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Film / Cul-de-sac (1966)

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Cul-de-sac is a 1966 comedic Psychological Thriller film directed by Roman Polański, starring Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander and Jack MacGowran.

In North East England, American gangster Dickey (Stander) and his partner Albie (MacGowran) are on the run and wounded after a botched robbery. They wind up at a medieval castle on an isolated tidal island, where middle-aged George (Pleasance) and his young wife Teresa (Dorléac) live alone. Dickey forces the couple to provide shelter to him and his companion, and a series of mind games ensues.

One of only a handful of films that Françoise Dorléac, Catherine Deneuve's sister, made before she was killed in a car accident. Jacqueline Bisset, who would soon become a major star, appears in a minor role.


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Cul-de-sac provides examples of:

  • Animal Motif: George's castle is full of chickens, which symbolize his cowardice.
  • Awful Wedded Life: George and Teresa. Teresa cheats on her husband and she constantly belittles him.
  • Binocular Shot: Used when Dickey and Albie look at the stars with binoculars.
  • Black Comedy: The movie's tone is comical (Dickey's stupidity or George's cowardice, for example, are Played for Laughs), but it is about two people held hostage by a dangerous gangster.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Nicholas, the son of George's friends. He only does silly things. It culminates with shooting off Cecil's gun.
  • Cat Scare: Dickey is scared by the noise made by chickens when he enters the castle.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The tommy gun in the stolen cab, shown very early in the film and comes back into play during the climax.
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  • Closed Circle: Several elements prevent Dickey, Albie, George, and Teresa from leaving the island: Dickey and Albie's car is broken; Albie is mortally wounded; the rising tide isolates the island; Dickey forces George and Teresa to stay with him; George's car explodes in the end.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Dickey cuts the phone line of the castle to prevent George and Teresa from calling the police.
  • Dragged into Drag: Teresa forces George to wear her lingerie and she makes him up.
  • Drowning Pit: Albie is trapped in a broken car on the causeway. The rising tide nearly drowns him, but Dickey shows up to save him.
  • Dumb Muscle: Dickey is a strong guy (even with an arm in a sling, he is still a serious threat for George and Teresa) and he is quite stupid (he is really surprised by the fact that the tide has risen, he doesn't know that Rob Roy was a book before it was a movie).
  • Emasculated Cuckold: George is a feeble man and a coward. George's lack of manliness is stressed when Teresa, his wife, forces him to wear her lingerie and makes him up. Teresa cheats on him with Christopher, a young Hunk. She also flirts with the manly Cecil and even with Dickey himself a little.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: George's car. When Dickey shoots at it with his tommy gun, it explodes.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The story takes place in less than 2 days.
  • Gargle Blaster: Teresa's home-made vodka is very strong. It is hard to drink even for a gangster like Dickey.
  • The Ghost: Katelbach. Dickey calls him and says that he will come to pick him up, but he never shows up.
  • Heroic BSoD: George after shooting down Dickey.
  • Noodle Incident: How Dickey and Albie were wounded and how they ended up in Lindisfarne is never explained.
  • Not Quite Dead: George shoots at Dickey several times. Dickey is badly wounded, but he is still able to go to the car to grab a tommy gun. Finally subverted, because he collapses just when he's about to use the gun.
  • Old, Dark House: A medieval castle on a tidal island. It is very isolated, especially after Dickey cuts the phone line.
  • The Oner: A scene where the trio goes to the beach, where Teresa goes skinny dipping, only for Dickey to take a random plane for a helicopter coming to rescue him, followed by Dickey ridiculously firing his pistol at the plane after it flies away. It runs nearly eight minutes without a cut.
  • Shout-Out: To Walter Scott's Rob Roy (George claims that the book was written in the castle) and the 1953 film of the same name (Dickey does not know the book, but he knows the film).
  • Skinny Dipping: Teresa swims naked in the sea.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Both George and Teresa develop some sympathy for Dickey. Teresa chats with him when he is burying Albie. She brings a bottle of vodka and she helps him with the burying. Later, George confides in Dickey on the beach.
  • Took a Level in Badass: George is a weak character, but in the end he shoots Dickey down. Subverted, because after that, he is under shock and does not react to things normally any more.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: George's position in the end, after shooting Dickey down.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Played with in George (Donald Pleasence) and Teresa (Dorléac). George is very handsome, but he's such an embarrassing coward and doormat that he becomes repulsive by personality alone.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: When George has him at gunpoint, Dickey is sure that he will not shoot. He is wrong.

Alternative Title(s): Cul De Sac

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