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Cul-de-sac (1966 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoman Polanski
Written by
Produced by
CinematographyGilbert Taylor
Edited byAlastair McIntyre
Music byKrzysztof Komeda
  • Compton Films
  • Tekli British Productions
Distributed byCompton-Cameo Films
Release date
  • 17 June 1966 (1966-06-17) (London)
Running time
112 minutes[2]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£120,000[3] or £170,938[4]

Cul-de-sac is a 1966 British black comedy psychological thriller film directed by Roman Polanski, written by Polanski and Gérard Brach, and starring Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran, Iain Quarrier, Geoffrey Sumner, Renée Houston, William Franklyn, Trevor Delaney, and Marie Kean. It also features Jacqueline Bisset (credited as Jackie Bisset) in a small role, in her second film appearance. Polanski's second English-language feature, it follows two injured American gangsters who take refuge in the remote island castle of a young British couple in the north of England, spurring a series of mind games and violent altercations.


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, where, in a dark castle on a hilltop, a deeply neurotic and effeminate middle-aged Englishman named George lives with his second wife, the young and promiscuous Teresa. Dickey breaks into the castle and telephones his underworld boss, Katelbach, to send someone to get him and Albie. He then disconnects the phone lines and proceeds to hold the couple hostage while awaiting the arrival of Katelbach the next day.

When Albie dies from his injuries, Dickey forces Teresa and George to dig his grave. They then hold a wake, with Dickey and George getting drunk together on the beach while Teresa swims nude in the ocean. The next morning, a car approaches the castle – but instead of Katelbach, it turns out to be a bunch of George's obnoxious friends who have showed up unannounced. Dickey poses as a servant while Teresa begins to flirt with one of the guests, Cecil. They all sit down to dinner, but then the young son of one of the guests, who has found Cecil's shotgun and starts waving it at the crowd of people, frightening them all. He then fires it, blowing out a stained-glass window in the castle. The gun is wrestled away from the child and put inside a hallway. George has had enough and demands they all leave, which they do, but Cecil forgets and leaves his unloaded shotgun behind.

Dickey takes off his jacket and hooks the telephone back up, while Teresa furtively takes Dickey's pistol from his coat pocket. Upon calling the hotel were Katelbach was staying, Dickey gets told that he is not going to come, so Dickey prepares to take George's car to drive to the mainland. George refuses to let him, and a fight ensues. Teresa hands Dickey's pistol to George and George shoots him several times;Dickey manages to retrieve his tommy gun from his broken-down car, hidden in the chicken house. Too weak to fire the gun at George, Dickey collapses to the ground, laughing, and discharges the weapon at George's car, and it explodes in flames. Fearful of being implicated in the killing (and of reprisals from Katelbach's other henchmen), Teresa frantically insists that she and George abandon the castle. George is in a state of shock and seems unable to move. Suddenly, they see a car approaching. Not knowing that Dickey's boss had abandoned him, they assume it is Katelbach. Desperate and afraid, Teresa runs and hides in a cupboard. The car arrives, and it turns out to be Cecil, who had returned to retrieve his shotgun. Cecil offers to take them to the police, but George refuses to go. He watches as Cecil and Teresa drive off into the night. George goes on a rampage, destroying his art studio, then running out of the castle and down to the beach. As day breaks, he sits down on a rock in the fetal position and weeps hysterically, shouting out the name of his first wife, as the early morning tide rises around him.


Themes and interpretations[edit]

Like Polanski's previous film Repulsion, released the previous year, 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 and these similarities are underscored by the casting of two roles in the film, Jack MacGowran who was renowned for his stage performances of Beckett's plays and Donald Pleasence originated the role of Davies in Pinter's The Caretaker.[5][6] 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)."

Filming location[edit]

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.


Critical reception[edit]

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


Cul-de-sac was awarded the 1966 Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Matthew Sweet "The lost worlds of British cinema: The horror"[dead link], The Independent, 29 January 2006
  2. ^ "CUL-DE-SAC (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 15 November 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2012.
  3. ^ Hallenbeck 2009, p. 82.
  4. ^ Chapman, J. (2022). The Money Behind the Screen: A History of British Film Finance, 1945-1985. Edinburgh University Press p 360
  5. ^ "Cul-de-sac". British Film Institute. 4 April 2006. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2007.
  6. ^ Bergan, Ronald (19 September 2006). "Gérard Brach". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  7. ^ "Berlinale 1966: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Archived from the original on 8 April 2011. Retrieved 17 February 2010.


  • Hallenbeck, Bruce (2009). Comedy-Horror Films: A Chronological History, 1914–2008. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-45378-8.
  • Katz; et al. (1994). The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-333-61601-4.
  • Polanski, Roman (1984). Roman. New York: Morrow. ISBN 0-688-02621-4.

External links[edit]