Combustible Celluloid
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With: Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran, Iain Quarrier, Geoffrey Sumner, Renee Houston, Robert Dorning, Marie Kean, William Franklyn, Jacqueline 'Jackie' Bisset, Trevor Delaney
Written by: Gerard Brach, Roman Polanski
Directed by: Roman Polanski
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 111
Date: 06/30/1966

Cul-de-Sac (1966)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Dead End

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Roman Polanski's third feature film seems to have started without you. It plunks you right down into the middle of the action. We watch the credits roll by in front of a lonely road. Then we see a bespectacled man sitting in the driver's seat of the car. It is a few minutes before we realize that another man is pushing the car. It is several more minutes before we realize that these two have come from some unsuccesful crime attempt. We don't know what it was, and it's unimportant.

Of course, this movie made me think of Reservoir Dogs. It has many of the same elements. We don't see the actual job, the wounded criminals limp to a hiding place, they stay in that hiding place until their inevitable death, and in the meantime relate to each other in interesting ways. The little bespectacled man even shares Mr. Orange's gut wound.

But even though this movie seems to have inspired Reservoir Dogs, it doesn't have quite the bite that its successor has. The two criminals find a huge house by the ocean to hide in. There is a young couple that lives there, played by Donald Pleasence and Françoise Dorléac.

Donald Pleasence gives a wonderful performance. I'd always thought he was a ham; a second-rate b-actor, but here he's insane and jittery. Dorleac's character is a bit of a cliche; she's bored with her spineless husband and other men are more interesting to her. The big thug, whose name is "Dickie" (Lionel Stander) becomes fascinating to her. They all spend a long, drunken night together, talking about this and that. It sort of turns into Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? instead of a suspense picture.

Then in the morning, company comes, and "Dickie" is forced to play a servant while the couple pretends that nothing is going on. At this point it's now a French drawing room farce. The young French wife turns her attention to one of the guests, a Sean Connery lookalike. And a little kid turns the place upside down, eventually finding a rifle.

Cul-de-sac seemed long to me. I kind of expected the film to keep up some kind of momentum with a slam-bang beginning like that. It never slows down to a crawl, but it never gets as good as its first ten minutes.

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