Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Length: 133 mins
Released: 20 June 2011
Cat No: STW0017
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The Singer Not The Song
Roy Ward Baker directs this brooding psychological Western based on a novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop. John Mills stars as Father Michael... Read More
One of the great oddities of British film history, The Singer Not The Song is unlike anything else produced by the UK studio system – a homoerotically charged duel between the forces of religious faith and disbelief, played out in a distant Mexican town. A notorious flop on its original release in 1960, it’s a much more worthwhile film than its reputation suggests.
John Mills plays Father Keogh, an Irish priest dispatched to a remote Mexican parish. It is an unhappy place, terrorised by a brutal bandit. This outlaw – Anacleto by name and played by Bogarde with fabulous disdain – has a special loathing of the church and is not best pleased when Keogh revives the religious traditions.
Anacleto puts the frighteners on him but Keogh, made of stern stuff, resists. Against his better judgement, Anacleto becomes fascinated by this man of God, even engaging him in theological debate. Can Keogh save Anacleto's soul or will the bandit succeed in dissolving Keogh's faith?
This is heady stuff; at once a Western (itself a rarity in British film), a spiritual inquisition (the source novel was inspired by Graham Greene, most especially The Power and the Glory) and a love triangle (both Anacleto and Keogh are tempted by the delightful Lorcha – Demongeot – as well as each other). It has a strange intensity worthy of the great baroque westerns like Johnny Guitar or Duel in the Sun.
It's topped off by Bogarde. Clad in tight leather trousers and balancing a perpetual sneer on his lips, he makes an unlikely bandito, but his extravagant performance defines the film's fervid tone. Always one of the star's favourite roles, it should be seen as the true transition between his career as a matinee idol and the remarkable later work.
Faced with such riches, it would be easy to go overboard and hail The Singer Not The Song as a lost classic. It’s not quite that, but it’s certainly worth your time and deserves recognition for its rejection of the grey, suburban conventions of too much British cinema for something altogether wilder, madder and more indulgent.