Directed by Joseph Losey and written by Harold Buchman and Carl Foreman, after a convict breaks in a psychotherapist’s home, he agrees to rehabilitation rather than arrest but the therapist’s wife becomes infatuated with him. Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Alexis Smith, Alexander Knox, Hugh Griffith, Patricia McCarron, Maxine Audley and Glyn Houston.
With classic film, romance was always a lot simpler, with films going for animal attraction over a deeper connection, and The Sleeping Tiger is one of those films. Your enjoyment of it will entirely depend on how much belief you can suspend in this quick fall between Frank (Dirk Bogarde) and Glenda (Alexis Smith). The reason why it may be difficult for some is that it falls on one of the oldest clichés of romantic cinema, a bored housewife falling for the dangerous, suave and aggressive stranger. It’s a choice which is made all the more disappointing for how it discounts the intrigue and intelligence of Smith’s character, who initially seems confident only to fall apart at the first sign of affection. It gives you hope that this is going to be a bigger battle of the wills, for them to find common ground but unfortunately, it’s just not that complex. He pushes, she falls and down the rabbit hole of extra-marital activities we go, but with a criminal twist. So, as long as you can just go with the flow and be convinced by their blossoming relationship, then you’re all set, because outside of that stereotype, there is a decent story with tension and manipulation.
Then there’s the leading performances, there’s a good reason Dirk Bogarde’s name appeared on so many posters, he was an extremely reliable, charismatic actor. Although it is interesting to see him going down such a detestable route with this character, he does often walk that line of good and bad but here he dives headfirst into the lifelong criminal. He’s harsh and abrasive, rude and arrogant but Bogarde being the great actor that he is, he can still hold that layer of potential to grow. Alexis Smith gives us a vulnerable woman, taken in by the wild and unknown opportunities which Frank offers. It’s a classic case of wanting to taste the other side of life but Smith gives Glenda a stubbornness and independence, it’s only a shame she gives into temptation and pushes those aside. The role of her husband, played Alexander Knox,feels underused here, he provides an unknown quantity, there’s a larger game of cat and mouse on his mind. It has some interestingly complicated potential but the story never gives it enough room to grow.
Joseph Losey’s direction matches up perfectly with the different themes of this story. It blends into the criminality, the romance and the recklessness, it moves with a great pacing to create that quality of the consequences of their actions quickly running away from them. Like many classic films it has a tensely dramatic air, that feeling of everything being life or death, even when they aren’t. The restoration work is well done, adding a nice amount of clarity and detail. It has a big amount of energy, it’s throwing itself full force behind this story and does a great job of enhancing the danger.
The Sleeping Tiger is a frantic mix of romance, crime, psychotherapy and manipulation. Its only key issue is one that has aged poorly, the stereotypical bad boy romance is much less convincing to an audience today than it was in the 1950s. Reducing Alexis Smith’s initially intriguing Glenda to a bored housewife is extremely disappointing, and not letting her husband’s fascination with her new beau play out to its full extent also lets the story down. Regardless, it’s absolutely a solid drama with a touch of thriller, and if you can ignore its forays into cliché then you’ll enjoy it all the more.