“It is cruel that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness - of pain: its strength and freedom; the beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love; the cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.”
– Benjamin Britten
Words, to perhaps articulate Georg Delerue’s finely wrought compositions for director John Guillermin’s Rapture (1965); a peerless drama, sadly overlooked, but a masterpiece nonetheless, at long last unearthed on home video. If only for Delerue’s mournful, yet equally as nourishing feast of chords, plucking at the inner strings of our heart, not with maudlin overtures to love, but teeming in heartbreak; then Rapture would already be a motion picture of incomparable merit. Add to this, Stanley Mann’s understated screenplay, from a treatment by Ennio Flaiano, based on Phyllis Hastings’ novel Rapture in My Rags; Marcel Grignon’s bleak, yet rhapsodic B&W cinematography, and most of all, Patricia Gozzi’s unearthly intuitiveness as the emotionally wounded protagonist, Agnes Larbaud, and Rapture definitely lives up to its title; a potent palaver.
This cast really delivers: Melvyn Douglas as Agnes’ tormented father, Frederick – who genuinely fears his daughter is becoming her mother, the only woman he ever loved, but who left him for another man; the aforementioned Gozzi – an unbelievable child star marked by a prophetic intelligence unparalleled by her years; burning with defiant intensity and bitter thoughtfulness. Gozzi makes an indelible impression. Moreover, she is sensational. Too bad her career was brief (only seven films). Dean Stockwell is irreproachable as the roguish Joseph, a prison escapee whose minor infraction at a pub ultimately destroys all hope for a promising future – forced to divest himself of the proverbial ‘life that might have been’ – and finally, the sadly forgotten, Gunnel Lindblom – simply captivating as the family’s promiscuous servant girl, Karen.
Rapture is a tale of the hopeless and seemingly forgotten, trapped by their memories. It’s been a long while since any movie has made me believe such panged joys in the cinema exist – or rather, continue to exist without my prior knowledge of them. But Rapture is one such offering. It will burrow deep into the soulful recesses, unearthing hidden wellsprings of self-reflection if you let it. It is impossible not to be stirred; the sway of the story and its par excellence enactments never manipulative in the conventional sense, but disturbing something much more primal from within.
Arguably, there is no pain more exquisite than loneliness. For in solitude burn the embers of the truer self; passionate about life, though largely unable to share this connection with the world at large: not since the worthy sufferer lacks any essential ingredient necessary to belong – but rather because he/she implicitly understands the world’s failure to meet with these expectations. I’ll simply venture a non-clinical guess herein; that the lonely among us outnumber the truly satisfied; the inner workings of the mind either crippling or liberating from this dreadful penury. Rapture seeks to tap into the dichotomous realm of the senses – Agnes; our diminutive heroine tormenting herself into exile from a crowded reception room at her sister, Genevieve’s (Sylvia Kay) wedding, yet illogically freed into rhapsodic overtures when left to her own accord. These escapist daydreams are of gravest concern to Agnes’ father, Frederick who believes his daughter may be going mad. Or is it that he would prefer her quietly locked away in an asylum rather than favor her unorthodox modes of self-expression?
In this regard, Rapture is a little bit of an enigma, at times allayed with the ‘old dark house’ suspense/mystery – there’s even a terrible thunderstorm - (The Cat and the Canary), the crazy lady locked in the attic (Jane Eyre), and, brooding lovers doomed to tragedy (Rebecca) all rolled into one. Yet, in Rapture’s case we are never entirely certain where the narrative is headed; Stanley Mann’s expertly interwoven threads begun as a thoroughly compelling character study before unfurling into a more robust flourish; a familial saga begun in betrayal and staggering unhappiness.
Our story begins with Frederick driving Genevieve to her wedding; the giddy bride and her introspective sister, Agnes awaiting the moment yet to come. George Delerue’s sumptuous main title, also serving as Agnes’ leitmotif, soars as the gulls Agnes admires, high-flying across the windswept bluff of this sparse, wide-open landscape. At first, all seems right; the marriage coming off without a hitch, the reception in full swing until Agnes, suffering a bout of sudden agoraphobia, runs into the street and is nearly run over by an oncoming taxi. Karen ushers the girl back toward the reception hall, Agnes frantically pleading to be taken home.
