'I suppose it was the loneliness and being far away from anything else that made me decide to buy the house. And after I did I told myself I'd never go through with the plan, even though I'd made all the preparations and knew where she was every minute of the day.'
With these opening lines, Freddie Clegg (Terence Stamp) confirms to the viewer that a ride of haunting and psychological suspense is in store for all who attempt to harness a personality so perplexing and multilayered. Clegg possesses a personality that dwells in the valley of sexual repression and delayed maturity, skirting peaks of gauche inferiority to his surrounding peers. His life revolves around the low of his dreary job as a bank clerk to what he considers his supreme hold on life as he knows it -- the collecting of butterflies. He has just won a considerable amount of money on the English football pools and what he intends to do with it is the gist of this tale -- the collection of a human specimen in the form of London art student, Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar).
Clegg purchases an Elizabethan country estate that holds the prize of ancient cellars that will contain his quarry. Once Miranda has been spirited away in a kidnapping by him, the real story begins. A game of cat and mouse ensues and over the course of the erupting minutes, one is never quite sure what will or will not happen. Will she escape or will evil prevail?
Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar have etched luminous performances under the direction of veteran Hollywood director, William Wyler. Stamp's Clegg is horrifying in an obscene way, for he projects terror as can only be portrayed by one who is truly mad and consorting with harbingers of class distinction as he perceives them to be. He is that most capable of monsters who needs no makeup or agents from the supernatural world to make his mark, but rather the corrupt nature of a beast that blends so well into the woodwork as to be unseen to the naked eye. The precision of each move he makes and the play from his dark eyes as they change, chameleon like, from drone to madman, are a marvelous and terrifying thing to see.
Samantha Eggar is Stamp's perfect foil, the hunted as pursued by the hunter, in a match that will determine her ultimate fate. She is in a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation. She morphs from a carefree, young art student to a woman caught in a web of deceit, sexual outbursts and insanity. She has become the latest 'catch' for Clegg, the crown jewel of his collection. Miranda has only one way out -- to learn to love Clegg by being his 'guest'. Will she? It will become a battle of survival of the fittest.
The Collector is based upon the novel by John Fowles that created such a stir in the early 60's. The book took the form of a diary as written by Miranda after her capture and betrayed all of the emotions, gambits and tragedies that befell the twosome. The screenplay as written by Stanley Mann and John Kohn is quite literate and maintains a steady stream of interest in this royal battle of the sexes. They were both nominated for and Oscar Best Screenplay, along with Wyler for Best Director and Eggar as Best Actress. Wyler is best known as the director of such perennial favourites as Ben Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives and Wuthering Heights.
While the acting takes place on a very limited set for the most part and a feeling of a stage production making itself evident, the story and the acting are the glue that hold the production together. The latter two are superbly realized.
The soundtrack is by veteran composer Maurice Jarre, and while it is effective for the most part, at times it is too much and presents a dilemma. Less can sometimes be more. Jarre seems unsure in his attempts and while a theme runs throughout the film, elements that seem to be presented for effect get in the way. Jarre is capable of much better when presented with a real challenge.
This film is a quiet little gem; that diamond in the rough that is either overlooked or never quite discovered for the wonder that it is. It is a decided change of pace from productions that would have been profoundly filled with blood, gore and special effects to get their point across. What wonders the English language can project when put into capable hands and minds. The Collector is available on video, but may present a challenge to locate. If you are lucky enough to track a version down, you will not be disappointed. The Collector will stay with you long after it has ended and that, for me, is the mark of a truly great film.