Director: Karel Reisz
Script: David Mercer
Cast: David Warner, Vanessa Redgrave, Robert Stephens, Irene Handl, Bernard Bresslaw
This movie adaptation of David Mercer’s televised play, for which Vanessa Redgrave received a Best Actress Award at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, is a cult classic that appears to have been overlooked while all manner of dreck made the transition to DVD long before it.
Morgan Delt (David Warner in his fist major role) is a mentally fragile artist who escaped his lower class beginnings by marrying wealthy Leonie (Redgrave). When Leonie asks for a divorce, Morgan spirals into madness, embarking on a twisted quest to win her back from affluent art dealer Charles Napier (Robert Stephens) through a series of increasingly dangerous pranks.
As Morgan’s grip on reality loosens, Kensington becomes a safari of hippo ticket collectors and construction worker apes, and his idolisation of Marx and Trotsky becomes a pointless obsession. Morgan’s infatuation with apes leads to the films uncomfortably comical (but highly memorable) climax, which sees him invade his former wife’s second wedding in a gorilla costume, intersected with footage from King Kong.
It’s easy to see why Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment has largely been forgotten. Reisz’s movie runs into similar thematic territory as such 60s classics as Billy Liar and Blow-Up, yet Morgan is never likable enough to make us to want him to succeed as we did the clueless Billy Fisher; nor does the film offer a study of the artist à la Antonioni’s masterpiece. David Mercer’s script touches upon such issues as mental illness, the idolisation of communist values and the class divide, but opts for physical tomfoolery whenever it approaches something vaguely thought-provoking.
Still, David Warner is brilliantly fierce as the titular Morgan; a manic, obsessed maniac who would be quite despicable were it not for Redgrave’s capricious temptress Leonie, a superficial vixen who spends as much time encouraging Morgan’s advances as she does repelling them. A flawed film, then, but an undeniably interesting one, and worthy of repeat viewings.
Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment will be made available in the UK from January 17th, from Optimum Releasing.