Cul-de-Sac (1966)

cul de sac poster 1966 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Fun absurdity

All over the place tonally

Movie Info

Movie Name: Cul-de-Sac

Studio:  Compton Films/Tekli British Productions

Genre(s):  Comedy/Drama

Release Date(s):  June 2, 1966 (Premiere)/November 7, 1966 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

cul de sac donald pleasence francoise dorleac

We’re a kooky couple…

Dickey (Lionel Stander) and his partner Albie (Jack MacGowran) have both barely escaped a botched job and find themselves wounded and trapped on a seaside causeway.  Dickey discovers a castle inhabited by the neurotic-cuckolded George (Donald Pleasence) and his promiscuous-manipulative wife Teresa (Françoise Dorléac).  Hiding from the authorities and his bosses Dickey makes himself at home…but the battle of who is in control is underway.

Written and directed by Roman Polanski (with additional scripting by Gerard Brach), Cul-de-Sac is a dark British comedy-drama.  Following Repulsion in 1965, the film received positive reviews and is now regarded as a classic.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #577).

I’ve seen a number of Polanski’s film but always missed Cul-de-Sac.  As a random pick-up, I didn’t know what to expect, but Cul-de-Sac turned into a black comedy of Fargo-esque proportions.

cul de sac brat horace rifle trevor delaney

Has to go down as one of the great all-time brats…and he’s barely in it

The film is very play like.  It gets a lot of comparison to Pinter and Beckett (I see a lot of Waiting for Godot in it).  Despite the lavish location being the source of a lot of the problems (with the tide keeping the characters trapped), the movie is largely a mind-game between the trio who keep playing each other.  They do join forces to hate the obnoxious house guests, but largely there is a power play (especially with Teresa who seems to really enjoy the game of manipulation).  While George is all in with Teresa’s game, Dickey sees through her charade…and this leads to a lot of the conflict.

The cast is solid.  Lionel Standler is the epitome of American gangster (or at least American thug).  His gruff performance is that of a person who maybe isn’t the brightest but who is also completely exasperated with the situation…to the point of becoming immobile and sloppy.  Donald Pleasence is the wishy-washy one who can’t seem to make a decision on his own, and when he is pushed to the edge, he breaks.  Françoise Dorléac is Lady Macbeth-like character in that the game she is playing is dangerous and she seems to be really be in it for herself…even before the criminals arrive.  The movie features a small role by Jacqueline Bisset, and I also have to not the brattiest of brats Horace played by Trevor Delaney.

cul de sac lionel stander donald pleasence francoise dorleac

Well…now we’re having fun!

The movie is shot at the island of Lindisarne (aka Holy Island) in Northumberland.  It serves as a means to isolate the characters and has a coldness that goes with the black-and-white photography.  The general tone of the film is chaos and the chaotic nature of everything going on…it builds on itself like the chickens running around the whole film due to the chicken coop being destroyed to hide the getaway car…it is the nice touches that add to the movie.

Cul-de-Sac was a fun movie and stands up there with other black-comedies.  Its tone is all over the place which might frustrate some viewers, and it also feels as a character study that some of the main pieces could be better fleshed out.  Despite the minor criticisms, it is a solid picture and fans of that strange mix of drama and comedy should seek it out.  Polanski followed Cul-de-Sac with The Fearless Vampire Killers in 1967.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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