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Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report: "The Offence" (Lumet, 1972)

As it happens, the director Sean Connery has worked most frequently with is SIndey Lumet. Their collaborations were 1965's intense WWII prison drama The Hill, 1971's breezy heist pic The Anderson Tapes, 1972's The Offence, 1974's all-star Murder on the Orient Express, and 1989's unfortunate Family Business. In an interview I did with Lumet for the DGA Quarterly in 2007, he spoke warmly of Connery: "...[H]e forms very few bonds, despite having been James Bond! I think one of the reasons we immediately got close was the first thing he felt from me was enormous respect for him as an actor. When you look at the Bond characterization, everybody says, ‘Oh, well he’s just charming.’ Well shit, that’s like saying Cary Grant was just charming. There is more acting skill in playing that kind of character. What he’s doing, stylistically, is playing high comedy. And that is extremely difficult to do, which is why there are so few of those actors, so few Cary Grants and Sean Connerys. But it’s acting, don’t kid yourself. And right away on The Hill, the very fact that I cast him in it meant something. And he was so thrilled to be taken that seriously for that kind of a drama. And when he got to produce a picture of his own, The Offence, a story he picked out, I was thrilled to be asked by him to direct."
As Lumet pointed out—this material was cut from the printed interview—UA was trying to sign Connery for a few more Bonds, and thought to sweeten the deal by giving Connery a picture of his own, providing the picture was made for less than a million dollars. Connery went for a stage play by John Hopkins about a severely burnt-out-case of a police detective who inadvertently murders a child-molestation suspect during an unauthorized interrogation. For the most part, the text consists of Detective Sergeant Johnson attempting to explain himself to several individuals he clearly loathes. The suspect (Ian Bannen, seen from the back at top); the detective superintendant assigned to investigate Johnson's brutality (Trevor Howard, looking pretty burnt-out himself, above); and Johnson's long-suffering wife, Maureen (Vivien Merchant).
In all his encounters here Connery comes across as the anti-Bond. Yes, when he confronts Bannen, he struts like he's got a pair of brass balls, but he's also incredibly pompous—and the front can't hold, and he's got to start batting the fellow around. As the above screen shots indicate, his character can barely stand to look at those of Howard and Merchant in the eye. The almost 20-minute argument between Johnson and the missus—given its length and intensity, it's almost the post-kitchen-sink equivalent of the rupture between Piccoli and Bardot at the center of Godard's Contempt—is ferociously awful, with Connery's cop toggling between self-pitying explanations of all the horrors he's seen, and sadistically criticizing his wife's looks and dress. "You're no oil painting yourself," she counters at one point, and she's right—Connery, whose only realy physical moderation for the part is in eschewing a hairpiece and adding lumpen sideburns and a pre-clone moustache, transforms himself into a downright homely figure.
"It's not a completely successful movie," Lumet noted in our talk.  "I'm not talking about hits, I mean emotionally successful. The story doesn't take you through it all: you're kind of left with emotional blue balls.  It's very hurtful but you don't get through to a really tragic conclusion.  And maybe that's impossible, given the character." True. But it's also true that some of the artier touches Lumet applies to the material—certain scenes shot with what appears to be a circular flourescent bulb superimposed over them, flash-frame flashbacks, obtrusive dissolves during the scenes with Howard—don't serve the very raw material (Hopkins is no Pinter) too terribly well, either. Nevertheless, for fans of both Connery and hard-bitten '70s pictures, this relative rarity is a must-see. The Region 2 PAL disc from MGM/UA is a solid presentation
Hey Glenn, You’ve just cemented my interest in seeing this movie I occasionally run across on Encore (hate watching movies once they’ve started). I’m still learning about my Sony Blu-ray player. Do Blu-ray players generally play DVDs from any region? NTSC or PAL?
TCM ran this a few months ago, and I was able to catch it. I have to say, it didn’t quite work for me, either. As stripped down as it is, it needed to have even more stripped away, in my opinion. Some of Lumet’s flourishes, as you point out, but also I thought the language should have been pared way down. I know it’s based on a play, and verbosity is part and parcel with these kinds of adaptations, but I think a certain clipped style would have been better. However, Connery IS terrific. When he pops the cork on his rage, it’s really something to see.

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