William Wyler is a man who has achieved plenty of Oscar-related records during his forty-five-year career including a staggering twelve nominations for Best Director. He’s also the only director to date who has helmed three Best Picture winners whilst his films have also included a total of thirty-six Oscar-nominated performances. Ten of Wyler’s Best Director nominations also received a Best Picture nod whilst only two didn’t contend for the top prize. The first of these is the film that saw Wyler receive his final Best Director nomination in the form of The Collector which also saw its lead actress Samantha Eggar become one of those aforementioned thirty-six Oscar nominated performers.
The Collector of the title is Freddie Clegg who we first see in an opening sequence chasing a butterfly with a net before happening upon a large house with a secluded separate bunker. Getting a little bored of butterfly collection, Freddie stalks bigger prey in the form of pretty art student Miranda Grey. The opening fifteen or so moments of the film are beautifully played as Freddie follows Miranda during her daily movements, stalking her in his van before finally capturing her. Rather than monetary, his motivations are that he has fallen in love with Miranda and wishes her to reciprocate his feelings if they spend enough time together. Throughout the film Miranda attempts to escape several times including faking appendicitis and later trying to flood the ceiling when Freddie’s nearest neighbour calls round unexpectedly. As the film progresses we learn that Freddie feels he hasn’t had the same sort of start in life as Miranda and feels inferior to her and her friends who he believes are a lot more intellectual than him. Predictably, the film’s final third turns into something more horrific as Miranda realises that she won’t be able to escape and so takes things into her own hands. However, there was a sting in the tail of The Collector which I wasn’t expecting and the final shot of the film was particularly haunting as it appears as if Freddie hasn’t learnt from his mistakes at all.
As it fits into a genre that the academy don’t tend to gravitate towards, that being the horror thriller, I’m surprised by that The Collector received as many major Oscar nominations as it did. I think Wyler’s name at the top of the film helped it immensely and it does feel like a career diversion for the man who brought us famous epics such as Ben-Hur. Wyler’s direction is certainly one of the film’s most important elements especially in the early parts of the film before Freddie kidnaps Miranda most of which are dialogue-free. In fact the images at the start of the film reminded me of those of Blow-Up as watching Freddie pursue Miranda again focused on the power of the image. I do think that The Collector could’ve followed Blow-up’s decision to have a minimal score as Maurice Jarre’s soundtrack to the film was one of its only negatives. I believe that, whilst Jarre’s sweeping score suited a movie such as The Professionals, a tense claustrophobic picture like The Collector deserves something slightly more restrained. What I did enjoy about the movie was the performances with both the Oscar-nominated Eggar and Terrence Stamp providing brilliant turns in what was essentially a two-hander. Stamp specifically made me sympathise with a man who was a psychopath due to his inferiority complex. Stamp was particularly brilliant at making the audience uneasy with him making Freddie charming at one instance before going totally unhinged the next. Initially I wasn’t impressed by Eggar’s performance but I think it’s because I didn’t particularly warm to the character of Miranda. However, as the film wore on I started to appreciate the physicality she brought to the role especially in some of the more complex scenes which depicted Miranda’s various escape attempts. The pair also shared an uneasy chemistry which helped bring a realistic tone to an outlandish story and was enhanced by the fact that Eggar had previously rebuffed Stamp when they both attended the same drama school.
One issue I had with the film is that I found it a little repetitive especially in the conversations between Freddie and Miranda which I believed were quite similar. I thought that if fifteen or twenty minutes had been trimmed from The Collector’s running time then it would’ve been a much tighter and tenser piece of work. However, when researching the movie, I discovered that Wyler had already trimmed an hour from the running time which included a thirty-five minute prologue that added some backstory to both Miranda and Freddie. Interestingly, The Collector would make a rather sinister double bill with The Woman of the Dunes; the other film from that year’s Best Director line-up that wasn’t nominated for best picture. Both movies made me uneasy throughout and had final scenes that stayed with me long after the end credits had rolled whilst furthermore both were films that you wouldn’t have thought would’ve been nominated for Oscars. In my opinion included both in that year’s Best Picture line-up alongside the likes of Darling and Doctor Zhivago would’ve enhanced a field that included forgettable entries such as Ship of Fools and A Thousand Clowns. Thankfully, Wyler would have one more film nominated for Best Picture three years later in the form of Funny Girl which also included an Oscar-winning turn from one Barbara Streisand.
Next time we turn back the clock fourteen years to watch the only other film for which Wyler received a Best Director nomination for that didn’t also garner a Best Picture nod.