Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)



David Warner / Vanessa Redgrave / Robert Stephens / Irene Handl / Bernard Bresslaw / Arthur Mullard / Newton Blick / Nan Munro / Peter Collingwood / Graham Crowden / John Garrie / John Rae / Music John Dankworth / Art Direction Phillip Harrison / Costume Jocelyn Rickards / Editing Tom Priestley & Victor Proctor / Cinematography Larry Pozer / Producer Leon Clore / Director Karel Reisz


Despite a rousing reception upon it’s release in the mid sixties, a nomination at the Oscars, a Bafta win, Best Film at the Locarno International Film Festival that year and a Best Actress win for Vanessa Redgrave at Cannes, ‘Morgan’ has found himself somewhat sidelined these days. Written off as a confusing experiment by modern film critics, drifting into a sort of footnote limbo, usually reserved for disposable toot that missed the mark. Morgan dropped out of view while no one was looking, and lost it’s place among the key movers and shakers of the British New Wave. ‘The Knack’, ‘Blow-up!’ and ‘Billy Liar’, all share similar visual styles and surreal approaches, but all have stood the test of time unscathed by the decades since their release. I’ve a sneeking suspicion that Vanessa Redgrave may be one of the causes. Though a stunning woman back in her 60’s incarnation, and exuding much sexual alure in Antonini’s Blow-up!’, she is a far softer, less complex character in Morgan, more sweet than sexy, and ‘Blow-up!’ had a veritable parade of pulchritude before David Hemmings lens.. as with the Iconic opening of ‘The Knack’, with it’s near infinite flood of cloned feminine perfection. The loose nature of these films are held in place by a solid linchpin, like the beautiful girl in a farce. Now of course I’m not saying that Miss.Redgrave isn’t a beauty, far from it, but her elegant, willowy appeal doesn’t seem to arrest those used to such femme fatales from the period as say.. a Monica Vitti, or a Bardot.

Billy Liar’, had alot in common with ‘Morgan’ really, but Billy was a far less complex character than Morgan, Tom Courtenay’s Walter Mitty persona fails endear or engender much pity, and the kitchen sink elements seem a little clumsy in comparison to the likes of ‘The Family Way’ and ‘A Kind of Loving’. Both films were billed (somewhat loosly) as comedies, but ‘Billy’ succeeds only in making us uncomfortable in his lies.. a sort of Ricky Gervais without the funny bits. Whereas Morgan has a black humour with a perspective that reflects the new satirical comedy of Peter Cook & co. What does ‘Billy Liar’ have? It has Julie Christie. For fifteen minutes only of course, but that doesn’t really matter, her presence elevates the film considerably. Tom Courtenay was a fine actor, but David Warner (in his only substantial non-villain role) is far more interesting, and so are his fantasies. Lies catch up with Billy Liar, forcing him to deal with the consequences, accept the illusion of his dreams, and consign them to a lesser role. Morgan is in far more danger, his madness is the free will of the new generation in friction against the establishment. Morgan is fighting for the future of youth, for his very soul. A soul hidden beneath the hairy skin of an ape costume. As The Revenger’s Tragedy so elequantly puts it‘Surely we’re all mad people, and they whom we think are, are not; we mistake those, tis we are mad in sense, they but in clothes.’

A central motif of the ‘Morgan’ experience is that of the intercut wildlife footage, in a sort of reverse anthropomorphic comparison between the civilised world, and that of the animal kingdom. A beautiful, graceful girl seen gliding down an underground escalator becomes a majestic Peacock. Freedom is the ape, swinging among the topmost branches.. The legal system, with it’s predatorial Solicitors and bewigged, antiquated Judge are transformed into a pack of hunting lions dragging down the majesty of a regal Giraffe. ‘Have you nothing to say’ asks the stuffy Judge.. ‘I don’t recognize this Court’, replies a bemused Morgan in the dock. One other small stylistic flourish is the occasional freeze frame not uncommon in the 60’s visual lexicon, but a devise that seems to cause irritation among modern reviewers of the film. ‘Blow-up!’ clearly utilises the freeze frame to greater effect, and with greater resonance, being a film principally concerned with photography and the capture of static images. And it is quite true also that Morgan’s visual appeal isn’t in the same league as those jewels in the New wave crown by Godard, Malle, Vadim, Polanski etc. etc.. but it certainly is far from dull, and really does deserve at least a nod of appreciation for it’s bold visuals, and quirky innovations.

