Sunday, 31 March 2019

Hey, hey it’s the monkey… Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)

At the time people used to say that David Warner’s Hamlet was the best of his generation and yet no one ever mentions his superlative performance as a guerrilla in Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966). This is another one I would have seen with the family in our seventies sitting room: and probably one that took a little explaining from my patient parents.

Morgan follows a familiar theme for films of this period; mental illness versus idiot savant; the natural outsider who won’t give up his wonder at the World and nature just for the benefit of being accepted – just a little – in polite society. Morgan is a bit of a child and his love and natural affinity with wife Leonie (Vanessa Redgrave) is not enough for her to want to end their marriage and go off with their art-dealer pal Charles Napier (Robert Stephens). Leonie still loves Morgan and, indeed, they keep slipping and making love…. But she has had enough of his unpredictability and his unwillingness to grow up. Morgan is a talented artist but he’s never focused on success; just expression.

Vanessa and friend
All this is frustrating for Leonie’s mother, Mrs Henderson (Nan Munro) who cannot abide the man she views as having wasted her daughter’s time, in comparison, Morgan’s mother (Irene Handl) is on top of the situation. Mrs Delt is a firm believer in fate as well as the Marxist Dialectic and frequently quotes from Das Kapital with analysis that is still more than pertinent today, comrades. She also quotes Morgan’s birth father, who was a party member and committed to social and political change. There’s a lovely sequence when she and Morgan go to lay flowers on Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate, and Morgan gives her a piggy-back - there's a lot of love in the film.

Based on David Mercer’s BBC television play A Suitable Case for Treatment (1962), starring Ian Hendry, this Morgan has a more whimsical approach and is a very swinging take on the writer’s examination of social alienation and mental health. Morgan Delt was not meant to fit in or rather he refuses to; we see the world often through his eyes and he is easily distracted. He has a voracious appetite for natural history and often sees people in terms of the animals they represent: a group of builders on scaffold are monkeys, lawyers are giraffes, he and his wife are Zebras and an attractive woman on the tube makes him feel like a peacock.

David Warner and Irene Handl
It’s very Reggie Perrin (or rather the other way around) and his fantasy associations also encompass the movies with excerpts from a Johnny Weismuller Tarzan film – “he Tarzan, Leonie Jane” – and then King Kong when, dressed in a guerrilla costume, he climbs up to invade Leonie and Charles’ wedding reception. The films inspire and legitimise his seemingly futile attempts to reclaim his love.

The reaction to Morgan’s extremes – he refuses to leave after being divorced and lives in his wife’s car outside even though he can’t drive are not quite as you’d expect: people are mostly kind. The local bobby (Bernard Bresslaw) is more than lenient, whilst even Charles has an affection for Morgan, not just because of his talent as a painter but he understands that he’s not as threatening as he wishes he was – he calmly diffuses Morgan’s entry into his gallery armed with a revolver. Leonie understands her husband/ex-husband but here she wants a more socially-acceptable future, although there’s enough ambiguity to make us wonder.

Leonie's almost as much of a free spirit as Morgan... almost.
There are some lovely scenes of Morgan in his bed on the railway lines leading to the still functioning Battersea Power Station (now, sadly, a backdrop to some dull and very expensive apartment blocks) as Cossacks on horseback, led by Leonie, chase him down, in a later scene she is one of a group of revolutionaries shooting him dead. There’s constant referencing of Marxism but the film doesn’t really define Morgan’s attachment to the cause, even his mother calls him a class traitor. Perhaps, like everything else, it’s a fantasy for him… another socially-deviant obsession that in the words of his psychiatrist, make him a suitable case for treatment.

Dusty Verdict: Directed well by Karel Reisz, Morgan is period-psych but endures due to the rapport between Redgrave and Warner, they’re a very watchable combination and they riff very effectively off each other’s nuanced improvisations. Stephens is, of course not to be outdone although his role doesn’t allow the same freedom. The whole cast is superb though including Arthur Mullard as Wally, Mrs Delt’s boyfriend – a jobbing wrestler, nicknamed The Gorilla.

Visiting Karl
Morgan’s available on DVD and would make for a great addition to the BFI Flipside series… there’s a lot going on and it would be good to learn mote of the background and politics of the original play, which, along with so much from the 60s BBC is missing, presumed wiped.

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