Disc Reviews

The Caretaker (1963) Blu-ray Review

Harold Pinter’s plays are often quite opaque. They normally deal with a handful of people and the human interconnection in all it’s kindness and cruelty between them. ‘The Birthday Party’, ‘Homecoming’ and ‘The Servant’ are examples of this. So too is ‘The Caretaker’. ‘The Caretaker’ was written in 1959, staged the following year and adapted for the screen in 1963. A three act play, it was filmed in the cold winter of 1963. It was a lo-fi production that had some big talent backing it. From the opening credits it is clear there big name associate producers in Noel Coward, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Harry Saltzman (the James Bond producer), Peter Hall, Leslie Caron and Peter Sellers among others. But the original funders were Pinter himself, along with the film’s director Clive Donner, producer Michael Birkett and the film’s three actors: Alan Bates, Robert Shaw and Donald Pleasence.   

Clearly, every bit an independent film and at no point filmed on a sound stage, it was filmed in a real life location in Hackney (the original house has since made way for a new build). The origin of the play is based off a real life situation Pinter experienced. Shaw plays the rather melancholy Aston who feels sorry for an old tramp he has met (Pleasence). He takes the old man back to his house in Hackney where he lets him rest. Meanwhile, Aston also lives with his brother, Davies (Bates), who cruelly does not miss the opportunity to dish out abuse at this proud and racist old fella.

The opening credits are noirishly shot at night by talented cinematographer and later director, Nicolas Roeg who would go on to direct such films as Performance (1970) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Through the credits we see a van parked in front of a house and when the credits end we see a cigarette light up and thrown out of the van window. Roeg and director Donner shot much of the film in the confined space of the house and do an extraordinary job in making an intimate personal film with just three characters.  Clearly the filmmakers and those who backed the film saw the quality and worth in Pinter here. Pinter himself was closely involved in the making of the film, adapting his own play himself and understanding where and what changes were necessary.

The performances are first rate, especially from Pleasence who here gives one of the greatest performances of his career. The film had been previously released on DVD only by BFI with a handful of extras, but this dual format release has a bunch of other extras. What is carried over is the introduction by Pinter scholar, Michael Billington, shot from within the house Pinter lived in that influenced ‘The Caretaker’ and a on location featurette showing the interesting locations and testing shooting for the film. Also lifted from the earlier DVD release is Billington’s featurette from the play to the screen of Pinter’s play. New additions include an archive interview with Donner, the opening titles for the US release (where is was called The Guest) and an audio commentary by Bates, Donner and producer Michael Birkett. Significantly, the film has been beautifully restored from the original camera negative by the BFI, and presented here in both High and Standard Definition.

e actors: Alan Bates, Robert Shaw and Donald Pleasence.

Clearly every bit of an independent film and at no point filmed on a sound stage, the film was filmed in a real life location in Hackney (the original house has since made way for a new build). The origin of the play is based off a real life situation Pinter experienced. Shaw plays the rather melancholy Aston feels sorry for an old tramp he has met (Pleasence). He takes the old man back to his house Hackney and lends lets him rest. Meanwhile, Aston also lives with his brother, Davies (Bates), who cruelly does not miss the opportunity to dish out abuse at this proud and racist old fella.

The opening credits are noirishly shot at night by the very talented cinematographer and later director, Nicolas Roeg who would go on to direct such films as Performance (1970) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Through the credits we see a van parked in front of a house and when the credits end we see a cigarette light up and thrown out of the van window. Roeg and director Donner shot much of the film in the confined space of the house and do an extraordinary job in making an intimate personal film with just three characters.  Clearly the filmmakers and those who backed the film saw the quality here and worth in Pinter here. Pinter himself was closely involved in the making of the film, adapting his own play himself and understanding where and what changes were necessary.

The performances are first rate, especially from Pleasence who here gives one of the greatest performances of his career. The film had been previously released on DVD only by BFI with a handful of extras, but this dual format release has a bunch of other extras. What is carried over is the introduction by Pinter scholar, Michael Billington, shot from within the house Pinter lived in that influenced ‘The Caretaker’ and a on location featurette showing the interesting locations and testing shooting for the film. Also lifted from the earlier DVD release is Billington’s featurette from the play to the screen of Pinter’s play. New additions include an archive interview with Donner, the opening titles for the US release (where is was called The Guest) and an audio commentary by Bates, Donner and producer Michael Birkett. Significantly, the film has been beautifully restored from the original camera negative by the BFI, and presented here in both High and Standard Definition.

Chris Hick

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