Vanessa Redgrave and David Warner Star in This Terminally-1960s Relic.
DIRECTED BY KAREL REISZ/1966
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JUNE 16, 2020/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
The film Morgan, like its central character, defies easy explanation. At least, that’s the impression that the movie apparently wants to make. In actuality, the film’s namesake is not nearly so difficult to pin down: he’s terrible.
But then, this being merry ol’ England in the swingin’ sixties, perhaps there was more latitude for things like incessant unwanted stalking, threatened rape of a former spouse, and utter defiance of the law even when convicted. Oh, that Morgan! What a kooky cad he is! And his diagnosed mental instability only adds to his charm! Bless this deranged fool all the way to Cambridge, he simply will not leave his ex-wife alone!
It doesn’t help his ex-wife’s (Vanessa Redgrave, in fine form and in certain ways at the peak of her fame) case that when Morgan does come around, brandishing his weird gorilla and Soviet Union fixations, she does everything she can to lead him on. When he won’t leave her alone to take a bath, she relents by taking the bath in front of him (in fine PG-rated bubbly fashion). Later, when he kidnaps her away from her fiancé and drags her off to live in the woods, she mainly just bats her eyes and makes out with him. Oh, that Morgan! Such a charmer with his favorite lady!
Like the thematically similar The Graduate and other films of its day, Morgan tracks a disaffected white young man of some affluence as his own vague internal frustrations eat him up. That young man is Morgan, who’s slightly more advanced age (which help to justify his divorcee status) just barely misses the mark of excepting him from this self-absorbed grouping. At one point, he explains that mental health experts labelled him “a suitable case for treatment”, which clearly rubbed him the wrong way.
The film, very much of its era in terms of freewheelin’ filmmaking technique and approach (imagine a conventional boy-gets-girl-back-again narrative knocked sideways and crafted to evoke the French New Wave), doesn’t romanticize Morgan’s illness, though director Karel Reisz (The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Isadora) does make interesting use of pre-existing footage of such sources as Tarzan films and the original King Kong for many of his point-of-view shots that take us into his head. The integration of the older footage is well-accomplished through careful camera placement and editing. These are the least uninteresting moments of this film.
David Warner, well known and beloved by many (including this critic) for his supporting roles in films such as Time Bandits, Tron, and The Omen, plays Morgan with complete commitment and thorough abandon. He gives as much commitment to his misogynist declarations as he does his frequent animalistic gorilla impressions. This rare lead performance of his is the main reason to see Morgan. Director Karel Reisz also landed on his feet as he also proceeded to steer his career in multiple other directions in the wake of this unbalanced “cult classic”. Morgan, though, on its own, (and to quote a clever IMDb user review) has aged about as well as the hammer-and-sickle that he draws on everything.
That said, this new Blu-ray release of Morgan from Kino Lorber Studio Classics freshens the movie up as much as possible, taking it back to its presumable 1966 look and feel. Morgan sports a very soft greyscale palette, which is richly captured here. Any members of the presumed “cult” of Morgan ought to be very happy with this disc. The only bonus feature is an audio commentary with entertainment journalist and author Bryan Reesman. It’s a scattershot, unedited effort in terms of his own focus and delivery, but there is a lot quality information here amid the unconventional flow. Reesman actually goes pretty deep and knows his stuff.
By today’s standards, Morgan is indeed a suitable case for treatment, insomuch as the character’s own gross behaviors and proclamations. Look at him lost in his own head, that Morgan! But, it’s important to remember (and in fact virtually impossible to forget, what with its incessant gorilla-suit fascination and casual Cold War iconography) that this is very much a film of its time and needs to be approached as such. But, all in all, the protagonist’s behaviors should’ve been no less excusable then as they are now. Morgan, even without his diagnosis, is obviously a terrible guy, even as Morgan is not an altogether terrible, or even uninteresting movie. Basically avoidable, yes, but not terrible.