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“The truth of the independent consciousness is accordingly the consciousness of the servant… being a consciousness repressed within itself, it will enter into itself, and change around into the real and true independence.”–G.W.F. Hegel, “The Master-Slave Dialectic”
PLOT: Hard-drinking playboy and would-be colonialist Tony hires the solicitous Barret as a manservant, despite the fact that his fiancée takes a dislike to the new employee. Barret convinces Tony to hire his sister as a maid, which sets off a chain of events that eventually leads to the master dismissing both servants. Tony’s drinking intensifies, however, and he invites his servant to return to the house; gradually, the roles of master and servant are reversed.
- Director Joseph Losey moved to the UK after receiving a summons to appear before Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities committee.
- The screenplay was written by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, who adapted Robin Maugham’s 1948 novella. It was the first of three collaborations between Losey and Pinter.
- In 1999, a panel of movie professionals voted The Servant the 22nd best British film of all time.
- Dirk Bogarde, a closeted gay man, had played a closeted gay man in 1961’s The Victim, one of the first films to deal openly and sympathetically with homosexuality. His agent (with whom the actor was secretly involved) was nervous about Bogarde taking this role, fearing he might acquire a “homosexual image.”
- When Losey came down with pneumonia during the shoot, Bogarde stepped in to direct for ten days, with Losey providing instructions via telephone from the hospital.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Mirrors, devices which reverse and sometimes warp images, but which also serve to reveal the selves we cannot see. Tony’s townhouse is littered with mirrors on seemingly every wall, and Losey takes advantage of them throughout the film, using mirrors to reflect the underlying truth of a situation. In one shot, Tony and Susan face Barret accusingly. In the convex mirror image, Barret can be seen clearly, standing calmly with a robe and a cigarette, while only the back of Tony’s head is visible, and Susan isn’t there at all. The mirror shows us the relative power and importance of the three characters in the scene more profoundly than the head-on camera shot does.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Upside-down orgy; kissing the servant
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Servant emits the subtlest whiff of dignified strangeness, all emanating from the mysterious Bogarde: an unassuming Trojan horse of malice and perversion without a clear motive or objective other than raw power.
2021 Restoration trailer for The Servant
COMMENTS: Led by a dominating career performance from Dirk Continue reading 41*. THE SERVANT (1963)