Long after I'd seen it, it stayed in my mind and worried me. I felt sorry for Tony, the rich aristocrat (James Fox) and frustrated for how he was treated, but also cross at his girlfriend for not doing anything to help him. His downfall was vividly portrayed by the great Fox and the miscreant Barrett played with superb calm and maliciousness by Dirk Bogarde was simply insidious but spectacular.

Other than a psychological portrait of the moral and societal decline of Tony, it also highlights the blindness and callousness with which people act and don't really see or help anyone but themselves and are just selfish at heart. Even the "posh" people. I don't condone what the manservant did but I can see the frustration with which people in service must have felt and how easily they could be manipulated but trusting dolts who don't have a clue about anything as someone has always "done" for them.

Everything about this production is dark and foreboding; the script relies on silences, and short dialogue, it uses darkness and grimness in the lighting and in the sets, despite it being a lovely rich home, and the decline is slow and painful to watch. You see ways he could have protected himself, how his girlfriend could have helped him but he is left alone to sink to the depths. Definitely not a "Hollywood" movie and it leaves you feeling emotionally shredded. As well as all this, the sexual tension of the film is quite intense, there is seduction between Tony and Vera, Barrett's "sister" girlfriend (a manipulative Sarah Mills) but also a weird homoerotic atmosphere between Tony and Barrett which doesn't really seem real or going anywhere or whether there's a point to it but it adds to the tension and dare I say it a sort sexual overtone to the film. I was surprised how explicit it was, and dealing with such taboo subjects for the time. It's a brilliant psychological drama but tragic and really really grim.
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9/10
Weird and stunning, a surreal work of art
audiemurph10 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"The Servant" opens with an astonishing sequence, during which Bogarde, as a man-servant, is interviewed by his new employer Tony, played by James Fox. Watch how Bogarde sits absolutely, perfectly still on the chair in the attic, except for this: subtly, yet unmistakably, he is working his jaw muscles, and they pulse with waves of seething anger, and you can read how unhappy he is, having to behave so subserviently to his new snob of a master. This is a magnificent bit of film-making.

This movie, along with "Victim", demonstrates what an extraordinary actor Dirk Bogarde was. Bogarde seems to have more control over every muscle in his body than any actor you will ever see. Not a finger twitches, not an eyebrow rises, not a single superfluous body part moves, that is not under the absolute control of Dirk Bogarde. In fact, every actor in this film is under the masterful control of the director. The camera-work too is mesmerizing, panning left and right here, and zooming in or out there. And look for the clever use of distorted mirrors and shadows (a naked Dirk Bogarde, for example) to indicate the action. This is real art, my friends.

The plot is a strange one, though on paper it seems straight forward enough. Bogarde, as the newly hired servant, slowly but surely, through extreme manipulation, takes over the home of his new master. But this does not begin to describe how bizarre and extreme Bogarde's plots are. I don't think we ever really understand exactly what Bogarde's goal is here. He lets his girlfriend, Vera, seduce and carry on an affair with Tony, but why? Tony, enamored with Vera, loses his own fiancé, and slowly gives up on life, ultimately changing from an idealistic and active member of the nobility to a complete drunken wreck. Bogarde befriends him, rising above the servant-master relationship, but it is such a weird co-dependent relationship – an extended sequence shows them trying to hit each other with a ball, and arguing about the score. We never really figure out what is going on in Bogarde's mind. The servant is indeed an enigma of a character.

Sarah Miles, by the way, is achingly gorgeous and sexy as Bogarde's girlfriend. Nothing dirty happens directly on screen, yet some of the sex scenes are so cleverly suggestive that they will leave you panting. Look out particularly for the scene later in the movie where Fox takes Miles on an over-sized lounge chair –but we only see her legs and the back of the chair.

"The Servant" is a truly bizarre and astonishing film, with tremendous acting and amazing directing. Highly recommended.
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6/10
Class structure's order descends into anarchy
George Wright27 January 2009
James Fox and Dirk Bogarde combine their talents as the gentleman and servant (valet)in this unusual movie from the 1960s. James Fox, brother of Edward Fox (Day of the Jackal), can still be found playing older, distinguished gentlemen in more current films. In this movie, the gentleman acts like a frat-house boy whose life is measured by the amount of alcohol he imbibes. When Dirk Bogarde becomes his valet, his new London townhouse takes on an orderliness, despite the antics of the young aristocrat. We soon find out, however, that the eerie efficiency of the servant is invasive and uncomfortable for both Fox and his girlfriend, Wendy Craig, who comes to dislike the servant.

