Cul-de-sac (1966 film)

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Cul-de-sac poster.jpg
Directed byRoman Polanski
Produced byGene Gutowski
Michael Klinger[1]
Tony Tenser
Written byRoman Polanski
Gerard Brach
StarringDonald Pleasence
Françoise Dorléac
Lionel Stander
Music byKrzysztof Komeda
CinematographyGilbert Taylor
Edited byAlastair McIntyre
Compton Films
Tekli British Productions
Distributed byCompton-Cameo Films (original UK release)
Sigma III (original U.S. release)
Release date
  • 17 June 1966 (1966-06-17) (London)
  • 24 June 1966 (1966-06-24) (BIFF)
  • 7 November 1966 (1966-11-07) (United States)
Running time
112 minutes[2]
CountryUnited Kingdom

Cul-de-sac is a 1966 British psychological comic thriller directed by the Polish director Roman Polanski. It was his second film in English, written by Polanski and Gérard Brach.

The cast includes Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran, Iain Quarrier, Geoffrey Sumner, Renée Houston, William Franklyn, Trevor Delaney, Marie Kean. It also features Jacqueline Bisset (credited as Jackie Bisset) in a small role, in her second film appearance. The black and white cinematography is by Gil Taylor.


Gruff American gangster Dickey pushes his broken-down car along a causeway through rising seawater while his eccentric companion Albie lies inside, bleeding from a gunshot wound after a bungled robbery. Cut off by the unexpected rising tide, they are on the only road to a bleak and remote tidal island (Lindisfarne in Northumberland), where, in a dark castle on a hilltop, a deeply neurotic and effeminate middle-aged Englishman named George lives with his promiscuous young French wife Teresa. Dickey disconnects the phone lines and proceeds to hold the two hostage while awaiting further instructions from his underworld boss, the mysterious Katelbach.

When Albie dies from his injuries, Dickey decides to take over the castle. George briefly entertains some of his obnoxious friends who show up at the castle unannounced, leading Dickey to pose as a servant while Teresa begins to flirt with one of the guests, Cecil.

Dickey eventually gets word that his boss Katelbach is not going to come, so he demands George drive him to the mainland by causeway. George, who has had enough of Dickey's bullying, suddenly goes berserk and shoots him dead with his own gun (Teresa had stolen Dickey's pistol from his coat pocket and encouraged George to use it). Before dying, Dickey manages to retrieve his tommy gun from his broken-down car, which he had hidden away in the chicken house. Too weak to fire the gun at George, Dickey collapses to the ground and the automatic discharge from the weapon causes the car to explode in flames inside the chicken house. Fearful of being implicated in the killing (and of possible reprisals from Katelbach's other henchmen), Teresa frantically insists that she and George abandon the castle together. But George is in a state of shock and seems unable to leave. Desperate and afraid, Teresa runs off by herself and hides in a closet. She is later rescued by Cecil, who had returned to retrieve his rifle.

Now utterly alone, George runs along the beach at daybreak. He finally sits down on a rock in the fetal position and weeps hysterically as the early morning tide rises around him.



The film was shot on location in 1965 on the island of Lindisfarne (also known as Holy Island) off the coast of Northumberland, England. Lindisfarne Castle, which served as the home in the film, is now a National Trust property and can be toured by the public; despite the passage of time, the building and its surroundings are largely unchanged.


Like Polanski's previous film Repulsion, released the year before, it explores themes of horror, frustrated sexuality and alienation, which have become characteristic of many of the director's films, especially Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant.

Cul-de-Sac has been compared in tone and theme with the works of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter,[4][5] and these similarities are underscored by the casting of two principal roles in the film: Jack MacGowran was renowned for his stage performances of Beckett's plays and Donald Pleasence originated the role of Davies in Pinter's The Caretaker. The film's German title is Wenn Katelbach kommt (When Katelbach Comes). Christopher Weedman also notes the film's similarities with "such hard-edged Humphrey Bogart hostage thrillers as The Petrified Forest (Archie Mayo, 1936), Key Largo (John Huston, 1948), and The Desperate Hours (William Wyler, 1955)."

Awards and reputation[edit]

Cul-de-sac was awarded the 1966 Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival.[6]

Cul-de-sac currently (May 2020) holds an 83% approval rating on the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 23 reviews.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Matthew Sweet "The lost worlds of British cinema: The horror", The Independent, 29 January 2006
  2. ^ "CUL-DE-SAC (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 15 November 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2012.
  3. ^ John Hamilton, Beasts in the Cellar: The Exploitation Film Career of Tony Tenser, Fab Press, 2005 p 75
  4. ^ "Cul-de-sac". British Film Institute. 4 April 2006. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2007.
  5. ^ Bergan, Ronald (19 September 2006). "Gérard Brach". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  6. ^ "Berlinale 1966: Prize Winners". Retrieved 17 February 2010.


External links[edit]