Appellate Judge Tom Becker once thought he was in rapture, but he was only in Topeka.
I always knew you were real.
It is such a rare treat to discover a genuinely obscure gem of a film.
Rapture is a powerful, unsettling film. Released in 1965, it should have been an art house favorite.
An international production, Rapture features beautiful black-and-white cinematography by Marcel Grignon (Is Paris Burning?) and top-flight performances from a Hollywood vet and recent Oscar winner (Melvyn Douglas, Hud), a young, good-looking actor who'd done his share of prestige films (Dean Stockwell, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Compulsion, Sons and Lovers), and a supporting turn from an actress best known for her work with Ingmar Bergman (Gunnel Lindblom, The Virgin Spring).
Most important, it featured an exquisite performance by Patricia Gozzi, a young French actress who just three years before, at age 12, made an impression in the haunting, Oscar-winning—and, inexplicably, still without a proper U.S. home video release—Sundays and Cybele.
But Rapture failed to find an audience; it barely got a release. Maybe the story was just a bit too hard for audiences to warm up to: the sexual awakening of a mentally unbalanced teenager by a man in his 20s. Maybe the film's downbeat nature worked against it.
Fox's Twilight Time series, which offers limited runs (3,000 units) of "lost" classics, is giving us Rapture (Blu-ray), a quite wonderful rendering of this odd but compelling film.
Facts of the Case
Agnes (Gozzi) is a 15-year-old who lives with her father (Douglas), a retired judge, and housekeeper Karen (Lindblom) in a large house near the beach. We see right away that Agnes is "not right;" at her sister's wedding, when a man makes a pass at her, she runs out of the event into the street and is almost hit by a car. We see that Agnes has fantasies—some might call them "delusions"—and still plays with dolls, even though she's past the age when most girls have tired of such things.
There is talk throughout of sending her away, and in fact, a mental institution near the home serves as a constant reminder of what might be the girl's fate. It doesn't help that Agnes' father is a stern, oppressive man who seems incapable of communicating with his daughter or showing her any kind of affection; or that Karen is sexually free-spirited and entertains men in her bedroom at night.
Agnes makes a scarecrow out of her father's old clothes and fantasizes that it's a real man. She gets angry at Karen for pretending to dance with her new "friend."
One night, the police come to the house. They are looking for an escaped convict, a young man who attacked an officer and fled. Agnes goes in the backyard and discovers a man dressed in the scarecrow's clothes. Believing him to be her scarecrow come to life, she hides him in a shed.
The young man, Joseph (Stockwell), is soon discovered by Karen, and later, the judge. Rather than turn him in, they decide to hide him. The judge has been writing about the injustices of the legal system and believes Joseph—whose story hinges on a series of misunderstandings and mishaps rather than any venality on his part—seems like an object lesson to the judge's writing. Karen finds the attractive young man appealing.
Agnes also finds him appealing, but her childlike fantasies and burgeoning—and very adult—sexuality are at odds. Will Joseph be the secret friend she's always dreamed of, the one who will love and protect her? Is he a dangerous character?
Or is his presence in the house actually putting him in danger?
"Danger" is certainly one of the themes of Rapture, and its story of a growing sexual relationship between a child and a man unquestionably makes it something of a dangerous film. Unlike so many other films that play with the notion of a youth's sexual awakening and an "inappropriate" coupling between an adult and a child, only to cop out at the last minute, Rapture tackles it head on, in a way that's surprisingly frank—and sometimes, disturbing.
It's not simply the fact of the relationship, or the straightforward, almost casual way that it's presented; it's that we know how fragile Agnes is, or at least appears to be.
While Agnes might be fragile—and is certainly fragile emotionally—she's far from helpless; in fact, she can be downright manipulative. She engineers the relationship with Joseph; there's no sense that an older man is taking advantage of a child. Her instability makes her a hazard; at one point, she almost kills someone in a jealous rage over Joseph, and then runs to the asylum, banging on the gate and screaming to be admitted, putting everyone at risk.
The film also features moments of almost heartbreaking tenderness, particularly when dealing with the relationships among the four main characters. Director John Guillermin was not exactly not exactly known for his light touch, having helmed such films as The Towering Inferno, Death on the Nile, King Kong (1976), Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, and Tarzan's Greatest Adventure. In Rapture, he approaches the material with a genuine sensitivity that keeps the whole thing as coming off as overbearing or pretentious.
Despite her heavyweight co-stars, this is Gozzi's film from start to finish. A very natural young actress, Gozzi had a remarkable face, one that changes from young child to mature woman in the blink of an angle. It's an unusual quality—Linda Manz also had it—and helped make Gozzi, despite her abbreviated resumé, one of the better child actors of her generation. Her performance is essential to the success of Rapture, and she executes the child/woman role impeccably.
As Agnes' father, Douglas is fascinating, taking what could have been a simple role of a gruff, inarticulate man and imbuing it with layers of subtext. There are a number of unanswered questions about the judge, even at the end, which makes him far more sympathetic and intriguing than we think he'll be at the start. Stockwell brings a sweet, boyish quality as the fugitive Joseph, and Lindblom is a dynamic force of nature as the earthy Karen.
Fox's Twilight Time release offers a lovely 2.35:1/1080p high definition transfer of this black and white film; there's nary a blemish or fleck to be found, and a nice, fine grain. Audio is a perfectly fine DTS-HD Mono track. For supplements, we get an isolated track for Georges Delerue's haunting score and a typically insightful and intelligent essay by Julie Kirgo.
TECH NOTE: I had problems playing this disc on my Sony; around the 70 minute mark, it started sticking and skipping. It worked fine in my laptop's BD-Rom, however, so I'm not sure if it's a problem with this particular disc or some kind of compatibility issue.
Haunting, disturbing, and unique, Rapture is essential viewing. Fox's Twilight Time turns out a very good Blu-ray of this heretofore lost masterwork.
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