Sleeping Tiger (1954)

Dirk Bogarde stars in Joseph Losey's intense and particularly well written psychological drama. Optimum UK R2 boxset DVD.

The Film

In the late 1940s, Joseph Losey was a promising Hollywood director with a couple of feature films under his belt - within a couple of years however he was forced to flee the country after his ties to the Communist Party made him a target for the Un-American House Committee hearings. Unwilling to testify against his colleagues, he fled to the UK where he found work, but not without problems. For Sleeping Tiger he was forced to take the pseudonym Victor Hanbury after some of the cast were concerned it might affect their ability to find work to be seen in a film with his name on. Later he would be thrown off a project completely (X the Unknown (1956)) because the American lead (Dean Jagger) refused to work with him.

Frank Clemmons (Dirk Bogarde) is a young thug who tries to mug a man on a dark London night - that man is psychologist Dr. Clive Esmond whose military training lets him disarm Frank and carry him to his house. He keeps him there, under the threat of reporting the incident - for which Clemmons will certainly be sent back to prison - with the hopeful aim of 'treating' him. However Esmond's wife Glenda starts to fall for this rebellious youth and seems determined to keep him away from the side of angels...

Fellow American witchhunt refugees Carl Foreman and Harold Buchman share the pen name of Derek Frye for this adaptation of a novel by Maurice Moisiewitsch. It's primary theme is not an uncommon one, an exploration of the way that a relationship can be irrevocably altered by the addition of a third party - but the script does not rest on this topic and also tackles a conservative era of long gaol terms and capital punishment with a very leftist look at the age-old nature versus nurture debate and the roots of criminality.

Largely dialogue based, Sleeping Tiger works so well because this dialogue is impeccably well written - which combined with the placement of most of the scenes within the Doctor's home, gives the production the atmosphere more of a stage play than a film. A couple of burglary scenes offer a break from this setting but avoid becoming the 'action scenes' that they might have been in a different film, instead playing out with a certain coolness that keeps in tone with the rest of the film. Pacing is, as expected, on the slow side but keeps moving on unpredictably and never drags - in particular the psychological treatment scenes do not become bogged down with pyscho-babble as might have been the temptation. The climax and conclusion are a particular highlight and very effective.

Losey takes a very gentle approach to the material - a long term theatre director he realises that the actors and material are more than enough to keep the film going without the need for fancy camerawork or editing. The film is not without flair however, the passing of time is shown subtly with a montage of horse riding scenes with Frank progressing in his skills imbetween talks with the doctor and Losey uses his film noir experience to the full in the nighttime exteriors of London and the nightclub. The only slight flaw in the production comes from some obviously sped-up footage during a driving scene, but it is only used briefly. Composer Malcom Arnold provides a solid soundtrack with some beautifully Noir-ish themes, it is used sparingly but effectively throughout the film.

There is not much to be said about the acting, other than to extol its brilliance. Dirk Bogarde in one of his early roles is simply perfectly cast - he had a fantastic ability to switch between upper class and working class roles and this part is a highlight of the latter. A duo of Canadian born actors play the doctor and his wife, Alexander Knox and Alexis Smith with a very fine pair of performances.

Dirk Bogarde is superb and aided by a particularly well written script, all held together by a solid, if not the most remarkable, directoral turn from Joseph Losey. Generally recommended, it is a must-see film for any fans of Losey or Bogarde.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Dirk Bogarde - a very popular British actor who also appeared in Losey's Accident (1967)
Directed by anyone interesting? Joseph Losey - (credited as Victor Hanbury) - an American born director, forced to flee by the witchhunts, he made several films in the UK including The Servant (1963) and King & Country (1964)
Any gore or violence ? None
Any sex or nudity? None
Who is it for? Fans of Bogarde should certainly see this, it also come recommended to Losey fans

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Black and White.
A generally good print with some grain and minor damage but plenty of detail and well defined tones.
Audio Original English mono - sounds good.
Subtitles None.
Extras None.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Availability Only available as part of Optimum's Joseph Losey or Dirk Bogarde Collections.
Other regions? Release in the US by Alpha with a very poor quality print
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print is English.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 2nd February 2009.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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