Eve

Joseph Losey’s films came at me in a burst. It was in 1963 when the Melbourne University Film Society (MUFS) screened four of his films in a matter of a few weeks and the newly launched Movie had given some space to The Damned and an interview with the director. All of a sudden, Losey seemed to be single-handedly transforming the British cinema from dopey comedies and the kitchen sink realism and political commitment of Woodfall Films.

A blacklisted American, Losey was making low budget thrillers and crime stories in the UK. Two key films – The Criminal (1960) and The Damned (1963) – leapt way beyond their formulaic origins in Edgar Wallace and Scotland Yard movies, the staple of Merton Park Studios, producers of The Criminal, and sensationalist violence, one of the staples of Hammer, producers of The Damned. The appearance of these films set off a search by instant Losey enthusiasts for others made prior to Time Without Pity (1957) and Blind Date (1959), both of which MUFS also screened. Some of us caught The Sleeping Tiger (1954) and The Intimate Stranger (1956) on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Television, then as now a repository of British film history. I have still never managed to track down Stranger on the Prowl (1952), filmed in Italy for an Italian company and starring Paul Muni. All three of these films were signed with pseudonyms to protect the producers from possible trouble with American distribution.

By the time The Damned appeared, Losey was becoming fashionable again. His early American films had always provided him with a solid reputation among French cineastes and once his name again began appearing on the credits he was quickly championed. The renowned publicity team of Pierre Rissient and Bertrand Tavernier did the promotion for The Damned when it opened in Paris in the early ’60s. Around the same time, the Hakim brothers had just had Jean-Luc Godard knock back the job of directing Jeanne Moreau and Stanley Baker in an adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s novel Eve. It was Baker who suggested Losey as a replacement, having been directed by him in the Criminal and Blind Date. They would survive the experience on Eve (1962) and would go on to collaborate Losey’s best film, Accident (1967).

David Caute’s informative critical biography of Losey – Joseph Losey A Revenge on Life – describes Eve as the most traumatic disaster of Losey’s career (1). But the head of steam Losey’s career had built up made us all impatient to see the film. However, almost 40 years ago, independent film distribution was altogether more chaotic and quixotic. Films that came from Europe were often subjected to the vagaries of individual distributor taste, tastes too often linked to assessments of what might and might not be passed by the film censors. In Australia we were somewhat behind the rest of the world in independent distribution and censorship standards.

However, before Eve had even been contemplated by any of the world’s film distributors, it had run into trouble. After a difficult scripting period, during which Losey dispensed with the services of his “old comrade” Hugo Butler (2) and brought in Evan Jones, with whom he had worked on The Damned, the producers had been delivered a version of the film running 155 minutes. The Hakims promptly withdrew it from the Venice Film Festival and demanded it be cut down. Losey himself then took 20 minutes out of the positive print shown at an unsuccessful private preview in Paris. When the film opened in Paris, the Hakim’s had removed more and the film was listed as being 116 minutes.

Losey then began his campaign to have at least some of the cuts restored. Some requests were adhered to but when the film opened in the UK and the US, further cuts of between 10 to 15 minutes had been made. According to David Caute (3), Losey described this 100-minute version as “a common tawdry, little melodrama – unclear, pretentious, without rhythm and taste”. Seemingly this might still have been all that currently remains but for the fact that somehow or other a Scandinavian distributor acquired rights to the film and circulated a version some 16 minutes longer. A copy of this version survives in the British Film Archive and it has been included on a remarkable DVD issued by Kino Video in the US that contains both available versions of the film. If ever there was a single demonstration of the immense contribution that the DVD can make to film scholarship and the recovery of film history then this DVD would be it.

