Though the realization of a decade-spanning dream, Joseph Losey's film version of Brecht's play is more succès
d'estime than auteur triumph. Part of the blame falls on Topol, who gives the 17th-century thinker only surface energy,
rattling inside a role too big for him. But just as much fudging comes from Losey's handling. Thoroughly
familiar with the material and its themes (he staged the 1947 premiere with Charles Laughton), Losey understands the
play's foregrounding of artifice over realism, and embraces its full theatricality -- glimpses of the crew and sets behind
the opening credits, a trio of chorus boys punctuating the narrative, asides to the balcony, commentary songs, shadows
looming against blank walls. Unfortunately, by this time in his career, Losey's supple and feline style had hardened into
an almost unbroken streak of academicism (with the exception of M. Klein and parts of La Truite). So adept at sneaking in distancing stylistics into his early American potboilers and '50s British films, Losey's inherently Brechtian inclination dies a slow death on the screen when called to manifest itself openly.
Flavorless as it is, the movie is still far less shackled to the tyranny of faithfulness than the rest of the respectably embalmed
adaptations commissioned by Ely Landau for the American Film Theatre (The Iceman Cometh, Luther, The Man in
the Glass Booth). Losey wrote the adaptation with Barbara Bray. With Edward Fox, Michel Lonsdale, Michael Gough,
Margaret Leighton, John Gielgud, Clive Revill, and Georgia Brown.
--- Fernando F. Croce