Bluray Review – Cul-de-sac (1966)

I had heard very little praise surrounding Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac. Given the amount of discourse generated around his most lauded films (and his personal life) this film was something of a discovery for me. This is a harrowing film. The brutal environment of an isolated castle and the depravity that goes on inside between our “heroes” (a married couple and a gangster on the run) makes this film feel much longer than it’s nearly two-hour run time.

Donald Pleasance was actually pretty pleasant, since he doesn’t really do anything to anyone and yet gets shit on. Maybe he is a bit of a wuss, but I don’t care, and since Lionel Stander doesn’t even seem that threatening, like I said, trying anything in that situation would seem pointless. That’s not really a topic to discuss about here though, since Polanski is settled on making a sort of black comedy, about how these people act completely opposite like they would perhaps normally act in such a situation. Even Pleasence is getting drunk after a while, having drunken ramblings about his wife to the crook.

There’s some potential in the set up, but Polanski just doesn’t go forward enough with the idea. The scene with the surprise visitors for example is a nice one, with Stander being the gardener/butler with a bad mouth, chasing a kid with a shovel and all that, but a lot of the time this seemed to float on one idea that was heading nowhere, which between some relatively enjoyable moments, made this all seem pretty repetitive and pointless. Really, it’s all mostly about people acting goofy. Because of that perhaps, there’s nothing climatic in the ending either and even those parts where Donald Pleasence starts acting crazy-like felt tedious mostly, because all I kept thinking was: “this should all end soon already”. It’s like a ‘we had our fun, but let’s wrap it up already’ type of thing.

Cul-de-sac looks very impressive on Blu-ray. Detail is outstanding even during the nighttime sequences, with clarity also dramatically improved during the panoramic vistas, while the daylight sequences often approach the quality witnessed in Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Repulsion.

Peter Fletcher

Comedy, Thriller | USA, 1966 | 15 | Criterion Collection | Dir. Roman Polanski | Donald Pleasence, Iain Quarrier, Francoise Dorleac, Jack Macgowran, Lionel Stander | Buy:Cul-De-Sac [The Criterion Collection] [Blu-ray]

Special Features

* Two Gangsters and an Island – a very informative video piece from 2003 in which director Roman Polanski, producer Gene Gutowski, producer Tony Tenser, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor and others discuss the various obstacles they had to overcome before and during the shooting of Cul-de-sac.
* “The Nomad” – in this early interview, broadcast by the BBC in 1967, director Roman Polanski discusses his life in Poland and career. The interview is conducted by Boleslaw Sulik, a Polish film critic and writer living in England.
* 2 trailers
* Booklet – a 16-page illustrated booklet featuring David Thompson’s essay “High Tides” (the author writes on film, coedited the book Scorsese on Scorsese, and directs arts documentaries).