❉ Nick Clement on an odd, tonally challenging movie that still feels relevant and accessible 50 years on.
I remain entranced by the dreamy 1967 Canadian film The Fox, which served as filmmaker Mark Rydell’s directorial debut. Loosely adapted and reworked from D.H. Lawrence’s celebrated 1923 novella by screenwriters Lewis John Carlino (The Great Santini, The Mechanic) and the once-blacklisted legend Howard Koch (Casablanca, The Sea Hawk), this is a heartbreaking melodrama crafted in a tone and style that is rarely attempted these days; people would likely be laughing in all of the wrong places as audiences are no longer conditioned for narratives of this nature. It’s got a great cast, including Sandy Dennis, Keir Dullea, and Anne Heywood, with craft contributions from eclectic composer Lalo Schifrin (Cool Hand Luke, Mission: Impossible), ace cinematographer William A. Fraker (The President’s Analyst, Rosemary’s Baby, WarGames), expert editor Thomas Stanford (West Side Story, Jeremiah Johnson), and evocative art director Charles Bailey (Dog Day Afternoon, Saturday Night Fever).
The story concentrates on a lesbian couple, the confident Ellen (Heywood) and her more reserved lover, Jill (Dennis), who live on an isolated, backwoods Canadian farm. It’s an idyllic backdrop to be sure, but under the surface, internal conflict is brewing. Jill is perfectly content with their life and surroundings, wishing for nothing more than the current bliss they’re sharing. But Ellen is feeling all sorts of existential pressure, questioning their relationship and the trajectory of her life. Everything changes when the farm owner’s grandson, Paul (Dullea, utterly magnetic), shows up unannounced, and asks permission to spend some time during his leave from the Merchant Marines working on the farm. When Ellen begins to develop feelings for Paul and those feelings are reciprocated, nothing will be the same for the trio. The Fox is an odd, tonally challenging movie that still feels emotionally relevant and accessible despite being over 50 years old.
Released on DVD through the Warner Brothers Archives label, the disc presentation showcases Fraker’s soft and gauzy cinematography that induces a majorly hazy dream state and which directly aids in penetrating the psyches of the main characters. It’s a layered piece of cinema that gets very intimate with its plot, and ultimately, the interaction between the leads is what the film is all about. And then – BOOM – the concluding 10 minutes unravel, and then the final shot arrives, and you’re left with something very special. This is a “love triangle” unlike any that I’ve ever seen, and the performances are were very unique and incredibly different from one another, with direction from Rydell that’s rigorous yet somehow gentle. Rydell would go on to have a fantastic career in Hollywood, helming memorable titles including Cinderella Liberty, The Rose, On Golden Pond, The Reivers, The Cowboys, and The River. The Fox was released in Canada on December 13, 1967, and then in the United States on February 7, 1968, and its reported box-office take of nearly $20 million worldwide suggests a substantial hit.
❉ ‘The Fox’ (1967) is available as Region Free, Manufactured on Demand, DVD through Warner Archives, and an official Warner Bros. Spanish Region 2 PAL release, plays in English without subtitles.
❉ Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.