With little patience for whodunits, Joseph Losey uncloaks the culprit before the opening credits and proceeds instead to paint the world that’s whelped him. The structure is a very tightly wound clock set to a young prisoner’s hanging, "the last 24 hours can be hell." The sacrificial lamb (Alec McCowen) has embraced numbness, his frazzled father (Michael Redgrave) is a recovering alcoholic and failed writer -- as they sit facing each other in the jail’s visiting room, the glass divider becomes a mirror that separates and blurs them. Redgrave’s frenetic search for a bit of "undeniable doubt" takes him to London’s vital depths (Cocteau doodles adorning a burlesque joint) and corrupted heights (a mirrored elevator leading to a perfumed cage of a penthouse). Barristers, reformists, padres and relatives cannot save the boy, the way out rests with the choleric industrialist (Leo McKern) who stares down the camera a la Goya’s Toro Bravo. Faulkner’s "time slain by clocks" is a ruthless visual motif, the wristwatch that appears to mentally teleport Redgrave back to the asylum, the infernal tick-tock that soothes a slovenly matron as much as booze, Big Ben itself as the ultimate Tower of Babel. Having internalized the traumas and compromises of society, the characters ensnare each other, quiver for freedom and control, pass out and awaken in unknown territory. With capitalist order merely a mock-up of aggression submerged and channelled, McKern’s obscene macho ferocity finds a proper outlet inside a roaring Mercedes at the racetrack; Redgrave can only confront him with a red flag in a hilarious parody of the corrida. (Another Losey joke: Ann Todd’s outdated, Grecian urn-like stiff upper lip amid all the bellowing.) An hour and a half of absolute metaphysical raging, straddling noir, protest and abstraction for the benefit of Oshima (Death by Hanging). Cinematography by Freddie Francis. With Paul Daneman, Peter Cushing, Renee Houston, Lois Maxwell, Richard Wordsworth, George Devine, and Joan Plowright. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce