William Wyler / UK/USA / 1965 / 119 min
What made classic thrillers so watchable was their ability to deviate from expected outcomes, often shattering the shackles of predictable moral arcs. At the same time however, they frustrated and chipped away at an audience, as payoffs could always miss the mark. Hitchcock was a notorious lover of infuriating his viewers, pushing their buttons and driving them to the limits of their patience. The same could be said of William Wyler’s claustrophobic thriller, a re-release which now comes across as a little dated and melodramatic.
Focusing on the tepid relationship between the socially awkward Fredrick Clegg (Terence Stamp) and the thriving Miranda Gray (Samantha Eggar), Wyler’s film sets out to examine the captor/captive dynamic as Clegg abducts Gray from her college. With many embellished scenes in which Gray begs for freedom only to be met by an immovable Clegg, the film soon becomes quite repetitive, though clearly contributing to Wyler’s point. The director quickly establishes Clegg’s intensions as neither sexual nor violent, instead portraying him as a fragile soul searching for a lover.
But as the film progresses, Gray goes to many extremes to free herself and it is here that the real differences between the two become apparent. With Gray symbolising the new generation of the 60s, flourishing within the economic boom, she flaunts her sexuality while Clegg’s world slowly contracts as he becomes limited by both his prudish and provincial beliefs. These differences come to reveal the true nature of Clegg, as he becomes more menacing after refusing to free his hostage. It’s a shame that the film’s layers are trivialised by an anti-climactic end, as Stamp returns to the streets to find an easier target. At the most, this signals a prowling and maddening inescapability, but also frustratingly provides very little closure.
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