It’s hard to know which version should be watched first. The short version is taken from a beautifully crisp black and white print that does full justice to Gianni de Venanzo’s photography. The clarity of the exterior and location images are exquisite. When you have got through the “tawdry little melodrama” you’re left in bafflement at much of it. Some characters, most notably that of the film producer Sergio, played by Giorgio Albertazzi, seem to be misplaced. Eve (played by Jeanne Moreau with acute, unsmiling solemnity) takes Tyvian (played by Stanley Baker) home and enters her luxury apartment building through some sort of ramshackle farmyard on the outskirts of Rome. It’s difficult to work out why Sergio (actor?) thinks Tyvian is a fraud. Eve is reading a different book to the title she mentions. Still, Eve has its moments. When Tyvian has thrown away everything to go away with Eve for an expensive weekend in the Danieli Hotel in Venice, the following lines are delivered with absolute conviction by Baker and Moreau.

Tyvian: Do you know how much this weekend’s going to cost me? …Two friends, thirty thousand dollars …and a wife.

Eve: That’s something my husband would never do.

Tyvian: What?

Eve: Discuss money.

In this sequence Eve picks up a white mask last glimpsed in the nightclub in Rome. Tyvian is next seen wearing the mask. Huh!

Losey’s predilection was to indulge in textures and designs, to seek out and flaunt flamboyant costumes and settings. This had already been given some reign in The Criminal and The Gypsy and the Gentleman (1957). He liked to work over the look of his films and encouraged his regular designer Richard Macdonald to insert into his elaborate settings, themselves designed to provide some running commentary on the characters who inhabited them, objects, curios and art works that gave even more emphasis and extravagance to the characters. In Eve, mirrors, glasses, ashtrays, furniture, paintings, feathered costumes, even whiter than white bathrooms, were all relentlessly delivered by Macdonald in an attempt to create a view of high life, self-indulgence and casual wealth.

Caute also provides some very interesting background about Losey’s own promiscuous personal life which seems to have been at one of its most complex and intrigue-filled moments when Eve was made. Losey’s views on marriage and relationships were embedded into the film. Infidelity and physical urge were dominant in his thinking. Even years later, the director could never quite stand back from the film. Caute quotes Losey from an interview with Michel Ciment, conducted some 15 years after the film was made, and the words suggest that the filmmaker had never been shaken from his belief as to Eve‘s profundity of views about the state of things between men and women.

Eve

Losey must have thought that with Moreau in the lead he would be taken very seriously as a commentator on the male’s endless desire. Moreau was at that time the supreme European actress. (4) Stepping up to the league of European directors who got to make a movie with Jeanne Moreau must have seemed a vindication of his long struggle for recognition. (5)

So does the longer version yield up any secrets? First the viewer has to cope with the fact that the material from which it is taken is of much reduced visual quality. The first thing you note is that the credits are superimposed over the opening images and are not the simple white on black of the shorter version. It’s not hard then to notice that the crisp black and white is here reduced to a murky and dark greyness. Around the edges of the frame there seems to be some deterioration. The Finnish subtitles are very difficult to see and you would hate to be relying on them. Whatever deterioration has occurred has not been helped by the original print and subtitling.

There are some other minor changes. A couple of shots in the water-skiing sequence are different. The party sequence which leads to the arrival of Sergio and Francesca is longer. We learn a little more about the character played by Losey regular James Villiers, who plays the scriptwriter.

The sequence which follows seems to me the essence of what Losey was about. Eve and a male companion who has bought her services for the evening have taken shelter in an empty house. She imperiously makes herself at home. There is a long wordless sequence when she moves about the upstairs area, picking up objects, slowly undressing, putting on a record of Billie Holiday’s “Willow Weep for Me”, running a bath. She shows as near as possible to no reaction when Tyvian returns home to discover people have broken in. He takes off the record and Eve re-emerges from the bath to put it on again. Tyvian is smitten and turns violent towards the male companion. Eve refuses Tyvian and Tyvian blocks the way of the companion. It’s almost interminable on a second viewing.

Losey explained this in an interview with Tom Milne:

I wanted to make her a woman who said virtually nothing but whom one sensed through the way she dressed, where she lived, what she had round her house, how she behaved privately, what she read, where she went when she was alone, etc. And there were a good many other sequences planned for the picture which are not there, including her visit to a confessional in the Catholic church – without words, nothing was ever said. (6)

We may have been spared.

