Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Sleeping Tiger, The (1954)


Main image of Sleeping Tiger, The (1954)
DirectorJoseph Losey
Production CompanyInsignia Films
ProducerVictor Hanbury
ScreenplayDerek Frye
Based on a novel byMaurice Moiseiwitsch
Director of PhotographyHarry Waxman
MusicMalcolm Arnold

Cast: Dirk Bogarde (Frank Clements), Alexis Smith (Glenda Esmond), Alexander Knox (Dr. Clive Esmond), Hugh Griffith (Inspector Simmons), Patricia McCarron (Sally), Maxine Audley (Carol)

Show full cast and credits

A doctor who believes he can reform criminals by psychiatric treatment takes into his house a young criminal who had tried to rob him at gunpoint to test his theories. The youth, however, begins an affair with the doctor's wife.

Show full synopsis

Although credited at the time to Victor Hanbury, an undistinguished B-picture filmmaker, The Sleeping Tiger (1954) was, in fact, the first British film of Joseph Losey, whose promising Hollywood career had been cut short when he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Working from a script by fellow blacklisted American exiles Carl Foreman and Harold Buchman (who were also compelled to take a pseudonym, 'Derek Frye', to conceal their identities), Losey persuaded the hugely popular Dirk Bogarde to star in this low budget thriller by showing him one of his most impressive American films, The Prowler (1950) as a calling card.

Both Losey and Bogarde felt the script was weak, but this made them all the more determined to make it work, and it now looks, in some ways, like a preparation for their later collaboration, The Servant (1963), which was to transform their careers. As in the later film, Bogarde is a sinister guest who wreaks havoc in a respectable household of self-deceiving people, whose weaknesses he exposes and exploits. The psychiatrist (Alexander Knox) has pronounced pompously about the "sleeping tiger in the dark forest of every human personality", but fails to see to see its applicability not simply to the young criminal but to his own neglected wife (Alexis Smith), whose passionate nature surfaces when she falls for the young stranger.

Many directors might have balked at the symbolism of the final scene, in which the wife drives her car into a hoarding that displays Esso's famous leaping (not sleeping) tiger, but Losey is unabashed. The film takes the melodrama in its stride. Mirror shots abound as the characters' narcissism is exposed and the brittleness of appearances scrutinised. The wife's breakdown is subtly suggested through an association with flowers, from her decorous arrangement of them early in the film to the moment, near the end, when she stumbles into a vase of flowers as her whole life crashes down around her.

The stylistic and thematic characteristics of Losey's later British films - the virtuoso camerawork, the insights on class and hypocrisy, the love-hate relationships at the core of the narratives - are all present here in a crude but exciting form. It is finely acted by all the principals, and the experience of working together here forged a bond between Bogarde and Losey that was to flower in the 1960s into one of British cinema's most important actor/director partnerships.

Neil Sinyard

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Analysing Frank (3:39)
2. The car chase (2:32)
3. Unlocking the past (3:45)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Arnold, Sir Malcolm (1921-2006)
Audley, Maxine (1923-1992)
Bogarde, Dirk (1921-1999)
Foreman, Carl (1914-1984)
Griffith, Hugh (1912-1980)
Losey, Joseph (1909-1984)
Mills, Reginald (1912-1990)
Waxman, Harry (1912-1984)
Whitelaw, Billie (1932-)
Anglo-Amalgamated Productions