Blacklisted by Hollywood in the 1950s, Joseph Losey moved to Europe. His exile from Hollywood started when Howard Hughes bought RKO and purged it of people he thought were Leftists. In the book Losey On Losey, he said “I was offered a film called I Married a Communist, which I turned down categorically. I later learned that it was a touchstone for establishing who was a “red”: you offered I Married a Communist to anybody you thought was a Communist, and if they turned it down, they were.” He’d later tell the New York Times that although the blacklist was frightening at first, it ended up making him a better artist: “Without it I would have three Cadillacs, two swimming pools and millions of dollars, and I’d be dead. It was terrifying, it was disgusting, but you can get trapped by money and complacency. A good shaking up never did anyone any harm.”
Losey made The Boy with Green Hair; noir like The Big Night and The Lawless; The Damned for Hammer; Secret Ceremony and Boom! with Elizabeth Taylor; Modesty Blaise and the Palme d’Or winning The Go-Between. He was right. The blacklist didn’t harm him as an artist.
What’s amazing is that this film, screened out of competition at Cannes in 1975, was released in the U.S. by New World. I shouldn’t be surprised, as along with drive-in movies about women in prison and men in cars, Roger Corman championed films by artists like Fellini and Bergman.
Lewis Fielding (Michael Caine) is a pulp novelist who provides for his wife Elizabeth (Glenda Jackson), but she finds their marriage boring. She runs to Germany and into the arms of Thomas (Helmut Berger), a younger and much more exciting lover, but also one who doesn’t have the stability and, well, legal standing of her husband. They never consummate their affair, but when she returns home, he follows. Lewis decides to hire him as his secretary. As you can imagine, being alone in the house with the object of her lust ends with Elizabeth and Thomas canoodling and running back for Germany with gangsters seeking Thomas’ head and Lewis wanting to win his wife’s heart back.
Thomas gives Elizabeth the attention her husband holds back — he doesn’t even react when she walks across their yard nude in front of the neighbors — while his disguise as a fan of the writer’s work feeds Thomas’ needs as well. Whether that attention is carnal or artistic, he’s the person that each wants and needs. The only problem is that Thomas is none of those things. He’s just a con man that screwed up a drug deal and is trying to save his own life. And yet while Thomas holds back the sexual energy his wife demands, he grows angry and resentful of his secretary, knowing that they’re about to have that affair as if he has willed it into existence as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In his biography, Caine said that Losey was so dour that he bet the crew that he could make Losey laugh before the movie wrapped. Caine lost the bet.