Accident (1967)

Last night I watched Accident -- it's described in the movie poster as a love triangle between four people (not sure how that's possible) but it's even more complicated than that. It's actually a love "triangle" between six people.


Stephen (Dirk Bogarde) - a middle aged philosophy tutor at Oxford, married with two kids and one on the way. Hopelessly in love with the foreign exchange student Anna.

Charley (Stanley Baker) - Stephen's best friend - a middle aged professor, married with three kids, sleeping with the foreign exchange student Anna.

William (Michael York) - an aristocratic student, one of Stephen's pupils. In love with Anna.

Rosalind (Vivien Merchant) - Stephen's wife.

Laura (Ann Firbank) - Charley's wife.

Anna (Jaqueline Sassard) - The foreign exchange student at the center of the love polygon.


The movie opens with the sound of an awful car crash happening in the distance, while the camera focuses on Dirk Bogarde's house. He runs out to see what happened and finds William and Anna in the car. William is obviously dead, and Anna has minor injuries. The rest of the film is a flashback of how they all met and what led up to the accident.

I was incredibly excited to watch this film since I loved The Servant so much -- this was made with the same writer-director-actor team of Harold Pinter, Joseph Losey and Dirk Bogarde.

I really loved everything about this movie, especially Dirk Bogarde (obviously) but I have to say that the star of the film was Harold Pinter's script. The dialogue (and deliberate lack thereof- many, many awkward pauses) was absolutely superb. One of my favorite exchanges from the script:

Charley: [reading from learned journal] A statistical analysis of sexual intercourse at Kolenzo University, Milwaukee showed... that 70% did it in the evening, 29.9% between 2 and 4 in the afternoon and 0.1% during a lecture on Aristotle.

Aged Professor: I'm surprised to hear that Aristotle is on the syllabus in the State of Wisconsin. [imdb]
I just thought that was hilarious. The dialogue, even when oozing with sharp wit, was delightfully frank and real. Often the camera comes in when characters are already in mid-conversation, and leaves before the conversation has finished. The audience is left to deduce what was going on. To me, it was like the bits of conversations you hear when you're out -- maybe in a restaurant you hear two women whispering about their husbands, or a man walking down the sidewalk arguing about business matters on his cell phone. Both in real life, and in Accident, you don't know the full context and history of the people whose lives you're intruding on- you just get a small glimpse.

Every line of dialogue in Accident is fantastic, but often it's the scenes without any dialogue that pack the most punch. In one particular scene, Dirk Bogarde comes home drunk from a meeting in London to find Anna and Charley using his house for a rendezvous. He stares at them for a while, they exchange about two sentences, and then he walks into the kitchen to make scrambled eggs. The entire scene lasts about ten minutes but there couldn't have been more than ten sentences. Instead of giving us words to indicate what's going on, we're instead presented with the tense visual of Dirk Bogarde scrambling eggs in the foreground- obviously perturbed by the reality that his best friend is sleeping with the student that he is lusting after - while the lovers wait in the background. Words just aren't necessary.

One of the complaints that I read about this film before watching it was that there wasn't a single sympathetic character in the lot, but I actually found Dirk Bogarde's character to be very sympathetic. He can't be blamed for having feelings for his student - in one scene he looks like he's positively writhing in pain from the guilt. And his character was sweetly pathetic in many ways. While Anna flirts & succumbs to the advances of William & Charley, she never lets Dirk Bogarde lay a hand on her - the embarrassment he feels is almost palpable. He has a slight clumsiness throughout the film that should resonate with anyone who isn't a natural social butterfly.

When asked to join William and Anna on a little boat trip, he hesitantly agrees but is obviously uncomfortable the entire time, especially when he's aware that his arm is dangerously close to Anna's legs. He carefully raises his arms and tucks them under his armpits to avoid any accidental touching. The awkwardness of the situation is really enough to make you blush, as if it were happening to you.

I really thought this was a marvelous movie, but it is very 1960's and it's an acquired taste if you prefer the rapid-fire dialogue, clean innocence and shiny perfection of films from the 30's and 40's. You can watch the full film on YouTube here.

Also, Robert Leeming wrote an excellent review of Joseph Losey's work in England that includes some great insight into Accident - I highly recommend reading it before you watch the film.


I'm always anxious to read what other people have to say about a movie, but only AFTER I've written a post, since I don't want any of the other information seeping into what I want to write. I just finished reading some of the reviews on imdb and I just loved this one quote from a review, and had to share it:
"As Pinter said in a 1966 interview: "So in this film everything is buried, it is implicit. There is really very little dialogue, and that is mostly trivial, meaningless. The drama goes on inside the characters." In the published screenplay his directions for one scene indicate that "the words are fragments of realistic conversation. They are not thoughts..." and what comes across is the brilliant contrast between the nondescript, mundane, day-to-day attempts at communication between the characters combined with a hard look at the underlying reality of the characters' situations. Nothing is like it seems to be." - From commenter John Webber


pjowens75 said...

Another great review, Kate. As a playwright, Pinter's strength was always dialogue...and often lack thereof. Although some of his plays are considered modern classics, I always prefered his screenplays, and will put this movie on my list of ones to see. Thanks.

Mercurie said...

I always liked Accident. It's sort of a cross between two of my favourite sorts of films--the sort o films they made in the Thirties and Forties with witty dialogue and the sort of oddball films they made in the mid-Sixties. A bit of trivia for you--this was Michael York's film debut! Anyhow, of Losey and Pinter's collaborations, this was always my favourite!

Kate Gabrielle said...

pjowens- Thanks! I completely agree, the lack of dialogue is what gives the films a tension that you don't get when there is rapid-fire dialogue. I haven't actually seen any of his plays yet so I can't compare- but I'd really love to see one anyway :)

Mercurie- So far I've only seen The Servant & Accident- there's one more Losey/Pinter film, right? I think of the two, I definitely liked Accident more. The Servant was fantastic but this one really gripped me more. Michael York was really good, it must have been so exciting to work with so many industry pros on his first film!!

Mercurie said...

Yes, Losey and Pinter's last collaboration was The Go-Between from 1970!

charkstudios said...

I'm sure the "accident" was how all those bumbling men fell in love with the same woman and less of the automobile accident as shown in the beginning!

I love this type of movie as it is based on a plot that revolves around an emotion that is triggered when one thinks they are all washed up and middle aged...then someone finds you attractive.

And the rest is lets say....history!

bmadron said...

Just watched the accident. Like it. Dirk Bogarde is great in it. He has said that the camera can read thought. The scene in the kitchen says it all. It would have been funny if he would have thrown that hot pan on his friend and Anna!