Sometime later, Frederick is seen quietly toiling in his study. A once prominent barrister, his days are now quietly spent mimeographing pamphlets dedicated to his more immediate concerns for a liberal-minded social justice; in short, a complete revamp of France’s stringent penal code. His former colleagues and friends have all abandoned Frederick. Hence, in his loneliness he has turned inward; the stern, proud patriarch penning a book dedicated to his more progressive ideas. But Agnes is a constant source of regret, and Frederick frequently loses his patience with the girl. In fact, he treats Karen – whom he has placed in charge as something of the custodian of both the house and Agnes’ welfare – with more dignity than he does his own daughter.
Karen is kind to Agnes – to a point – tolerating her frequent outbursts. Agnes spends most of her waking hours down by the sea; also, in a cave-like playhouse where she has kept various cherished mementos from childhood. These continue to delight her. However, upon discovering Agnes’ affinity for a particular doll given to her by her mother long ago, Frederick tosses the porcelain-headed keepsake over the cliff’s side (a bit of foreshadowing on Guillermin’s part); forcing Agnes to scramble down the rocky precipice to retrieve it. The doll’s head is smashed, but Agnes vows to fix it, addressing the inanimate object as though it were a real person rather than her plaything.
Time passes. The family is seen attending church. However, Frederick has been ostracized from this seaside community. On their way home from services, Frederick, Karen and Agnes pass the asylum. The manic cries from patients within are strangely comforting to Agnes who draws nearer its gates. Suddenly an out of control paddy-wagon veers off the side of the road, tumbling down a steep ravine. A few prisoners escape from the overturned vehicle, one of them pursued up the embankment towards the startled family by a gendarme until the prisoner, Joseph (Dean Stockwell) manages to shove himself free. The gendarme slips and fatally strikes his head on a sharp protrusion of rocks. That evening, Frederick and Karen are questioned about the incident by the police. Both remain vague in relaying the details. But Agnes darts from the room and into a terrible thunderstorm to attend her beloved scarecrow, earlier constructed from her father’s retired suit. Only the suit is now missing, the loose twigs beating loudly in the torrential downpour; Agnes discovering Joseph not far off, wearing the scarecrow’s attire.
Collapsing in the mud, Joseph is attended to by Agnes; then, aided by Karen; the pair dragging him into an upstairs bedroom before being found out by Frederick. Joseph has been wounded in the shoulder. Unexpectedly, and much to Agnes’ relief, Frederick is immediately sympathetic, dressing the wound and offering Joseph a painkiller to help him sleep. Both Agnes and Karen find the stranger attractive. But Agnes warns Karen to stay away; believing Joseph is the flesh and blood incarnation of the same scarecrow she made to ward off the crows in their garden, now somehow magically brought to life expressly to belong to her. Over the next little while, Joseph’s wound heals. Frederick implicitly trusts the young man, sharing with him his ideas for a new penal system in France; Joseph helping Frederick in his work and doing chores around the house – all the while in constant threat of being apprehended and taken to prison. Weeks pass uneventfully. But then the gendarmes return, informing Frederick that the guard who pursued the prison escapee has since died of the head injury sustained in his fall. Joseph is now wanted for murder.
In the meantime, an infatuation has developed between Agnes and Joseph. She is, of course, much too young for him. Besides, Joseph naturally gravitates toward Karen – the more flirtatious - for a more adult relationship. When Agnes discovers the pair indulging in some heavy petting in the tool shed she violently attacks Karen with a shovel, Joseph barely able to subdue her. Karen leaves the estate in a huff, imploring Joseph to come with her, and, Agnes runs away to the asylum, begging at its locked gates to be let inside. Joseph spares her this indignation, explaining to Agnes that she is not mad – not really – and certainly not in the way her father has led her to believe – but rather, merely conflicted over her adult feelings and jealousies never before given any sort of creative outlet to express themselves.