Morgan’s obsessions are derived and expressed principally through film, a most modern preoccupation hitherto the domain of the filmmaker and cine-artiste, now a universal means of expression and common cultural knowledge with the advent of the videotape, DVD and Digital Age. In this, ‘Morgan’ is decidedly ahead of it’s contemporaries, who utilise theatrical asides (as in ‘Billy Liar’) to represent inspirations and abstract connections. The modern audience has a wealth of cinema and TV to plunder and dissect as never before. Favourite scenes, clips and montages are uploaded and shared with an inexhaustable appetite for the moving image.


– ‘What’s all this?’

– ‘It’s an island of sanity this car. An island in a world of pain. I’m an exile waiting with an ice-pick. You do know about the ice-pick don’t you?’

-‘It’s ‘im that got it..Trotski..right there. Right in the back of ‘is skull. Leon Trotski: co-founder of the Russian Revolution, creator of the red army, great revolutionary thinker..’

‘Then BINGO! Right on the top of ‘is nut. Joe Stalin kicked Trotski out of his Mother Country..seventeen years in exhile he was.. that wasn’t good enough for Joe. No, he wanted Trotski dead.’

‘Now then, that’s Trotski (hands an egg to the policeman) This, is the ice-pick (brandishes a razor) A burning ‘ot day in Mexico, Stalin’s agent has wormed ‘is way into Trotski’s ‘ouse among ‘is wife and friends, and they’re both alone in the great man’s study.’

‘Trotski is sitting behind his desk..’

‘..quietly the killer creeps up behind ‘im and.. (crushes the egg with his razor) ..’


– ‘You’re a class traitor Morgan, that’s what you are.’

– ‘Them’s fighting words Ma.’

– ‘I mean we brought you up to respect Lenin, Marx, Harry Pollitt. You was a Firebrand when you was sixteen, and you were clever. At Party meetings they always used to say to me, ‘You got an intellectual there Mrs.Delt, ain’t always the middle classes that’ve got all the brains y’know. It’s lads like Morgan that are gonna take over this country one of these days.’ Yees, now look at you. I don’t think you’ll take over anything Morgan.’

The one image that has managed to seep into the public conciousness, is that of Morgan done up in his gorilla costume speeding across London on a motorbike.. perhaps I should mention he’s on fire too. In any other film this would be a scene of farce (the sort of thing Spike Milligan would have done before breakfast each morn), but the donning of the Gorilla suit is far more disturbing than the comical scenario initially suggests. The suit itself is a fairly typical fancy-dress outfit, but the intense close-ups and almost mournful expressions that the cinematographer Larry Pozer manages to extract from the rigid mask are hypnotic. Morgan melds with the suit, and his sanity buckles and warps in a scene of abject horror, where he struggles to remove the mask.. wild eyed and raving.

Morgan’s fractured mindscape transforms those around him into a firing squad of communist freedom fighters, attacking him as a rogue element, dangerous to society, reminicent of No’6’s fight with for and against the individual in McGoohan’s iconic 60’s series ‘The Prisoner’.

As with the best of these stories that deal with inner turmoil and confused realities, nothing is ever truly settled. In the final scene we see a calm, collected Morgan meticulously arranging shrubs in a the garden of a Sanitarium. He is visited by a now pregnant Vanessa Redgrave, who telling him the child is his, tosses her head back and laughs in a slightly manic manner, in stark contrast to the now conformist Morgan. An ambiguity hangs in the air.. an uncomfortable judder that, were we standing, might necessitate a step backward. An element of comfort arrives in the final shot though, as the camera pulls back and reveals what Morgan has been so engrossed in.. a flower bed, in the shape of a hammer and sickle. Viva la revolution.

‘Then raise the scarlet standard high.
Within its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.’



