Monday, December 18, 2017

Cop-Out (1967)

Former barrister John Sawyer (James Mason) drowns his sorrows in liquor. He lives with his daughter Angela (Geraldine Chaplin) in a decrepit old mansion. The two have a strained relationship brought on by two major factors: the abandonment of the family by the matriarch and their age gap. Angela spends her time avoiding her dad. She works for touchy-feely barrister Chelham (Michael Danvers-Walker) and spends her free time with her friends. Most of her pals are rich socialites, bored with life and seeking the thrill that only misbehaving can bring them. One particular member of the group stands out, Jo Christoforides (Paul Bertoya), the Greek immigrant, son of a laundry woman. Angela and Jo are secretly in love. But Jo's status as a poor foreigner makes him an easy scapegoat when a dead body turns up at the Sawyer mansion. Eccentric ship steward Barney Teale (Bobby Darin) has been found murdered in the room he'd been secretly staying in. Teale's association with Angela's group of friends seems to be his downfall. Who killed Teale? Can Sawyer come out of his alcoholic haze to save Jo from being wrongfully accused of murder and restore his relationship with his daughter?

"The young should be left alone. You don't like us very much do you? It's very well because we represent the future you're afraid of. Sometimes we hate you too because you're the past we never had." - John Sawyer (James Mason)

Cop-Out (1967) is a family drama that explores the generational divide and the youth culture of the 1960s through the lens of a murder mystery. It reminded me a little of Bonjour Tristesse (1958) in that it demonstrates how bored rich people can ruin lives; their own and that of others. Unfortunately, Cop-Out failed to reach it's potential. And it did have potential. I was quite interested in the clashing cultures of Mason's older generation and Chaplin's youthful generation that was coming of age in the late 1960s. That entire decade was a turbulent one and also drastically altered pretty much ever aspect of youth culture. There was also potential with the theme of sex. One of the characters is secretly gay, a stripper ends up being a key witness, and it's suggested that Angela's character sleeps around, although she is clearly committed to Jo. It's all there but not as fleshed out as it could be. Then there is the literary theme that I suspect is stronger in the source material than it is in the movie. Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is used in solving the case and there is even a short reading by James Mason.

The story is based on the novel The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon. I quite enjoyed watching Panique (1946) at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. That movie is also based on a Simenon novel and I got to hear his youngest son Pierre Simenon discuss his father's life and career which included many many film adaptations. Before Cop-Out, the novel was filmed in France as Les inconnus dans la maison (1942) in France. Selmur Productions, an arm of ABC Films, shot The Stranger in the House, minus the pluralization in the novel's original name, on location in Southampton and Winchester, England. It was released in the UK in 1967 and then released as Cop-Out in the US.

Cop-Out was directed by Pierre Rouve who also adapted the screenplay. Rouve had a very short career in movies. Cop-Out was the only movie he directed. He wrote a total of four movies, was an assistant director on one, and produced six others including the ground-breaking Blow-Up (1966). He went on to enjoy a career as a broadcaster and art critic.

Unfortunately, Cop-Out was a flop in the UK and US. Originally George C. Scott was supposed to play the deranged ship steward Barney Teale but was eventually replaced by Bobby Darin. Personally I think Darin was an under-rated actor who could deliver some fine performances in both drama and comedy. He's a favorite of mine but his performance in this film thoroughly confused me. He does his best James Cagney impression in both voice and mannerisms. I couldn't help but wonder if he was trying to be a George C. Scott type or if he was channeling Cody Jarrett from White Heat (1949).

Actor Ian Ogilvy, who plays Sawyer's troubled nephew Desmond Flower, wrote briefly about working on the movie in his memoir Once a Saint. He recalls one outing with actor James Mason:
"It was a cold day and windy too and there was nobody about. We got to the end of the pier and looked out over the heaving grey sea. 'Well, that's not very interesting, is it?' said Mason. 'Don't know why we bothered.' The same could have been said about the film we were making." 

Cop-Out wasn't a complete loss for me. I was interested in the core of the story enough that I am looking to obtain a copy of Georges Simenon's novel, which is available from the New York Review Books, to see if there is more to the story that this movie might have missed.

Cop-Out is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber. Thank you to Kino for sending me a copy for review!

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