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Rapture (Blu-ray Review)

16 Jan, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Available at
Twilight Time
$29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Gozzi, Dean Stockwell, Gunnel Lindblom.

So as not to further exacerbate its reputation as (quoting Julie Kirgo’s liner notes,) a film maudit, I‘m doing my own limited part to plug a screen curiosity that got a late-2011 limited Blu-ray release before I could get a chance to see it during the year-end flood of movies from all sources. The French term I quote refers to a movie that is almost cursed: one with, say, paltry initial distribution, indifferent critical reception and subsequent lack of revival house interest — and, in this case, failure to have gotten even a VHS release way back when or even many TV showings (though the Fox Movie Channel has been doing its part to expose Rapture the past couple years in a way that no one else ever did before).

In fact, this 20th Century-Fox release is one of the few major studio offerings I managed to miss in my end of high school/beginning of college year 1965, though I do remember being intrigued at the time by a handful of reviews that suggested the picture had an elusive “something.” And it does — though in ways mostly photographic, permitting storytelling that never quite combusts to penetrate your mind nevertheless. There’s also a casting stew that you don’t get everyday.

Transferred from its source novel British setting to the coast of France, the picture headlines Melvyn Douglas not long after he won his Oscar for a sizable supporting performance in Hud and Hollywood was trying to figure out if he was still lead material (as he had been in younger days before a long period of screen inactivity from the early ‘50s through early ‘60s). Playing this widower’s daughter as a 15-year-old was 12-year-old Patricia Gozzi, previously a critics’ sensation in 1962’s Sundays and Cybele — a onetime art house “Big Deal” that has more or less fallen through the earth, distribution-wise, in the past few decades or so. Rounding out the dynamics here are a handsome escaped prisoner played by Dean Stockwell in that period where he was no longer a child actor (or anything close) but also not yet a part of that future counter-culture period when he Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern could appear with Jimi Hendrix, The Seeds and the Strawberry Alarm Clock in the Haight-Ashbury laugher Psych-Out. And we also see one of Ingmar Bergman’s favorite walking bundles of sexuality — Gunnel Lindblom — playing the kind of friskily available housekeeper who’d have most traveling salesman wanting to play (quoting Preston Sturges) “Hey Hey in the Hayloft.” 

Embittered by his wife’s death, Douglas plays one of those guys (here, it’s a judge) who wants to do a lot of socially conscious favors for mankind in the abstract — yet is kind of a task-masterish prig at home. His sternness basically relegates daughter Gozzi into a child’s fantasy world, and for a long time after she first discovers Stockwell near the family barn, she thinks he’s a scarecrow come to life. But we can also see by the way she thrashes around in bed at night that her budding erogenous zones are feeling the kind of tinglies a lot of girls her age used to get around the same time over Paul McCartney.

Eventually, Stockwell and Gozzi take up with each other as the law pursues him, and Kirgo’s notes are not unmindful that there’s something kind of queasy about Gozzi’s (under-) age, also the age differential in general and the fact that the girl might not be all that complete in the head. This is a story that probably wouldn’t be told on screen in quite the same manner today, which is one of the things that give the picture its nip-at-you quality.

George Delerue’s score (isolated here on a separate track in Twilight Time fashion) is a plus, though the release’s chief selling point is the black-and-white cinematography by Marcel Grignon – which, had the movie been any kind of hit, would surely have gotten an Oscar nomination in the then still active black-and-white category. Grignon is one whose work is generally unknown to me, though I do recall that his work on the otherwise bomb-ish Is Paris Burning? (filmed around the same time) was also exemplary. The Blu-ray rendering of this curiosity is so spectacular that it sucks you far more into the story than the storytelling (by, of all folks, The Towering Inferno’s John Guillermin). Here’s a case where Twilight Time has come up with B&W of Criterion caliber — which means Rapture looks about as good as the past year’s Criterion presentations of The Night of the Hunter, Sweet Smell of Success and Kiss Me Deadly. Not bad, guys.

About the Author: Mike Clark

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