A sexual relationship blossoms between Joseph and Agnes. For a while they are happy. But Joseph elects to leave France, sneaking off in the middle of the night to board a steamer, only to discover Agnes already on board. He orders her to disembark before the ship leaves port. But it is no use. The girl is desperately in love with him and he, perhaps for the very first time, suddenly realizes these feelings are mutual. After a brief return to Frederick’s home, Joseph and Agnes depart to start their lives together anew in the big city. The transition is fraught with complications; Agnes’ old anxieties returning. She is easily startled and terrorized by the bustling, noisy surroundings.
Joseph gets a job at a café near their squalid little apartment and works very hard to save enough money for them to get a better place. Regrettably, he trusts Agnes with his wages. She endeavors to surprise Joseph with a more spacious apartment. But the landlady (Ellen Pollack) frightens her, and Agnes runs away, accidentally losing all of Joseph’s money down a sewage drain. Joseph is understandably angry and Agnes decides she is of no use to him; taking a taxi to her father’s home where she discovers Frederick, alone and utterly shut off from both his own feelings and the rest of the world.
Not long thereafter, the gendarmes return to question Agnes yet again. She lies about knowing Joseph who, to his own detriment, has come back to the estate in search of her. The police pursue Joseph across the craggy moors, wounding him in the back; Joseph leaping to his own death a few moments later. Tear-stained but at long last released from her ‘rapture’, Agnes climbs down the very same precipice where she earlier rescued her doll, this time to cradle Joseph’s badly battered and lifeless remains in her arms. The movie ends with a panoramic view of the sea, the ever-present gulls flying high overhead.
Rapture is an unlikely, yet irreproachable romantic fairy tale – one imbued with intangible sparks of tenderly creative genius, marvelously realized in Marcel Grignon’s somberly elegant cinematography. Grignon’s darkly contrasted imagery walks a fine line between moody magnificence and typifying the fiery abandonment of our emotionally battered heroine; both incomparably complimented by George Delerue’s adoringly rich and first-rate underscore. Everything about this movie clicks as it should; the results so intuitively aware, genuine and full of almost indescribable passion for life that one cannot help but become enveloped in the story. The lynchpin remains Patricia Gozzi – a nonpareil child actress of her generation; entangling the audience in the richness of her varied and subtly textured tapestry of sensations. We discover Agnes’ celebratory highs and bleak lows through Gozzi’s expressive eyes; also in the way she manages to emit a chasm of subtexts in mostly fractured sentences. Enough cannot be said about this child star. She is unreservedly /poetically fabulous!
Dean Stockwell delivers a more understated performance; one brewing with evasive charm. His Joseph walks a very fine line; a young man of quality barred from its fruition by two accidents – one of birth, the other self-inflicted. Destiny is often cruel and in Rapture’s case we discover – quite surprisingly – a value in this too; the unlikeliest amity between a mentally starved woman and her inscrutable Lochinvar, the latter aspiring to be her devoted protector/lover and guardian; only to sacrifice his own life in trade. Melvyn Douglas and Gunnel Lindblom offer exceptional support; particularly Douglas – whose sensitively cloistered Frederick comes to an eventual epiphany, bringing him much closer to understanding the child he has forsaken for too long because of his own failed marriage. In the final analysis, Rapture is divine; a movie of qualities rarely tapped, much less as fully expressed as this, in our popular entertainments.
Twilight Time and 2oth Century-Fox have conspired to bring us Rapture on Blu-ray in an exceptionally pleasing 1080p transfer. The B&W Cinemascope 2.35:1 image sparkles with outstanding tonality and an extremely accurate representation of film grain. Fine detail pops, as it should. Contrast is superb, Marcel Grignon’s moody and evocative cinematography looking absolutely fabulous. Age-related artifacts are intermittently present. But on the whole this is a near flawless visual presentation just shy of being reference quality. It will surely NOT disappoint. Top marks also go to Fox for their DTS 1.0 remastered audio, yielding an uncharacteristically prominent dynamic range, and, with George Delerue’s delicate score sounding better than ever. As with other Twilight Time releases, this one features Delerue’s orchestrations on an isolated track; also fantastic liner notes a la Julie Kirgo; as ever insightful about the movie’s gestation and enduring legacy. Bottom line: very highly recommended! A must own.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)