The first additional sequence of any length or consequence which is included in the longer version occurs after Tyvian has taken Eve for a night’s drinking and gambling. Early in the morning they prowl through a park full of marble busts before they go to Eve’s flat, reached rather oddly (in both versions) by walking through some semi-rural landscape. The next sequence included is the visit Tyvian pays to Sergio’s office. The scene’s inclusion explains why Sergio thinks Tyvian is a fraud. Sergio announces he is having Tyvian investigated, which is some assistance to our understanding as to why, in the shorter version, he should suddenly appear seeking to break up Tyvian and Francesca’s rural bliss brandishing a dossier.

There are other odd moments excluded including a shot of Tyvian imitating a fish in a gold fish bowl that is cut from the end of a sequence.

Losey’s ambitions for Eve were never realised. Despite this, in retrospect the film hardly set back his career even if it did deflate his ego for some time. Within a year of the embarrassment of having a film withdrawn from Venice, Losey was back there again triumphantly premiering The Servant (1963) and starting the run of films that included those that have made his lasting reputation and surely warrant some revival and review. (7)

In Australia Eve remained unseen for some years. Rumours spread that when finally acquired for Australia by Blake Films, it had promptly been banned. Given that the film censors of the day used to take a dim view of immoral behaviour (vide Godard’s Breathless, which suffered this fate for a number of years before the French Government actually sent a copy in which the censor then passed uncut) this may have been the case. Details of the censor’s activities were not subject to publication or review. Or else, perhaps, the distributor, who had delayed the release for so long, may have been desperately seeking to plant a story as a way out of releasing the film at all. It was, after all, a film that had failed spectacularly in every territory in which it opened. We’ll never know. The distribution company is long gone as is its principal buyer. Whatever the story, the short version of the film was released with additional censor cuts for Australia most notably the brief moments when Jeanne Moreau’s breasts were exposed. The DVD represents the first chance to see the film in three decades or so and the only current opportunity to see some of what the argument was about.

Eve on DVD is a collector’s piece worth acquiring. It is released in the dual version format by Kino Video, 333 West 39th St, New York City, 10018 and may be purchased direct from the company through www.kino.com. The packaging refers to the longer version as ”the unseen director’s cut” which is drawing a long bow indeed. The DVD has no regional coding.

Endnotes

  1. Faber & Faber, London, 1994, p. 155
  2. Butler had worked with Losey on The Prowler (1951) and The Big Night (1951).
  3. Faber & Faber, London, 1994, p. 158
  4. In rapid succession she had been in, among others, Malle’s Lift to the Scaffold (1958) and Les Amants (1958), Roger Vadim’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1959), Peter Brook’s Moderato Cantabile (1960), Antonioni’s La Notte (1961), Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1961), Jacques Demy’s La Baie des Anges (1963), Orson Welles The Trial (1963) and Marcel Ophul’s Peau de Banane (1963) before Eve.
  5. Throughout his European career he seems to have had a predilection for exotic casting of actresses: Melina Mercouri (The Gypsy and The Gentleman, 1958), Monica Vitti (Modesty Blaise, 1966), Delphine Seyrig & Jacqueline Sassard (Accident, 1967), Margit Saad (The Criminal, 1960), Micheline Presle (Blind Date, 1959) and Viveca Lindfors (The Damned, 1963) are actresses cast out of Europe not for a specifically European role but because Losey just liked gorgeous ‘continental’ women. Their casting would in some sense seem to be Losey’s way of seeking the attention routinely given to the high art of Resnais, Welles and Antonioni. David Caute notes that while filming Eve it was Stanley Baker who won Moreau’s favours as if there were a competition for them between Baker and Losey.
  6. From Losey on Losey, edited and introduced by Tom Milne, Secker and Warburg/BFI, 1967, p. 28
  7. King and Country (1964), Accident (1967), Secret Ceremony (1968), The Go Between (1971), Mr Klein (1976) are my admittedly personal choice of the other films that show Losey at the height of his powers. The run of low budget British films made prior to Eve, and the early American films are of equally considerable significance.

About The Author

These days Geoff Gardner blogs away on matters of film interest. He was once the Director of the Melbourne Film Festival and once also a film distributor. His thoughts can be found at http://filmalert101.blogspot.com.au