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Noir-vember 2014: The Sleeping Tiger

Posted by martinteller on November 14, 2014

“Alright, you’ve told me now I’ll tell you. You’re a phony, Mrs. Esmond. You’re all safe and sound and smooth on the outside, you’ve got everything you want, that’s what you tell yourself. But inside you’ve got nothing. You’re empty, you’re hungry. I know your sort. I know you so well. You act as if nothing could shake you, but in actual fact you’re a tight wire. And it wouldn’t take very much to break you. Not very much at all.”

Noted psychoanalyst Dr. Clive Esmond (Alexander Knox) is walking the London streets late one night and is accosted by Frank Clemmons (Dirk Bogarde), a hooligan with a gun trying to mug him.  Esmond’s army training allows him to easily get the best of Frank and disarm him.  But rather than take him to the police, Dr. Esmond welcomes Frank into his home, with the idea of studying him (and hopefully “curing” him of his criminal tendencies) over the next 6 months.  Frank opts for the lesser of two evils and agrees.  While Dr. Esmond tries to pierce Frank’s protective layers, his wife Glenda (Alexis Smith) finds herself strangely drawn to the young thug.

The first of five collaborations between Bogarde and director Joseph Losey, though it would be nearly 10 years until the next one… the masterful The Servant.  Losey, blacklisted at the time and operating under the radar, is credited as “Victor Hanbury”.  He may have considered it a blessing in disguise that his name wasn’t attached to this mediocre effort.  Losey is no stranger to noir (he seems to pop up for me every Noir-vember) and there are a few nice noir elements here.  The dramatic angles, the down-and-dirty jazz nightclub, the theme of big city evil invading the quiet home, the psychological aspects.

But it’s pretty lame psychology and the film’s third act is loaded with a lot of phony melodrama that’s hard to swallow.  Smith overacts her ass off, and while her character goes through an interesting arc, the performance makes a mockery of it.  Bogarde is surprisingly ho-hum here and Frank never really comes off like the dangerous presence that he should.  Or maybe he shouldn’t… if Glenda is the real tiger, then maybe Frank is just a kitty cat with an attitude problem.  Still, the film feels like it’s trying to go one way with Frank, then veers off down a path that’s both hokey and unconvincing.

The first time we see Bogarde’s face is in a mirror, a precedent for the multitude of reflections seen in The Servant.  That’s a far superior work.  This movie has some occasional sparks but gets lost in overblown melodrama, not to mention buried under a bombastic score.  Rating: Fair (63)


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