Cul-de-sac, Blu-ray (1966/2011)
Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Francoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran
Studio: MGM/The Criterion Collection 577 [8/16/11]
Video: 1.66:1 for 16:9 1080p HD B&W
Audio: PCM mono
Extras: “Two Gangsters and an Island” – 2003 documentary about making Cul-de-sac, with Polanski, producer Gene Gutowski and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor; 1967 TV interview with Polanski, 2 theatrical trailers, Illustrated booklet with essay by film critic David Thompson
Length: 112 minutes
This was Polanski’s third feature after Knife in the Water and Repulsion, made shortly before he moved to Hollywood. However, this original script was originally presented to the financiers of Repulsion but they turned it down because they wanted a horror film. With the success of Repulsion, Cul-de-sac was brought out again and supported by them.
It is a wild and loose story of paranoia, playing around with some characters’ negative influence on others, like many Polanski films. A withdrawn couple—the older Englishman Pleasence and his beautiful young French wife—live in a secluded castle on a tidal island similar to that of Saint-Michel in Normandy. Intruding upon them is a pair of gangsters who are seeking refuge from a crime that went awry—the blustery gravel-voiced American played by Stander and the Englishman who got shot in the stomach and may not survive. Stander and the couple get into strange relationships—often with emotional, physical and sexual humiliation.
In addition to all the odd characters (there is also a neighboring young man who obviously has something going on with the wife, plus a car full of friends who suddenly drop in) the castle itself and its beach become an important part of the film. The backers wanted Polanski to film on an island in the Adriatic, but instead he found Holy Island off the coast of Britain, and re-wrote the script to fit the isolated castle setting. “Morbidly funny” is one of the descriptions applied to Cul-de-sac, and that defines it quite accurately. I cracked up at the scene when Pleasence throws out his unwelcome visitors, as well as the gangster ineptly pretending he was their butler during the unplanned-for visit. Most viewers will probably either like it or hate it. In a way it lacks some of the sinister suspense of most of Polanski’s films – as also does Fearless Vampire Killers which he did next. It’s supposed to be a comedy. The extras are of great interest, as usual with Criterion.
— John Sunier