Gradually, the standards of the servant decline and he becomes noticeably less docile, much to the disgust of Susan (Wendy Craig). The servant brings in his girlfriend (Sarah Miles) and acts fast and loose with her just as the master feels free to. Susan thinks she knows how to handle a servant and the servant would not last long with her in charge. However, the standards in this household continue to descend into darkness as seen in a final orgy-like party. The movie exposes the basic nature of both servants and the masters when the class system breaks down. Of course,as long as the structure is in place, the masters can take advantage of it. In many households, the servants were the rigid defenders of knowing one's place. But by the 60's (when this movie takes place) the rules were being tested.

The black and white film cuts away to a series of images that are like still photography. These images are enhanced by the snow-cover of the winter landscape.

The end of the film is a disappointment and ruins the overall effect of the excellent acting and strong visual presentation for much of the film.
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6/10
This didn't hold up the second time I saw it..
MartinHafer15 November 2010
Dirk Bogarde becomes the gentleman's gentleman for a rich guy who sits around doing nothing with his life other than dating a nice lady. Eventually, the rich guy is seduced by a maid--and Bogarde is instrumental in orchestrating it. When this all comes out in front of the rich guy's fiancé, the rich guy's life becomes turned upside down...and the viewer is left wondering why.

I'd seen this movie years ago and remembered liking it a lot. However, with this second viewing, I was very surprised how much I didn't like it. Perhaps it's because I've seen movies since then about evil servants (such as "Kind Lady"). Perhaps it's because I've seen better evil performances by Dirk Bogarde ("Cast a Giant Shadow" comes to mind). Or, perhaps it's because I felt that the plot didn't quite hit the mark. Yes, I think it's mostly the latter. The transition from a seemingly loyal servant to a weird dominant pal seemed odd--and very, very difficult to believe. I really think this COULD have worked had they been very daring and made the relationship between the rich guy and the servant a homosexual one--it would have much better explained WHY the bizarre juxtaposition occurred. As it is, there is no competent explanation for this change in positions from servant to eventual master. Had the gay subtext been able to been explored openly, I think the film would have made a lot of sense and been more realistic. Overall, an interesting failure...but that's all.

I know it's all supposed to be social commentary...but it just left me a bit flat and bored the second time around.
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5/10
Good idea, good cinematics, but didn't quite pull together...
Enchorde13 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The Servant is about an aristocrat, Tony, that returns to London and decides to hire himself a man servant to help him. He hires Hugo Barrett, who is not only good at his job, but very correct in his manners and confident in his abilities. Tony, however, doesn't have much personal strength, and often needs advice and leaves decisions about the house to Barrett. This gives Barrett power, so much that he supplants Tony as the true master of the house, leaving Tony in demise.

The plot description opens up for very interesting possibilities. I envisioned a psychological power struggle between Tony and Barrett, a struggle that slowly shifted from Tony to Barrett. Unfortunately, the character Tony is far too weak compared to Barrett, and thus the shift is very quickly. And when it comes it goes very quickly. Instead focus is put on the introduction and the part leading up to the shift. That is very important if the power struggle is going to have any meaning, but in my opinion, is given too much time. The result was too much time waiting, and a feeling of everything being rushed when the struggle should take place. I'm not at all that impressed of the writing as many others seem to be, even though Harold Pinter is the man behind the pen. I had hoped for a much equal battle where the outcome is more unclear. Now Tony doesn't seem to realize he is in a battle at all.

The acting is good, especially from Dirk Bogarde that plays Barrett, but this is not enough to carry the entire movie. Being somewhat of a classic with good ratings I had hoped for more, especially with Bogarde, Pinter and Lousey behind it. Good acting, some nice cinematic details but in all nothing to live up to the expectations.

