Controversy over his personal life aside, there are few directors with a record of accomplishment over the last six decades as strong as Roman Polanski. Chinatown is one of the best films ever made. Rosemary’s Baby regularly features at the top of horror lists. Then there’s The Tenant, Repulsion, The Pianist, Macbeth and many more. Cul-de-sac was his second film in English and explores the themes of horror, social alienation and sexual frustration which pervades much of his work.
Fleeing from a bungled robbery, American gangster Dickey (Lionel Stander) and his wounded companion Albie (Jack MacGowran) find themselves stranded on a remote island. They discover a neurotic middle-aged Englishman (Donald Pleasence) and his beautiful young French wife (Françoise Dorléac) living in a ramshackle castle. Dickey takes them hostage as he awaits instructions from his shady underworld boss.
The cinematography in Cul-de-sac is breathtaking. Lindisfarne is a beautifully austere setting for the rather unconventional and edgy proceedings. Both Pleasence and Stander are brilliant in their manic wide-eyed spontaneity. It’s tense and dirty, with horrible characters and rabid self-recriminations. It’s a striking and brave, with astute editing and a range of shots which awe and inspire. Cul-de-sac is bold and brave cinema from one of the best European directors around.
Cul-de-sac is released today on Blu-ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment as part of the Criterion Collection.