1971 dramatic dream

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A sailor, thinking he's spotted his sister, chases a woman into a brothel where he is knocked out in a fight. He wakes up in his uncle's labyrinthine mansion just in time for the old man to pass away. His will leaves money to a collection of oddballs in the strange house with the stipulation that they are not allowed to leave. The sailor then wanders all over the place trying to figure things out.

There are three reasons to watch this movie. The first is the gorgeous setting. The house is an architectural wonder, like M. C. Escher got his hands on the blueprints and decided to mess with everybody. The sailor--named Jan, by the way, and played by Mathieu Carriere ostensibly because Malcolm McDowell wasn't available--explores every inch of the place, and it's a treat to see all of the colorful rooms, the impossible angles, and endless staircases to nowhere in particular, and the interior designs. It's got to be one of the most elaborate and beautiful sets ever constructed, always something beautiful to see.

The second is seeing Orson Welles playing that dying uncle. He spends all of his screen time in bed. My guess is he agreed to do the part only after being promised that he wouldn't have to get out of bed. It's a remarkable performance. It really seems like he's half-assing the entire thing while at the same time still chewing the scenery impressively. Your eyes are just drawn to the guy's face. And man! That voice! You're just leaning forward during his parts to pay attention to every single word that he intones. It's fascinating to watch.

Once he goes away, you have to turn your attention to the alluring Susan Hampshire who plays five different roles. She's easy on the eye (and a little naked), but more importantly than that--I guess--is that she plays the roles differently enough and with different looks that I didn't even know it was the same actress at first. I was really impressed with what she did.

Unfortunately, there's not much of a story to connect with here. At the end, there were mythological allusions (that might be a spoiler; not sure), and it's possible the whole thing would come together in a more intelligent person's mind, but I was as lost as I would have been in the house, just winding corner after corner, feeling along the walls, wondering where that staircase or that hallway led to. It gave the entire film a dreamlike quality which, in the right mood, could actually have put me in enough of a trance for me to really dig this film. Instead, I was grasping for meaning and ending up frustrated by the whole thing. In the end, I was ready just to call the whole thing pretentious, that word I like to use when I don't understand something and want to blame it on somebody else.

I can see myself trying to tackle this one again a few years down the road. For now, it's just a beautiful oddity from the end of the psychedelic era with a couple of fascinating performances, worth seeing for sure but definitely frustrating.

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