Friday, 18 February 2011

DVD Review/Feature: Morgan - A Suitable Case For Treatment

Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment

Directed By: Karel Reisz

Starring David Warner, Vanessa Redgrave, Irene Handl, Robert Stephens, Arthur Mullard


Morgan (David Warner) is a self-confessed dreamer, who lives his life in a whirlwind of fantasy that has cost him his wife Leonie (Vanessa Redgrave), who can take no more of his crazy behaviour. Returning from a short self-imposed exile during Leonie's divorce proceedings, Morgan attempts to win back his now ex-wife before she marries the more solvent but ultimately more mundane Charles (Robert Stephens). Morgan's behaviour becomes more erratic as he sources help from Wrestling friend Wally (Arthur Mullard) leading inexorably to a fate that Morgan has already prepared himself for.

I've always liked David Warner as an actor. He gives gravitas and presence to every role that he plays; from Jack the Ripper (in Time After Time) to his role as Povel Wallander (In the series Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh). His, unmistakably, commanding voice has been used to great effect in various voice acting roles too. He's been on my mind recently too, with the sequel to TRON having been released last year. He played the dual role of Dillinger/Sark in the 1982 original and may return to this new franchise (fate willing) in the next TRON film reprising his role as Ed Dillinger. So, it was a pleasure to watch, for the first time, Warner's debut as a leading man in movies.

Morgan! (using the US title for efficiency) was a BAFTA winning adaptation of the original TV play "A Suitable Case For Treatment" from 1962. David Mercer adapted his play adding more slapstick scenes and submerging most of the play's deeper levels. I say that, although I haven't seen the original play. For all I know the deeper subtexts still remain in the movie but more comedic scenes may have been overshadowed them. Mercer was a Marxist writer and this is explicitly shown in Morgan! The screenplay also incorporates the theories of R. D. Laing. He claimed that the roots of schizophrenia were to be found in the family, and by extension, in society. Other themes that are prevalent in Morgan are the ideas that insanity should be seen as a natural by product of the world in which we live in; that it's ok because the world is already mad and made that way by our parents. These themes could only be from a decade that included The Beatles, Mod Style, "Swinging" London, and working class mobility.

Warner had just come from a successful run playing Hamlet, at Stratford, whereas Redgrave was from a famous theatrical family finding a name for herself in movies after many theatrical roles. Robert Stephens has also had a successful run at new National Theatre at The Old Vic. All together they made for a blistering presence onscreen and a watchable love-triangle that can only really have one outcome.

From the beginning of the movie, it's already clear that Morgan sees London as a jungle and thinks of the different types of people he encounters as different types of animal. For example, he sees scaffolders negotiating the bars of their scaffolding as monkeys moving within trees. We learn that Morgan's soon to be ex-wife Leonie had paid for him to visit Greece, to avoid her being distracted whilst divorce proceedings were intiated. Morgan found Greece boring but more than likely discovered his obssession with Leonie had increased without being able to act upon it; and act upon it he does as soon as he returns to London. What follows is a constant hounding of Leonie that could have been uncomfortable viewing if not for the writing, and a sympathetic performance by David Warner.

Warner portrays Morgan as a warm and sympathetic character who is only too aware of his failures; failures as a husband, son, artist, and "normal" member of late sixties society. His Mother is a Stalinist who still clings to the old ideals but the only evidence we see of her practicing these views is her visit to Karl Marx's grave. She views Morgan as a failure because he never fully embraced the ideals and married a bourgeois. There is plenty of evidence throughout the movie that his parent's beliefs indocrinated him in at least the iconlogy of communism and the history of it's leading proponents. This is seen through Morgan's car, dressed in commmunist paraphenalia, and his perchance for littering places with the Russian hammer and sickle emblem; an image of which gets a final laugh at the movie's final denouement.
Morgan gains  our sympathy through his character because he is the counter-culture hero who does impulsive things that some of us only see ourselves doing in our own fantasies. we can also relate to his obssessive love that he has for his wife and his relentess pursuit of her; to stop her marrying someone who will stifle her creativity and lead her to a more stable but pedestrian lifestyle.

Vanessa Redgrave plays Leonie with a heavy touch of sympathy too. We see immediately on the walls and in the furnishings, the scars of Morgan's behaviour; the writings, carvings and animal motiffs. A part of her still loves what drew her to Morgan originally but it is losing a battle with her logical side that tells her that Morgan is too "out there". Her attraction to middle class business-man Charles Napier is born out of a need to conform to her parents wishes; the bourgeois attitude to life. Later in the movie we discover that she has plans for the house, to turn it into flats. This indicates the beginnings of a full break from her relationship with Morgan.
We, as the viewer, look on and wish that she could find a happy medium - someone who is fairly stable but loves life and knows how to have fun with it. For this reason, Leonie has difficulty letting go completely, until Morgan's behaviour is such that the decision becomes far easier. It's her previous self-doubt that makes us accept Morgan's journey: To make a new life with Napier she sacrifices younger impulses and feelings of spontaneous fun. Leonie attempts this type of spontaneity during a car journey with Napier but he is clearly uncomfortable with this side of her nature.

Leonie's suitor Charles Napier is everything that Morgan isn't; ordinary, solvent, and fairly unlikeable as it transpires. It could be because he represents a part of us that we'd rather ignore and the fact that Morgan is more anarchic and fun. It's probably more to do with Napier's compliance and cocksure attitude and our love for the underdog that makes us root more for Morgan.

The supporting cast is also excellent. Irene Handl plays Morgan's mother with a great deal of depth and reality. Arthur Mullard plays Wally "The Gorilla" - a Wrestler friend of Morgan's who sympathises with his plight to get her back. Bernard Bresslaw, who was made famous by the Carry On series, is seen cast as a Policeman who is happy to casually play hop skotch, on his beat, but is totally bewildered by Morgan's behaviour. The comedy, at times seems more like Benny Hill than Carry On, with sped up sequences similar to those used in Benny Hill. What came first I wonder? Answers in a comments box...

Despite it's age and place in history, this movie still has a lot to offer. The transfer of the DVD is superb. Yes, the movie doesn't quite know what genre it falls into - comedy or serious drama - but for me that's part of the charm. Why should a movie fall into a "genre" or fit into a pigeon hole? This movie makes the point that you don't have to, so why should this movie? Enjoy it for what it is - an entertaining piece of 60's British cinema.

Score 7/10

Morgan is available at the usual outlets and is released by Optimum Entertainment.

I would have been unable to complete this feature without referring to the following websites and thank them for their wealth of information;

1 comment:

silverferox said...

Haven't seen this for years - must re-view it soon - cheers!