“It’s no good shouting. You can’t be heard. And anyway, there’s no one to hear.”
“The Collector” was the first novel of British author John Fowles (he would later write “The Magus” and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”). Even before it was published, a couple of young television writers turned producers (Judd Kinberg and John Kohn) saw its potential and purchased the screen rights. They successfully interested Columbia Pictures in producing a film version and then went about trying to line up William Wyler to direct. Once he had first read the novel and then the screenplay that Kinberg and Kohn had commissioned, Wyler agreed. Wyler was truly interested in the project, but it came at an opportune time too. He had been virtually signed up to direct The Sound Of Music, but wasn’t really inspired to do it, so the offer of doing The Collector came as a sort of lifeline to him.
Interiors were shot in Hollywood and exteriors in England with filming wrapping up by mid-July 1964. The completed film was exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1965, winning best actor and actress prizes for its two leads, Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar. The Collector opened in New York in June to generally good critical response. William Wyler would later be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award for his efforts, but in the event, lost out to Robert Wise for, ironically, The Sound of Music. The Collector was also nominated, but did not win, in the Best Actress and Best Screenplay categories.
Columbia has now released the film on DVD in a rather barebones version.
Freddie Clegg is a minor functionary at a London bank. A repressed, nervous young man, he wins a major prize in a football lottery and proceeds to spend the money on the purchase of a sprawling Tudor-style country estate. The house will be home to the extensive collection of butterflies that he has caught and mounted himself. Its cellar will be the home to the latest addition to his collection, not a butterfly, but a young art student named Miranda that Freddie has taken a fancy to.
Freddie kidnaps Miranda off a London street and imprisons her in his cellar where, in his twisted thinking, he hopes to gain her confidence and eventually have her come to love him. Realizing she is trapped, Miranda extracts a promise from Freddie that he will let her go after four weeks no matter what, but when the time is up, Freddie seems in no mood to keep the bargain.
The Collector was the second last film that William Wyler really seemed to feel passionate about. His final film — The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970) — would also be a very personal project, but the other two of his last films consisted of a job just to keep busy (How to Steal a Million ), and a fill-in for another director (Funny Girl ). The Collector is a good example of Wyler’s unintrusive style — straight-forward camera positioning and excellent shot framing. He maintains tension throughout by trusting in the script and by extracting outstanding performances from his two principal players in what is essentially a two-character study.
He has little difficulty with Terence Stamp whom he got along with from the beginning. Stamp was a young British actor who had only recently debuted on film with an Academy-Award-nominated performance in Billy Budd. At first, Stamp was skeptical of his ability to do justice to the role of Freddie, but Wyler thought he would be ideal and so he proved to be. In Stamp’s hands, Freddie Clegg is an unstable character driven by a mixture of repression and obsession. He frequently seems harmless, eager to please, and almost pathetic in his desire to have Miranda care for him. Increasingly, though, there are flashes of a person out of control both physically and mentally so that one is unsure of what to expect from him next. Like any really good suspense story, the film leaves much to our imagination and never resorts to anything graphic in nature. Thinking about the dark instability of Freddie’s character is more than enough to keep us on edge throughout.
Miranda is played by Samantha Eggar, who got the nod over several other young British actresses, including Sarah Miles, despite having only modest professional acting experience. At first, however, Eggar’s efforts seemed as though they might not work out. Wyler and Stamp had conspired to virtually ignore her on the set in order to undermine her confidence and maintain a state of fear that Wyler hoped would translate itself onto the screen. Eggar did not respond as well as Wyler had hoped and he gave up on her, offering the role to Natalie Wood. When she proved to be unavailable, however, Wyler returned to Eggar and with the aid of an acting coach (the character actress Kathleen Freeman), Eggar managed to play the role to Wyler’s satisfaction. As he had with so many other actresses, Wyler in the end drew an Academy-Award-nominated performance from her.
Other decisions by Wyler also contributed to the successful building of tension in the film. He chose to shoot the story’s various scenes in sequence, which helped both Stamp and Eggar to really get into the development of their characters and thus increase believability. Wyler also chose to reduce background music to a minimum (acting partly on a suggestion by John Fowles), and that seems to heighten the isolation of the two characters. In light of future events, this would also prove to be a good decision. Parts of the remaining music, by Maurice Jarre, contain elements that Jarre would later use in Doctor Zhivago. At the time, that wasn’t a problem, but in retrospect, they are now somewhat of a distraction in the film and probably would be even more so had Wyler not originally chosen to remove much of the music.
Columbia’s DVD release provides a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that’s pretty good-looking for an unrestored 1965 film. Colours are quite vibrant for the most part, although the colour consistency could be better as there are instances where some of the life seems to have been sucked out of it. The image is generally quite sharp with only minor print imperfections showing through. Some film grain is present, particularly in the first half of the film. Edge effects and some shimmer are detectable, but are generally not distractions.
The disc provides a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that has a reasonable degree of depth to it for a mono presentation. Dialogue is clear, hiss is minimal, and the background music is nicely rendered. English, French, and Spanish subtitling is provided.
As is more and more the case with Columbia’s catalogue releases, the supplements are weak. We get only the film’s theatrical trailer and two other trailers for current Columbia releases that have nothing whatsoever to do with The Collector other than that they happen to be suspense films too. Columbia used to provide useful production notes inside the case, but no longer.
The Collector is a good suspense film guided by the reliable William Wyler. As usual, he gets fine performances from his leads and with a literate script to work with, the result is fine, repeatable entertainment. Columbia’s DVD release is adequate.