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The Collector

Orson Welles once said of William Wyler that as a director he was a great producer. And though such a comment might be a bit snarky, it's pretty accurate. From the 1930s on, Wyler's filmography reads almost totally as a list of respectable adaptations — pictures meant to call attention to their thoughtful topicality and respectability. The kinds of pictures to take our mothers to. And though he's Charlton Heston's favorite director, his reputation has faded, probably because of this oeuvre, or perhaps because his films were well produced and shot — and usually well cast — but often cold. The most anomalous film in Wyler's filmography is his dark 1965 adaptation of John Fowles' book The Collector. The film stars Terrence Stamp as Freddie Clegg, a lonely butterfly collector who is able to satisfy any desire after winning a lottery. But what he wants most is Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar), so after following her around he kidnaps her and takes her to his remote home where he's set up his basement as a prison in which to keep her. When she comes to realize the extent of her situation, the two strike a bargain: If she agrees to be his prisoner for 28 days, he'll let her go. But the four weeks then become a chess match as she tries to please him to get her release, while he tries to make her love him without understanding how. A two-person drama, with most of the attention focused on Clegg, The Collector lives and dies on its casting — which is exactly why William Wyler was the best choice for the job. Stamp (best known to later generations as General Zod in Superman II and the titular character in The Limey) is the man for the role, giving a tour de force performance. At the time Stamp was still a cinematic newcomer (this was his third film), but he commands the screen with his odd pervert, and manages to make Clegg both sympathetic and repulsive. For someone with little experience with dark subject matter Wyler does a great job of keeping the film interesting; as a small picture with few locations, many might try and keep the camera busy, but the veteran director never gets in the way of the story, nor does he downplay Stamp's odd sexuality. It's a strange picture for Wyler to make, but few could have made it better. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of The Collector presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and monaural DD 2.0, with optional subtitles in English French and Spanish. A trailer and two bonus trailers are included. Keep-case.

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