Freddie Clegg (Terrance Stamp) is an awkward, unsociable butterfly collector. After winning the national lottery, Clegg quits his job as a clerk at a bank and buys a large English estate in the countryside. Oh yes, on the property is a bastion like cellar. Clegg has been stalking the beautiful Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar), a young art student, who he has developed a fixation on, eventually kidnaps and holds prisoner in the cellar. Clegg is not a rapist nor does he want a ransom. He is a rather prudish young man, the, opposite of the mod swingin’ 60’s generation we would expect to see in England at that time. He desires is for Miranda to fall in love with him. As his “guest”, he serves her food, brings her books, paper to draw on and is always dressed in a proper suit. At times, he seems more like a servant than a captor. After various attempts to escape, Miranda tries to bargain her way to a release by agreeing to be a good “guest” and not try to escape, however, things do not go well. When Freddie shows Miranda his butterfly collection she asks him “How many did you kill…..think of all the living beauty you ended.” When she sees her reflection in a glass-encased draw, exhibiting an assortment of butterflies Miranda realizes that she has become part of his collection, just like the butterflies.
Freddie’s financial win fall left him unprepared on what to do with his life. He quits his job so he could indulge in his obsession with the beautiful Miranda. Emotionally and educationally underdeveloped he views the world as consisting of two types of people, the haves and the have-nots. Winning the lottery gives him the power to be one of the “haves” therefore he can take what he wants and he took Miranda.
Unfortunately, Miranda fits Freddie’s warped view of the world. The daughter of a doctor, educated, an art student with a social life, friends and lovers far removed from Freddie’s isolated world. She also is a bit of a snob looking down on her intellectual inferiors and this ends up working to her detriment when it reveals itself in a discussion with Freddie on “The Catcher in the Rye”, and later a Picasso painting. Freddie fails to find Holden Caufield of any interest as a character, nor does he see any significance in the book as Miranda does calling it rubbish.. When discussing a painting by Picasso, Miranda’s try to explain Picasso’s style however, her responses begin to take on a superiority that infuriates and frustrates Freddie, justifying his belief that she lives in an elitist world in which she would never notice him. Thus kidnapping was the only solution to get her to know him.
Terrance Stamp is creepy, all knotted up and hunched over. A magnificent performance though strangely enough, I found there were times that he seemed to be channeling a deranged off kilter version of Stan Laurel. You see it in his clothes, his physical movement and in his speech. This is not negative criticism; I think he gave a wonderful performance as the timid yet disturbed Freddie Clegg, a character who should have a higher ranking in the “celluloid crazies” Hall of Fame. Samantha Eggar gives an amazing performance, scared, bewildered, indignant, terrified and in the end emotionally and physically helpless. Eggar would go on to film other thrillers and horror films of varying quality, from the good (The Brood), to the bad (A Name for Evil). She would become notable for being the last female to co-star with Cary Grant in his final film, the light comedy “Walk, Don’t Run.” Other films Eggar made include the laborious “Dr. Dolittle”, “Return from the Ashes” and “The Molly Macguires.” Eggar would additionally have the dubious distinction of being in the 1973 made of TV movie remake of “Double Indemnity” in which she makes nobody forget how great Barbara Stanwyck was in the role.
Film critic Andrew Sarris once wrote that “The Collector”, was the most erotic film to ever to come out past the production code.” How true. This was 1965 and Samantha Eggar had two nude scenes. Now they are mild scenes considering what is allowed now however, these scenes were provocative for their time. Yet it was not only the nudity that makes the film erotic. Clegg is sexually obsessed with Miranda. He wants her, desires her, yet is so repressed that the only time he can force himself to touch her is when she is lying in his bed unconscious. This scene fades out to black as he begins to caress her body. In the following scene, he tells her that he did not take advantage of her, that he was respectful, while she was in an unconscious state.
Sarris also wrote that Wyler’s direction was “horribly impersonal.” Here I believe he was wrong mistaking his “impersonal” style for what is really an unimposing style. Wyler does not let the camera get in the way of the story. His strength is in his visual story telling abilities, the editing, pacing, camera movement and in the believability of his male-female relationships. David Cairns points out in his Sense of Cinema article on Wyler that while the male-female relationships could not be more different in films like “Wuthering Heights”, “Detective Story” and “The Collector”, “they are all perfectly credible and consistent with Wyler’s compassionate but unflinching observation of everything human.” Wyler was in the final stages of his career at this time making only three more films, the innocuous “How to Steal a Million”, the over blown “Funny Girl” and the uneven but worth seeing “The Liberation of L.B. Jones.”
“The Collector” is based on English author John Fowles first and best selling 1963 novel of the same name. Both a thriller and a look at class distinction the book was purchased for filming before it was even published. Wyler soon signed on to direct. The screenplay was written by Stanley Mann and John Kohn. According to IMDB, Terry Southern was an uncredited contributor. The film was shot both in Hollywood and in England. Submitted to the Cannes Film Festival in 1965 where it was awarded both best actor and best actress awards.
The filming was not easy for either member of the cast. Terrace Stamp, recently had his first success with “Billy Budd” and according a 1965 TIME Magazine article “put Wyler to the test the first few days by walking through a retake.” Wyler’s icy stare straighten Stamp out quickly. Samantha Eggar had it much more difficult. With little professional experience at the time, she was almost fired. There was talk of Natalie Wood as a possible replacement however, both Wyler and Eggar did not give up. Wyler made it obligatory for her to stay on the set during the 43 days of production in Hollywood. Even during lunch, she was not allowed to leave. On weekends, she was forced to rehearse both days, all day long. Actress Kathleen Freeman was brought in to help the inexperienced Eggar. This went on for more than a month. As time went on, Eggar became somewhat rattled and isolated which actually helped her with her characterization whose situation was similar though certainly more dire. There were two scenes requiring nudity. Though mild by today’s standards, since the production code was still in force, Wyler had her do those scenes totally naked, which probably contributed to the overwrought look of her character. If the film has a fault, it is Maurice Jarre’s music, which is rather off-kilter with the film itself. It makes one wonder what Bernard Hermann could have done with this film.
“The Collector” and Freddie Clegg never caught on to the public’s imagination, like Norman Bates and “Psycho.” This may be due to Wyler’s more detached style as opposed to Hitchcock’s. Freddie Clegg and Norman Bates do have some similarities. They both shared awkward social skills; both are loners with little or no contact with the outside world. Freddie collects butterflies while Norman collects stuffed birds. Both men are obsessed with women, Freddie with Miranda and Norman with mother. Like Norman, Freddie is a precursor to the modern serial killers of later films. The plot device, an individual kidnapping an object of desire, has been used in many films and TV shows since, “Misery” and “Kiss the Girls” being two prime examples. The opening episode of the second season of “Criminal Minds” called “The Fisher King Part 2” uses John Fowles book “The Collector” as a key piece of evidence in the show. For me, “The Collector” is William Wyler’s last great film. I recommend it highly.