August 29, 2009
The Sleeping Tiger is about the repressed wife of a renowned psychologist who reluctantly agrees to let her husband take in a criminal as their house guest, in an effort to rehabilitate him. The DVD I purchased is one of those crummy Alpha movies, always a really bad copy with a jumpy screen. But what I love most about them is the way they describe the films, hoping to grab people who might not normally buy a classic movie:
a devoted wife...
a deadly web of sin!!!
One word of warning about this particular copy, though: DO NOT look at the back of the DVD case before watching the film. They have a still image of the last scene in the movie which is a dead giveaway to how it ends. Stupid, stupid stupid...
Anyway! On to the film! I really enjoyed this one. Alexis Smith, who plays the buttoned-up housewife, always excels at these "cool on the outside, boiling on the inside" kind of roles. Her stony facial features and icy blonde hair convey a rigidity that works so well for characters like this one. The only downside was that she had the awful 50's haircut that old ladies still sport today. For some reason it was sort of distracting..
Alexander Knox plays the husband. In every film I've seen him in so far, he plays this type of character - calm, highly intelligent and usually a little oblivious. I have to add, one of the things that I've enjoyed most about watching these Dirk Bogarde films is rediscovering a lot of my favorite British character actors. Hugh Griffith (who plays Audrey Hepburn's father in my favorite caper, How to Steal a Million) plays an Inspector who is determined to prove that Dirk Bogarde belongs in jail.
On the surface this movie might seem like a typical b-budget psychological drama. It has all the parts that such a picture would require: love triangle, crime, sleazy nightclubs, psychology and lust. But (oh, you probably knew I'd say this, didn't you?) Dirk Bogarde really elevates the film to a new level. If you read the part of his character in the screenplay, chances are you would imagine a very heavy-handed, melodramatic performance. In one scene (in the beginning, don't worry!) he grabs the maid's wrist and knocks a tray full of dishes out of her hand after she refuses to bring him a cup of coffee. In other hands, this would have looked petty and overly dramatized. But the way that Dirk Bogarde brings the scene to life is realistic. Instead of a demented criminal who terrorizes the maid you can begin to see hints of the tortured soul that was driven to crime because of an awful childhood.
Childhood trauma is what lies at the heart of this film. A lot of movies have dealt with the subject (one of my favorites is Hitchcock's Spellbound) but this one was very different. I might have trouble explaining this, but here goes... In most films with this subject matter, you have two parts: a psychiatrist and a criminal. Throughout the film, the criminal keeps acting mean and brooding while the psychiatrist slowly picks apart his brain to figure out what caused him to do whatever he did.
Now in this film, I think you can see how childhood trauma affects what the criminal is doing before any insight into his past is ever actually uncovered. It's as if Dirk Bogarde really lived his character's life, had those childhood memories and was storing them inside while acting. His movements and decisions betray his steely, hard exterior and show us a scared little boy.
Interestingly, Bogarde's character isn't the only one with a bad-childhood problem. Turns out the Mrs. is also the product of a broken home. This little tidbit, relvealed in the beginning of the film quite in passing, is worth remembering as you watch. While Dirk Bogarde is slowly being cured from his mental anguish by the psychiatrist, the sleeping tiger (all those childhood memories stored inside) are awakening in Alexis Smith.