Clive Donner (director)
BFI Film (studio)
15 April 2019 (released)
06 May 2019
This 1963 film adaptation of Harold Pinter’s famous play stays true to the stage version, in effect being a 3-hander starring Robert Shaw and Alan Bates who give cantankerous tramp Donald Pleasence as much of a hard time as they give him temporarily shelter.
This being Pinter, of course nothing is as straightforward as it could be or indeed should be, with the characters entering terrain that borders on the absurd and irrational… at least with regards to behaviour and interaction. Those familiar with the work of Pinter will know that he challenges us to re-adjust our thinking and accept the irrational as a rational possibility, however.
During renovations of his ramshackle house (a poor part of Hackney), word-shy Aston (Robert Shaw) invited devious and easily irritated vagrant Bernard Jenkins (Donald Pleasence) to stay for the night, as it’s cold outside and Jenkins just escaped a bar brawl. Instead of being thankful, Jenkins remarks how cluttered and poorly kept the place is, worse still, the ceiling is leaking with a bucket catching the water. Unfazed by Jenkins’s remarks, Aston offers Jenkins a proper pair of shoes but none of the shoes on offer fit, and when Aston finally conjured up a half-decent pair Jenkins moans that the colour of the shoe-laces doesn’t match. In fact, Jenkins moans about a lot of things, especially about the ‘Blacks’ in the neighbourhood and he is worried that he might have to share a communal toilet with them. Nonetheless. Jenkins reluctantly accepts to stay the night and sleep in a bed at the top floor, though he reveals to Aston that his real name is not Jenkins but MacDavies. In order to proof his identity he needs to get to Sidcup to retrieve his papers.
The next morning gets off to a bad start: while Aston complains that he couldn’t sleep well due to Jenkins/MacDavies making noises during his sleep, the ‘guest’ rambles on again about Blacks and foreigners. Aston then says he needs to step out for a while but he trusts Jenkins, he even leaves a pair of spare keys for the tramp. No sooner has he left and waddya know, Jenkins immediately begins rummaging through Aston’s belongings. The door opens and Mick (Alan Bates), Aston’s flash and ill-tempered younger brother enters. Now a mind-game begins during which Mick tries to throw Jenkins off kilter by accusing him of being smelly and intrusive while at the same time accusing his own brother of being anti-social and problematic. When Jenkins tags along, Mick reverses and accuses Jenkins of being dismissive towards his brother and host. He offers Jenkins some sandwiches and takes out a pair of salt- and pepper-shaker which he keeps in his trouser pockets (as you do) before taking the tramp to a Greasy Spoon caf for tea. Mick offers him to be an interior decorator and then they go back to the flat when Aston comes back with a bag for Jenkins and offers him the job of a caretaker, but he needs the correct paperwork to accept the role officially. The two brothers and Jenkins then quarrel over the bag, among other things.
When Jenkins tries to switch on the light nothing happens but Mick, grinning from ear to ear, returns and screws the bulb back into the lamp which he removed beforehand to irritate Jenkins further, claiming he merely indulged in some spring-cleaning. Then he hints to Jenkins that it’s his responsibility to keep the place in order and offers him a job as a caretaker, to which Jenkins responds he thought he was going to be the interior decorator – something which Mick suddenly denied to ever have mentioned. Trying to get into Mick’s good books again, Jenkins starts bitching about Aston and calls him a strange bloke who doesn’t like to work… something he shouldn’t have said as Mick of course takes the side of his brother, who feels that “he and Jenkins don’t seem to hit it off” and that he latter should leave.
A weird enough scenario that’s in turn also funny, and works on many levels when digging deeper: how often does it happen that friends or siblings stab each other in the back, play power games, play games with strangers, teach each other lessons, indulge in darkly comic mind-games?
This couldn’t be more Pinter, and while Shaw and Bates are excellent casting and bring the characters vividly alive on screen, it’s Donald Pleasence’s who protrudes false illusion and tragic dispossession to perfection!
This Dual Format Edition offers an array of interesting Special Features.