Unfortunately, the end did not much to salvage the movie either. I don't need a Hollywood ending, nor a happy one at all. But this just left too much hanging. Tony had clearly lost the battle, lost everything indeed, but it just didn't feel like it followed the story to the end. It felt like it ended mid sentence… 5/10
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4/10
I'm disappointed. Starts off promisingly but then turns too weird.
el_monty_BCN26 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILERS HERE

Reading the comments on this page, and the reviews I've come across over the years, I get the impression that the film I've finally seen is a different one from everyone else.

Yes, the cast is magnificent (but we already knew what great actors these were), and yes the photography is top notch. And the story starts off great. The quiet menace of Bogarde's servile but scheming servant builds up slowly but strongly. You know he's gonna ruin this useless rich kid's life, you just want to find out how. And when Vera shows up, you go "Right... now they're gonna blackmail the prick about the affair, and take over". (Fantastic tap scene, by the way. The best bit).

But that's not exactly the way it goes, is it. From that point on, the movie starts turning weirder and weirder until it makes no sense at all, at least to me. Tony simply relinquishes his authority, and apparently his sanity, as if he had no other option, which I just can't understand. I'm not saying I like my films predictable, but some consistency would be nice, thank you. If at least it could be explained from the point of view of a sexual relationship between the two, which would eliminate barriers and justify Tony's submission to Barrett's domineering personality... But that angle is played too subtly to hold the radical turn of events.

I don't know, in the end I haven't got a clue of what the film is trying to say. I suppose some will say I'm too dumb to get it or whatever, but I don't think coherence is too much to ask for.
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9/10
Disturbing tale of manipulation and control.
gwilym4920 April 2001
A disturbing tale of manipulation and control. Fox's character is seen as no match for Bogarde's Barrett. Tony's whole world collapses when his manservant subtly undermines him on every level. Barrett is steps ahead of Tony every time. This movie gets under my skin every time I see it. I dread meeting someone like Barrett in real life. Every value in Tony's life is smashed; his personal life is ruined. Tony is left humiliated; his life without point. Barrett's ruthless cunning left me cold. He is so good at it.

I suggest this is Losey's best work.
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moody and shady
guyfawkes160031 July 2000
Two fabulous scenes standout for me in 'the servant'.First is the quickening beat of a tap dripping during a moment of sexual tension , the other is when barret is discovered in the bedroom with his 'sister' . The latter is a most tense confrontation with only the shadow of barret ( smoking) seen. The film loses its way in the final moments but overall a connisuers delight.
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The shape of the emotional manipulation in a film of Joseph Losey
psagray24 May 2009
An intriguing but model butler English "Barrett" (Dirk Bogarde) is contracted by an indolent and fickle mister of wealthy "Anthony Mounset" (James Fox), he entrusts to "Barrett" the order to restore its new housing, and all the daily tasks to make its carry "Anthony" a life pleasant and relaxed. Soon transcends the weak personality to it, which takes its butler "Barrett" to go outstripping its personality and reach a domain stranglehold on his lord. It is an excellent psychological drama, handling that gradually making the steward "Barrett" even to destroy the relationship of "Anthony" with "Vera" his promised. The emotional blackmail which is capable of inflicting is superbly shown in this film. It takes very well the gestures at the forefront of the emotions of the characters and levels of camera, all with a good photography in black and white of Douglas Slocombe. It is a good movie of Joseph Losey.
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6/10
Little known Brit classic
faraaj-117 September 2006
I liked this little-known British gem. The entire cast - basically consisting of Sarah Miles, James Fox and an amazing Dirk Bogarde - is top-notch for the roles. Dirk Bogarde is the perfect man Jeeves who comes to work for a lazy, unorganized upper-crust British gentleman. He cooks so well and takes so much interest in everything. However, things start to take a sinister turn with the servant and the masters fiancée developing a dislike. Next he brings his sister into the house as a maid, but she doesn't look or act like anyones sister.

The entire movie was brilliant until just after the point near the middle where Bogarde apologizes to Fox in the bar. After that it starts to become surreal and towards the end downright unbelievable. Losey has directed this intelligently and although most of the action takes place in the house, its never really claustrophobic until the end (when its intended to be).

On the whole, amazing first half, brought down a few notches by the last 30-40 minutes (which were necessary but too rushed).
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