The line between Gainsborough romping and Hammer dread is a thin one indeed, Joseph Losey straddles it for the benefit of the upcoming decade (vide Schlesinger's Far from the Madding Crowd and Richardson's Mademoiselle). Aristos and proles and the games they play, the greased piglet cheered on by a slumming Regency bourgeoisie is avenged by the jangly pickpocket (Melina Mercouri) who makes herself at home in the crumbling mansion. The vixen's dangling bare calves welcome the craven blueblood (Keith Mitchell), soon he's crawling into a bottle of rum while the new wife storms about with scarlet frock, gaping grin and riding crop. "Remember: I am the lady of the house now." The temptress' true love is the wily vagabond (Patrick McGoohan) who desires a stable of his own, her opposite number is the pallid sister-in-law (June Laverick) who stands in the way of the family inheritance. "Gamblers make indifferent husbands" but good doormats for wayward infiltrators, Losey bursting with bile and vigor details the mutual destruction like a malevolent Renoir. (A decisive showstopper has Mercouri smashing vases and tearing curtains as Mitchell meets the disapproving gaze of ancestral paintings and lets out a furious cackle, all witnessed by a mousy maid.) The class war is waged from the boudoir and the bedlam all the way to the decaying pagoda in the gray lake, a Rowlandson puppet show for "l'empire familier des ténèbres futures" (Baudelaire). The carriage so admired at the onset crashes into a river and sinks to the bottom, on to The Servant these luxurious sketches go. Cinematography by Jack Hildyard. With Flora Robson, Lyndon Brook, Helen Haye, Mervyn Johns, Clare Austin, and Nigel Green.
--- Fernando F. Croce