George (Donald Pleasence) is a businessman who has left his old life behind to marry Teresa (Francoise Dorleac), a young French woman, and live in an old Northumberland castle by the sea. But one night he is interrupted by two fugitive gangsters (Lionel Stander and Jack MacGowran), which sets his life on a course of self destruction...
Cul-De-Sac was Roman Polanski's second British film after Repulsion, and was scripted by Polanski and Gerard Brach. It's an oddball black comedy with a stormy relationship triangle at its heart: George and Teresa are bullied by Dickie (Stander) and George is taken advantage of by Teresa, but the pressure of George's constantly demeaning situation (whether it's being beaten by Dickie, cuckolded by Teresa or simply showing off with eggs only to accidentally break them) finally makes him stand up for himself.
The characters inhabit a spiteful universe, and this leads to odd moments: George creeps downstairs to confront an intruder, nervously calls out, "Anybody there?" only to have Dickie cheerfully shout back, "Yes - me!"; fatally wounded Albie mistakes George for his wife; Dickie fires his gun in frustration at a passing plane; Dickie forces George to shave him rather than use an electric razor because he has "sensitive skin".
This (semi-improvised) comedy would come across as an actor's workshop if it weren't for the excellent performances of Stander and Pleasence, and to some extent, the selfish, petulant portrayal from Dorleac. Although certain scenes have a definite tendency to ramble on, the banter between whiny George and tough yet sentimental Dickie can make you laugh out loud as they get one up on each other.
None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, in fact only Dickie shows any compassion (when faced with his dying partner in crime). George might start to win your respect as he begins to assert himself when his ghastly friends arrive unexpectedly, but by the end of the film he is completely humiliated once more, having pretty much lost everything - and he knows it. Is that funny? Well, sense of humour is a very personal thing...
French-born Polish director who has been no stranger to tragedy - his mother died in a concentration camp, his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family - or controversy - he was arrested for raping a 13-year-old girl in the late 1970s.
Polanski originally made an international impact with Knife in the Water, then left Poland to make Cul-de-Sac and Repulsion in Britain. More acclaim followed with Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown in Hollywood, but his work after escaping America has been inconsistent. At his best, he depicts the crueller side of humanity with a pitch black sense of humour. He also takes quirky acting roles occasionally.