The Collector May 29, 2017
There is a sinister rumble thundering behind the eyes of Terence Stamp. He’s an attractive man — lean, suave, stylish. But like Anthony Perkins in Norman Bates mode or Laurence Harvey in the darkest moments of 1963’s The Manchurian Candidate, there’s a sense that danger is strolling beneath his aloof, arresting exterior. Stamp’s gaze is steely, disconcertingly blue. He can convincingly play unhinged.
In William Wyler’s terrifically unsettling The Collector (1965), Stamp gets the chance to play deranged. Only he never snarls, foams at the mouth. Here, his derangement is calculated, his character so frightening because he seems so simultaneously delusional and intelligent.
In the film, Stamp is Freddie Clegg, a young bank clerk whose personal life disintegrates after he wins $200,000 in the British Football Pool. Always shy and neurotic, his old job at least gave him a reason to participate in the goings-on of the real world.
But the win has enabled him to buy a sprawling estate in the country and no longer have to work, thus transforming him into a recluse. Without friends (and, apparently, no family), he spends his days stewing perilous fantasies in the windmills of his mind and capturing butterflies and collecting them.
But in his boredom and his growing instability has Clegg decided that he needs a companion. Already in the process of losing his mind, he figures the best way to go about doing so is through abduction. His unknowing object of affection is Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar), a fetching art student he’s had a crush on for years.
The movie doesn’t waste any time in showcasing her kidnapping — within moments has Clegg chloroformed her (he catches her as she’s on her way home) and brought her to the windowless cellar of his home, decked out in furniture fit for any Pottery Barn ad.
Once Grey awakens, Clegg clarifies that he has not forced her into his humble abode by way of making her a rape or murder victim. He simply wants to have her in his company, to become friends. And, if he's lucky, maybe even lovers. Because this idea is, of course, woebegone, Grey is dumbfounded. Clegg doesn’t even consider himself a kidnapper. He even goes as far as setting the date on which he will release her from captivity. He thinks she won’t want to leave by then: he’s convinced that by that time they’ll have fallen in love.
After some time, Grey does begin getting used to her new way of living. But that doesn’t get her any further from thinking about freedom, and such is enough to cause Clegg to increasingly descend into madness serious enough to possibly take a detour into the deadly.
With only Eggar and Stamp acting as the principle leads (save for a walk-on by character actor Maurice Dallimore), The Collector is never anything less than nail-bitingly on edge. Though it isn’t maritally based in the same way 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is, it parallels in its ability to generate notable excitement through the mere watching of the leading duo’s interacting with one another.
There’s an unspoken sexual tension between Stamp and Eggar, but their mutual despising of one another eclipses that. The strain is remarkable. The film is so engaging because we’re always so intent on untangling the thoughts flittering about in these characters’ heads. How many are coated in fear, in longing, in attraction, in hate? Not a moment of the feature’s 119 minutes is wasted. The piecing together of this psychological puzzle is too consuming.
The chemistry between Eggar and Stamp was foreseen by Wyler, who, despite being one of the Hollywood Golden Age’s major filmmakers, directs with the modern virtuosity of John Schlesinger. In casting, the general public, most of whom were anticipating the adaptation of popular 1963 novel of the same name anyway, envisioned a film headlined by big kahunas playing against type. Even Stamp, who had only made two features at the time, was expecting such. When he was cast, rather than someone like Perkins or John Hurt, he was surprised, even more so when newcomer Eggar was chosen over someone like Julie Christie.
But Wyler, well-aware of Christie’s being beautiful in a movie star sort of way rather than an everyday sort of way, picked Eggar both because of her looks and by the reality that, while studying at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, Stamp asked Eggar out and was rejected. During filming, Wyler instructed Stamp to act coldly toward his leading lady. And thereafter was a charged love-hate relationship born.
What we have in The Collector is an anxious, pulsating psychological thriller, not much more than a capturing of the relationship between a captor and his victim. You could look deeper, I suppose — say Grey is a representation of the liberal, educated youths slowly but surely overtaking London society in the 1960s, and say that Clegg is an embodiment of the intrinsic misogyny of society. But simplistically viewing it as a product directly of the moment seasons its output: so many women are victims of a man’s desire to control them. The Collector is one example. A-