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Savant Short Review:


Anchor Bay
1967 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 105m. /
Starring Dirk Bogarde, Stanley Baker, Jacqueline Sassard, Michael York, Vivien Merchant, Delphine Seyrig, Alexander Knox
Cinematography Gerry Fisher
Production Designer
Art Direction Carmen Dillon
Film Editor Reginald Beck
Original Music John Dankworth
Writing credits Harold Pinter from the novel by Nicholas Mosley
Produced by Joseph Losey and Norman Priggen
Directed by Joseph Losey

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Available only as part of the Dirk Bogarde Collection boxed set.

Here we have the most successful film by the strongest English exponent of the 'Art' picture in the '60s, Joseph Losey. When Accident came out it was heralded as a masterpiece, the finest work yet from the American left-wing director who started over again in England after being blacklisted in Hollywood.

As much a Harold Pinter creation as Losey's, Accident is an intriguing drama among some unusually tight-lipped people, perhaps weighed too heavily in the direction of Meaningful Emptiness, but always engaging and emotionally suspenseful.


Romantic entanglements form during the summer session at Oxford: dons Stephen (Dirk Bogarde) and Charley (Stanley Baker), both married, are smitten by the beauty of aloof Austrian exchange student Anna (Jacqueline Sassard). Although young aristocrat William (Michael York) is her supposed beau, relationships thicken at a lunch party at Stephen's place that turns into a day-long drunk. Stephen's wife Rosalind (Vivien Merchant) is pregnant, but he's still threatened by his loss of masculinity, trying to secure a BBC deal like the smug Charley, and looking up an old flame (Delphine Seyrig) while in London. Stephen's shocked to find Anna sneaking behind William's back to sleep with Charley, as the two young people are practically engaged ... but Stephen also discovers he doesn't know the extent of his own desires.

You know you're in Art Film country when the picture opens up with an almost static three-minute shot of the front of Stephen's house, with an unseen car crash on the soundtrack. But except for this framing gimmick, some interesting time-shuffling in one sequence, and an effective use of distanced voiceovers in another, the only 'artsy' aspect of Accident is its tendency to let individual shots hang far longer than they need to.

Otherwise, this is an absorbing drama of some fairly impenetrable people whose motives and relationships are well expressed by director Losey. Our main character Stephen clearly loves his wife and kids and yet still yearns for the Austrian 'princess' he tutors. His wife Rosalind is trusting and mature but he keeps her in the dark about his thoughts and desires just the same. The more 'successful' don Charley struts his stuff on the tennis (squash?) court and BBC talk shows, and in general is more desperate to maintain the illusion of virility. He beds Anna but can't keep her, and ultimately comes off as more pitful and weak than Stephen. William's fresh obviousness is kind of taken for granted, and he ends up the victim of an 'accident' that seems to be the usual result of any collision of strong people with desires that aren't kept at bay.

The only dated character in Accident is the beautiful Anna, who coyly captivates all three men without having to raise a finger. She's a typical mysterious siren, a catalyst character given almost no depth (she barely talks) and no motivations. As her shacking up with Charley is seen totally from Stephen's point of view, we don't know the why's of anything, and it gets a bit frustrating. It's to be supposed that if you throw yourself at a woman without asking any of these questions, (as many of us do) you're bound to be a bit surprised when you don't emerge with an understanding of her, so perhaps this is appropriate. But just the same, Anna comes off more as a plot device than a character.

Losey approaches his scenes tangentially, and we have to figure out things as they happen. Stephen returns home tipsy from London, and finds himself in a house with Charley, and his mistress Anna. For a moment we're not sure whose house this is, until we remember that Rosalind took the kids to the country and we figure out that Charley and Anna sneaked in uninvited. We're constantly playing catch-up like this because Accident has none of the exposition or telegraphy found in melodrama. The events of the end, where it's implied that Stephen may have slept with Anna as well, don't make things any more clear.

The actors are fascinating to watch, even when they're being studiously inexpressive. Bogarde's midlife dissatisfaction is subtly conveyed, and Stanley Baker is very impressive in a role where he's definitely not a man of action. Vivien Merchant (Alfie) suggests her character with very little time onscreen, and the French beauty Delphine Seyrig, probably in to get a continental name for the marquee, makes an interestingly mature old flame. Jacqueline Sassard is a ravishing beauty who after a ten-year Italian career (Sandokan the Great!) made this art classic and Chabrol's Les Biches, and promptly dropped off the radar. Hers is less a performance than a presence.

Beautifully directed, Accident also has a stunning look. The fragmented angles in the aftermath of a car accident are offset by the soft plumes of Anna's evening dress. Stephen's London one-night with his old lover is seen through rainy windowpanes that evoke a melancholy distance. The sunny idyll of the lunch gathering that drags into an evening of unspoken desires and too much drink, very carefully evolves through the changing light of the day.

Anchor Bay's DVD of Accident is nicely turned out. The 16:9 transfer is strong, showing only the slightest wear and bits of unsteadiness, probably near reel changes. Gerry Fisher's subtle color values are retained throughout. The color stills I've seen make Jacqueline Sassard's feathery boa a light blue. On this disc they're plain white, which is probably correct.

A lengthy original trailer is included as the only extra. There are no subtitles or closed captioning, which not only make this a useless disc for the hearing-impaired, but also forces those with American ears to pay close attention to the clipped Brit dialogue ... there are a few exchanges that were just too thick for Savant.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Accident rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 10, 2001

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