Blu-Ray Review: ‘Cul-de-sac’ From Masterful Director Roman Polanski

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
No votes yet

CHICAGO – Whatever you may think about Roman Polanski as a human being (or a criminal for that matter), it is simply undeniable that he is one of our best living filmmakers. From “Repulsion” to “Chinatown” to “The Pianist” to “The Ghost Writer” — he’s a master of the form, one of my absolute favorite directors of all time. One of his lesser-known works (that would be the best film of many other director’s entire careers but arguably doesn’t even rank top ten for Polanski) is the tense, taut “Cul-de-sac,” given the special edition treatment this week by The Criterion Collection. Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0

“Roman Polanski orchestrates a mental menage a trois in this slyly absurd tale of paranoia from the director’s golden 1960s period. Donald Pleasence and Francoise Dorleac star as a withdrawn couple whose isolated house is invaded by a rude, burly American gangster on the run, played by Lionel Stander. The three engage in role-playing games of sexual and emotional humiliation. Cul-de-sac is an evocative, claustrophobic, and morbidly funny tale of the modern world in chaos.”

Cul-de-sac was released on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD on August 16th, 2011
Cul-de-sac was released on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD on August 16th, 2011
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

One doesn’t choose the time one gets into trouble.” It may just be a line to put a period on a display of force by gangster Richard but it is also the common starting point for so many great movies, isn’t it? On one level, “Cul-de-sac” is yet another tale of good people crossing paths with bad ones but there’s a lot more going on here than the classic Hitchcockian archetype. “Cul-de-sac” plays like a blend of the cultural revolution of the ’60s as interpreted through the lens of great playwrights like Samuel Becket and Harold Pinter. This is a movie about three people waiting for a mysterious figure (named Katelbach) who will never come. It’s so clearly modeled on Becket’s classic “Waiting For Godot” that it was once called the very-similar “When Katelbach Comes.”

Cul-de-sac was released on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD on August 16th, 2011
Cul-de-sac was released on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD on August 16th, 2011
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

But it’s not as dry or mannered as that description might make it sound. Polanski, working from his own idea for one of the few times in his career, clearly is trying to play with the changing image of the modern man. On one hand, you have a beefy, loud American. On the other, you have a cross-dressing, skinny Brit. The two men couldn’t be more different and watching the psycho-sexual triangle of bizarre behavior that unfolds as these people are trapped (one by his situation and the other two by an intruder) is fascinating multiple levels.

It doesn’t hurt that “Cul-de-sac” is one of Polanski’s most interesting looking films of the period. It’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, taking excellent advantage of the unique location. “Cul-de-sac” could have been a more enclosed piece (something that takes place in cramped quarters) but it features hills and rising tides as much as it does claustrophobia. It’s gorgeous and the HD transfer from Criterion is the best thing about the release. Sadly, the special features are remarkably light. An essay by film critic David Thompson in the booklet offers some historical insight but the special features are incredibly thin, especially for Criterion. And yet, it says something about both the Criterion catalog and Polanski’s filmography that this may be a lesser Criterion release for a lesser Polanski film but it still stands as one of the most interesting Blu-rays of the season.

Special Features:
o New, restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Roman Polanski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
o “Two Gangsters and an Island,” a 2003 documentary about the making of Cul-de-sac, featuring interviews with Polanski, producer Gene Gutowski, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor
o Television interview with Polanski from 1967
o Theatrical Trailer
o A booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thompson

“Cul-de-sac” stars Donald Pleasence, Francoise Dorleac, and Lionel Stander. It was written by Roman Polanski and Gerard Brach and directed by Polanski. It was released by Criterion on Blu-ray and DVD on August 16th, 2011. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing


  • YippieFest 2020 Logo

    CHICAGO – It’s coming! YippieFest 2020 – joining the virtual and online revolution during these particular times – is set for August 22nd and 23rd. Details to come on schedules and times, but the whole fest can be downloaded for FREE on those dates through TWITCH streaming service. Click here for more details.

  • Space Force

    CHICAGO – Seemingly ripped from the headlines, by way of “Dr. Strangelove,” the new Netflix TV series “Space Force” debuted on May 29th, 2020. Patrick McDonald of reviewed the series during the Eddie Volkman Show (Star 96.7 FM in Joliet, Illinois) on June 5th, 2020.

Advertisement on Twitter

archive Top Ten Discussions