The Fixer (1968)

"Luck I was always short of. I'm the kind of man who finds it perilous just to be alive."

It's time for the 24th installment in my Discovering Dirk Bogarde series, where I share my first impressions after watching a new-to-me Dirk Bogarde film.

In The Fixer (1968) Alan Bates stars as an innocent, apolitical Jewish handyman who finds himself charged with committing a ritual murder in turn-of-the-century Russia. The film is loosely based on a true story, and much of the movie follows Bates' character as he tries to survive the brutal Russian penal system with his dignity intact. As much as I adore Dirk, The Fixer is definitely Alan Bates' movie. Bates was so amazing in this role that I immediately checked to make sure he had been nominated for an Oscar (he was, but lost to Cliff Robertson for Charly.)  His performance here is stunning in so many ways. He handles the lighter moments at the beginning of the film with a gentle finesse, but then once his character is arrested he plunges deep into the type of acting where it seems impossible that the performer could have walked away unscarred by the performance. It's a raw, painful, deep portrayal that possesses Bates completely.

Dirk Bogarde plays Bates' Christian lawyer, one of the only decent men that Bates meets after he's been arrested. It's a supporting role -- he doesn't even appear for at least the first 30-40 minutes, and then isn't in the last 30-40 either -- but, as usual, he shines whenever he's onscreen and his sympathetic, well-meaning character is definitely a highlight of the film. There are a few scenes where the Jew and the Christian connect  -- over asthma or a shared love of the philosopher Spinoza -- and those moments are almost more painful than all of the scenes of suffering. They acknowledge the truth that we are all human and we have the same interests and ailments. Here are two men who seem to understand the thread that ties us all together, and yet they are the only two men in the whole film to see it. It brings to mind Shakespeare's verse from The Merchant of Venice:

"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?"

I always worry when I'm exhausting an actor's filmography that at a certain point I'll run out of the really good movies and I'll only be left with their lesser works. But with Dirk Bogarde that certainly hasn't been the case. With each new movie that I watch I find another masterpiece, proving once and again that he had impeccable taste in choosing his roles. In 1968 Dirk was still starring in movies -- Sebastian was released the same year, and he still had some six years to go before The Night Porter -- but here he chose to accept a minimal role in an exceptional film. And The Fixer was all the better for it.

This was a very serious review, but I wouldn't be me if I didn't at least mention the mustache. While his King and Country 'stache was definitely unfortunate, I'm not actually opposed to this one. I think it's actually rather becoming! So the answer to my perpetual question -- "Is that mustache really necessary?" -- is yes, I think this one is. Or at the very least, it's not unnecessary.