Eva, The Accident, and Secret Ceremony are a pretty good representation of Joseph Losey’s evolution in his middle period. I’ve always considered The Servant to be Losey’s masterpiece, but Accident may give it a run for its money. That said, Eva and Secret Ceremony are interestingly representative of other sides of the director.
A Jeanne Moreau-Losey collaboration is almost too good to be true. I haven’t seen a whole lot of Losey, so aside from Time Without Pity, this is the earliest film of his I know. Moreau is fantastic as always, this time playing the title character. A possible prostitute, definite flirt, whose sexuality and confidence totally enraptures and upends author Tyvian Jones (Stanley Baker).
Baker is good here, but he outdoes himself in Accident. In Eva he’s his macho self, but it feels a little affected. Moreau, for her part, is basically perfect. There’s something of the doomed romance of Phaedra in here. That’s odd, because both films are 1962, and both are by exiled directors, once working in Hollywood and now abroad.
The latter part makes some sense in both films – that doom, the sense of manipulation, and certainly of control – a favorite of Losey’s themes – is relevant to the Hollywood blacklist politics still sticking in a craw. And Eva is a takedown of Hollywood. People are fakes, drunks, distrustful, or dishonest. Jones is one of those. For a film about movie-making (in some ways) remarkably little is shown of Hollywood or elsewhere aside from the posturing of it all.
Losey’s style here seems to be anticipating The Servant. Eva is filled with harsh close-ups, and reflections. Reflections everywhere! In sunglasses, in mirrors, in drinking glasses. There are plenty of extreme angles, and frames shot through a crowded foreground. A lot of this comes to a head early, at a club scene that is beautifully and quickly cut, where shots tight, obscured, blocked, and quickly cut:
Towards the end of the film Losey has a different take on the reflection, with these two shots (art imitating art):
Losey is clearly obsessed with the darker side of humanity, as here, Jones slips slowly away from what seems to be a pretty upright world – successful novelist, beautiful fiance – to anything but.
My favorite of the three, Accident boasts some strong names: Losey, Baker, Dirk Bogarde, Harold Pinter. Not a bad combination, and Losey and Pinter are really a perfect pairing. I probably like this best because it’s also closest to The Servant, which was four years earlier.
Bogarde – probably one of my favorite actors – plays Stephen. A professor who falls hard for Anna (Jacqueline Sassard). Stephen is married and has kids, and anyway, Anna seems more interested sexually in Stephen’s colleague Charley (Stanley Baker, in the best performance I’ve ever seen him give), and innocently in his student William (Michael York).
The description probably sounds like Eva, and it is, though Stephen’s unraveling isn’t such a melodramatic potboiler as Baker’s in that film. Generally, Losey seems to want to play this entire thing down, and he does. There’s an unmistakable Lolita vibe in here as well.
In a lot of ways, Accident feels descended from Carol Reed. There’s a lot of Reed’s claustrophobia and mood. And as a totally random, unimpressive digression, this, alongside The Shout, is the best film I’ve ever seen that features a cricket match.
It’s not only the performances, but Losey’s style is generally calmer as well. There are, for one, fewer reflections, and also his camera feels cleaner and more fluid. He doesn’t shoot through things as much, and lets the performers hold the frame for longer. He does start to really favor the zoom here – Accident has plenty of zooms out to reveal the master shot.
Losey takes some risks in Accident. There’s an entire scene that runs nearly 6 minutes that tracks Stephen’s encounter with an old flame. It’s gorgeously shot (I love the saturated Eastmancolor from Losey and cinematographer Gerry Fisher), but what makes it more remarkable is that all “dialogue” is voiceover. It’s the only sequence of its kind in the film, and it somehow works. How do you get those performances in this situation? How do you give them? There’s a lot of reliance on looks and context, and it comes off stunningly:
Losey plays a good amount of this, as you can see, out in 2-shot. That helps. The evolution of their reactions – cordial, uncertain, intimate, regretful – is perfect.
Accident is somehow also scary. Not in a horror-film kind of way, but in a psychological descent kind of way. One of the reasons has more to do with the cinematography. Immediately following the scene represented above, Stephen returns home. He knows his wife is away, so when he hears footsteps on the stairs he’s alarmed. He’s relieved – and also distraught – to find that it’s just Charley and Anna. That’s important for plot, but look how Losey and Fisher frame Stephen’s POV:
That’s terrifying. Anna is cut off and shrouded. She could be a ghost. It’s partially done for the sheer shock value (success!), also as part of Stephen’s unwillingness to see her. He’s obsessed with Anna. He doesn’t want to see that she’s with Charley.
Secret Ceremony (1968)
I’ve long thought of watching this somewhat hard-to-find film because of its reputation. It’s supposed to be a bit of a mess. Obviously I’m a Losey fan, but I’m also a big Robert Mitchum fan, and here he plays partially against type and gives the best performance in the film.
The movie sort of reminds me of Seance on a Wet Afternoon, only if that film was very over-dramatic, laughable at times, and rested on a lesser lead. Sorry, but I don’t think Elizabeth Taylor was up to the part of Leonora, a prostitute who falls in with the younger Cenci (Mia Farrow). Cenci seems convinced that Leonora is her dead mother. Leonora, for her part, is poor and also has a dead daughter. So they seem like a match made in a really odd heaven. Of course there are problems, including both women’s instability, and Albert (Mitchum), Cenci’s mother’s second husband/lover who probably also molested Cenci.
Part of the problem with Secret Ceremony is that nothing happens and then a whole lot happens. The beginning of the film is nice and mysterious, and slow even. It’s fun to try to figure out the relationships and see if this is a cat-and-mouse narrative or something different. And then, all of a sudden, a torrent of information comes our way. It jolts the film in and out of a rhythmic flow.
As a work of pure pulp, Secret Ceremony works on almost every level. The costumes are amazingly period-kitsch, as is the location:
Taylor doesn’t really ever bring it down below hamming it up, and Farrow, fresh off of Rosemary’s Baby, could be the grown up version of the child she had in that movie for all of her eeriness.
Still, Secret Ceremony is fun. Like in Accident, Losey seems more content to let the actors perform than to force mood with camera (it just backfires a little here).