Dead Calm (1989)



-A Voyage into Fear-

Sam Neil, Nicole Kidman & Billy Zane / Cinematography Dean Semler / Novel by Charles Williams / Art Direction Kim Hilder / Produced George Miller / Directed Phillip Noyce

Belle de Jour gazed at Deneuve, ‘Man created Woman’ ogled at Bardot, ‘Girl on a Motorcycle’ was in love with Marianne Faithfull..and Dead Calm is psychotically obsessed with Nicole Kidman. On the surface it’s your typical ‘nutter after your girlfriend’ deal, but in actual fact has more in common with Polanski’s Repulsion than the usual psycho sexual thrillers of the late 80’s & early nineties. Which is rather odd really, considering the sort of films we expect from Cinematographer Dean Semler (Cocktail, K.9, Waterworld..mind you, he did shoot Dances with Wolves) & Director Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, The Saint, The Bone Collector..)..but I imagine George Miller (of Mad Max fame) had a more hands on role than just Producer. Miller also went on to direct Kidman in the wonderful TV play ‘Bangkok Hilton’.

This three character play set in the isolation of a sailing trip begins with a feeling of tranquility, before closing us into a sexual claustrophobia that both unnerves and curiously attracts the viewer. Dead Calm luxuriates in a continuous series of close-ups on Kidman that push focal lengths to straining point, and it is in Kidman’s ability to act so well when the tiniest flicker of the eyes or twitch of the nose (pun intended) is magnifyed to infinity, that goes some way to explaining both the power of the film, and the sudden attention that Hollywood paid her after a succession of comparatively forgettable roles. That and a nice publicity deal with Tom Cruise.


Kidman and Neil are recovering from the trauma inflicted by the loss of their child in a car crash in which Kidman almost lost her life. This and Sam Neil’s arrival ashore after the accident (his Navy uniform letting us know that he is an experienced sailor) mark some of the few moments in the film when peripheral characters are seen. The couple take an ocean cruise aboard their boat away from the world, but a mysterious storm wracked ship brings a third character onboard, a psychotic Billy Zane. Neil goes aboard the damaged boat, finds the crew murdered and winds up trapped there when Zane takes both Kidman & their boat on a cruise of his own. Neil now finds himself aboard a sinking ship, and Kidman must deal with Zane and rescue her husband before he drowns.

Sam Neil is dependable, strong, loving, mature and a little boring.. Kidman on the other hand is young (a very vivacious 22 at the time) and despite the bond that the couple clearly exhibit, the audience naturally pairs up Kidman & the young, handsome (though admittedly psychotic) Billy Zane. Were this a straight forward romance, these would be the two we’d want to get together. The impression is given that Kidman & Neil haven’t been sleeping together since the accident, and that the voyage is an attempt to reignite their passions as well as their relationship. Neil gets his small share of close-ups, the most prominent of which is his longing gaze at Kidman swimming langorously beside the ship before the rude interruption of their guest.



Zane and Kidman play cat & mouse aboard the ship, and whilst there is the obvious threat that this intruder exudes, Zane is curiously gentlemanly in his dealings with Kidman, reserving violent outbursts to rectify attempts to reverse the ship’s course and after what he perceives as a betrayal in the closing scenes. He is of course a killer, and holding Kidman captive, but he’s not very physical with her on the most part. Indeed, it’s Kidman who takes the initiative. Sleeping with the devil, so to order to gain his trust long enough to seize control of the ship. No condemnation or complicity of the female role, but the scenario is cooked up with the express intention of sexualising Kidman, although superficially the events are a device to  strengthen the couple’s flagging marriage and supply audiences with a strong empowered female character who can look after herself without being reduced to macho-posturing. Most actresses make the concession that a revealing performance will pave the way to quality roles, but aside from the short moments of nudity, this was a good quality film and nothing to be ashamed of. The photography is beautiful and the minimal script allows for some powerfully visual scenes and subtle acting of real note. Hitchcock would have enjoyed the intensity..though of course he would have rathered a blonde to observe.




– This isn’t the only outing for the Dead Calm novel by Charles Williams written in 1963. Roman Polanski’s ‘Knife in the Water’ had more than a passing resemblence to ideas in the book, and Orson Welles practiacally bankrupted himself with his uncompeted version titled – ‘The Deep’. The odd still is floating around but little footage.

– Sam Neil has suffered with a stutter since childhood and manages to keep the impediment under control by maintaining a relaxed demeanor and gentle speech pattern. A characteristic which strongly defines his acting style if you think about it.

– Kidman maintains that she was asked to dye her hair red for her role in BMX Bandits (1983) and kept the colour since it was popular with casting agents. None too convinced myself, I know a natuaral redhead when I see one. The sooner Miss.Kidman changes that fake blonde look the better..where’s a nice casting agent when you need one?








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