‘The Collector’ was John Fowles first published novel, and it earned him a considerable advance and a place on the 1963 best seller list. Less than two years later it ended up being turned into a film, directed by William Wyler. Wyler is a Hollywood legend, the most Oscar nominated director of all time, the man who made three and a half hours of ‘Ben Hur’ fly by. His elevated position in the directorial firmament is demonstrated by the fact that he gets his name above the title. This isn’t John Fowles ‘The Collector’, or even ‘Columbia’s The Collector’, this is William ’90 Take’ Wyler’s ‘The Collector’ and is a very big deal indeed. He turned down ‘The Sound Of Music’ to do it, for Christ’s sake.
Ultimately, though, no matter who owns it or how well executed it is (Wyler is supremely competent) what we’re left with is a fairly standard, slightly slow horror film with a slightly nasty aftertaste posing as an essay on human psychology.
It stars Terence Stamp, who I have an issue with, and, because I have this blog, I can type it here. My issue is that although I can understand why actors aren’t always very good to start with, especially the pretty ones, I cannot understand why Terence Stamp is really still shit after nearly fifty years in the job, and now he looks rubbish as well. I think he’s got a bloody cheek. There, I’ve said it. Anyway, here he plays a young, nondescript, maladjusted working class clerk called Frederick Clegg who wins £100,000 on the football pools (a few million in today’s terms), which enables him to make the transition from being simply weird to being dangerously warped.
In his spare time, Clegg is a lepidopterist: a hunter, killer and collector of butterflies. With lots of money and the freedom it brings he buys a lonely house out in the country, modifies it to include a dungeon and then ‘collects’ a pretty girl he’s been stalking called Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar). He doesn’t want her for sex, or torture, he just wants to look at her, to own her – although he hopes in time that she might grow to love him. She doesn’t.
Fowles has stated that the theme of the book was the gulf between ‘special’ people and the hoi polloi, a gulf that he wanted to maintain and feared was being eroded by class mobility. He tried to make it clear that the ‘specials’ weren’t defined by their class but rather their potential, but his example here, where upper class, brainy art student Miranda is destroyed by uneducated oik Fred somewhat undercuts that argument. That said, Fred shows remarkable ingenuity in capturing his prey and, for all her breeding and education, Miranda cannot escape his working class clutches - but then perhaps that’s what Fowles is trying to say - watch out for the Neanderthals, posh people.
As the film ends, Fred decides to capture another specimen for his collection but, bless him, decides to go for a Nurse this time – no-one too clever or ingenious – as maybe someone a bit more common might fancy him more. It’s quite an annoying subtext, especially as it ends up making you root for a psychotic kidnapper played by Terence bloody Stamp. It's no 'Ben Hur'. I love 'Ben Hur'.