Cul-de-Sac (Roman Polanski / United Kingdom, 1966):

"Well, here we are." "Where?" "In the shit." The cracked-mirror Laurel & Hardy from Two Men and a Wardrobe are here gangsters on a parched road, a spoof of The Dumb Waiter points the way to the fortress on top of a chicken coop. Rob Roy Castle on Holy Island was once Sir Walter Scott’s abode, the current owner (Donald Pleasance) is peevish, aerodynamically bald, ulcerous, a pedestrian painter. His indolent wife (Françoise Dorléac), a "froggy bitch," enjoys little jeux d’humiliation and dresses him in a frilly nightie just in time for the unexpected visitors. Into the snippy British-French connection stumbles the scratchy Yank (Lionel Stander) with "very delicate skin"; his Irish partner (Jack MacGowran) has a bullet in the stomach, expires while gazing at constellations through Joycean specs, and is buried in the backyard. "Something inexpressible... something unpleasant," mumbles the husband. The goon gulps down homemade vodka, and flinches: "Gosh, this stuff’s moider!" In the ebb and flow of malicious power plays, the desert can suddenly get inundated, typical Roman Polanski terrain. The squawking seagull suspended in mid-air, the airplane that circles above, the busted car pushed up the hill and into another car... The celebrated 7-minute take at the beach has Pleasance lamenting a lost "romantic age" while Stander shoots the air and Dorléac splashes in the ocean, the camera reframing a composition from Knife in the Water before dissolving to Buñuel’s quizzical rooster (El Bruto). Pristine deep-focus absurdism jolted by wide-angle twitches, utter despair treated with something akin to jolliness, breakdown -- shotgun blasts to stained-glass windows, the jazz record fractured, a mind finally unmoored -- as mordant theater. Polanski’s closing view of his protagonist finds the unshelled turtle weeping on top of a rock, a fair gesture in a world where God is a garbled capo on the phone ("You’re on your own"). Bergman has the artist in smeary makeup in Hour of the Wolf, Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is a belligerent anagram. Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. With Iain Quarrier, Robert Dorning, Marie Kean, and Jacqueline Bisset. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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