The Singer Not The Song View large image

Film Details

Directed by: Roy Ward Baker

Produced: 1961

Countries & Regions: United Kingdom

DVD Details

Certificate: PG

Studio: Spirit

Length: 133 mins

Format: DVD

Released: 20 June 2011

Cat No: STW0017

Moviemail Details

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The Singer Not The Song

Cast: John Mills , Dirk Bogarde , Laurence Naismith , Eric Pohlmann , Roger Delgado , Leslie French , Laurence Payne , John Bentley , Mylene Demongeot , Lee Montague , Philip Gilbert , Nyall Florenz

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Roy Ward Baker directs this brooding psychological Western based on a novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop. John Mills stars as Father Michael... Read More

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Roy Ward Baker directs this brooding psychological Western based on a novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop. John Mills stars as Father Michael Keogh, a determined and well-intentioned Catholic priest who arrives in a godforsaken Mexican village and quickly finds himself at loggerheads with a gang of murderous bandits led by Anacleto (Dirk Bogarde). The rivalry between the priest and the bandit leader intensifies, reaching its climax in a dramatic showdown over beautiful local girl Locha (Mylene Demongeot).

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.

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