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Rough and the Smooth, The (1959)

Courtesy of Renown Pictures

Main image of Rough and the Smooth, The (1959)
35 mm, 99 min, black & white
DirectorRobert Siodmak
Production CompanyRenown Pictures
ProducersGeorge Minter
 Robert Siodmak
ScreenplayAudrey Erskine-Lindop; Dudley Leslie
Original novelRobin Maugham
MusicDouglas Gamley

Cast: Nadja Tiller (Ila Hansen); Tony Britton (Mike Thompson); William Bendix (Reg Barker); Natasha Parry (Margaret Goreham); Norman Wooland (David Fraser); Donald Wolfit (Lord Drewell)

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An archeologist forsakes his fiancée for a passionate affair with a beautiful young German woman. But Ilsa has more than love on her mind.

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Robert Siodmak had left behind a successful career Hollywood in 1952, just as McCarthyism began to rear its head. He subsequently made several films in Germany and France but this was his only British feature. He was complemented by a fine technical line-up, including Otto Heller on camera and set designs by Ken Adam.

Adam was fast becoming Britain's most innovative art director and he made full use of the opportunities this film presented: Reg Barker's flat is a melange of modern design and street market tat, while Lord Drewell's office is clearly a dry run of the famous control room in Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (d. Stanley Kubrick, UK/US, 1963). Julie Harris's costumes complement the sets and emphasise the difference between the two women in Mike's life: Margaret in party frocks and Ila in dark sweaters and tight pencil skirts.

The film is dark and claustrophobic, the small amount of exterior shooting mostly done at night. Mike feels trapped by his situation: his parents live in the flat above him and he's tied to his fiancée by his obligation to her uncle. Ila seems to offer an escape but her sexual overtness plunges him into jealousy and frustration.

The film's powerful psychological angle is rather downplayed: we learn that Ila was prostituted by her family at a young age and the first man who raped her is the only man she can feel love for. The source novel was written by Robin Maugham (nephew of Somerset) who also wrote the novel The Servant, filmed by Joseph Losey in 1963.

While the film's star, Nadja Tiller, was unknown in Britain, she had starred in many German films and was Miss Austria in 1949. Ila's foreignness is key and Margaret's slightly prim glamour is no match for her continental seductiveness. But the promise of sex masks something more dangerous and giving her body so freely signals Ila's emotional deadness. Mike learns his lesson the hard way but, in the process, his own emotions are awakened and he takes control of his life and his relationship.

Jo Botting

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Video Clips
1. An ultimatum (4:03)
2. To feel and not to feel (3:41)
3. Hurt is a part of life (2:10)
4. Cheating (2:00)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Harris, Julie (1921-)
Heller, Otto (1896-1970)