review for The Servant on AllMovie

The Servant (1963)
by Michael Hastings review

Few films have gotten as much mileage out of Britain's caste system as The Servant, a psycho-sexual black comedy charting the uneasy relationship between lazy young aristocrat Tony (James Fox) and his devious, reserved manservant Hugo (Dirk Bogarde). One of the first films scripted by playwright Harold Pinter, The Servant is as much about gesture and mannerism as about spoken innuendo, and director Joseph Losey keeps the movie thick with suggestion: Hugo's co-conspirator Vera (Sarah Miles) is a study in coy seduction, and the sounds, shadows, and furnishings around the young man's estate are downright suffocating. Though the locations are minimal, the director never lets the movie become too stagy; Bogarde's hilarious fight for a phone booth is the stuff of classic silent comedy. That Bogarde and Losey never specify Hugo's rationale for corrupting Tony (money? control? sexual longing?) only adds to The Servant's allure and its ambiguous, hallucinogenic ending.