skip navigation
The Shout
Remind Me
Shout, The

The Shout

Based on a short story by Robert Graves, the author of I, Claudius, The Shout (1978), directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, is a visually elegant and often oblique psychodrama with a dash of surrealism and the supernatural. The film, which takes place at a cricket match on the lush grounds of an insane asylum where some of the players are inmates, relates in flashback the story of a married couple, Anthony (John Hurt) and Rachel Fielding (Susannah York), whose quiet, sedate life in the Devon countryside is interrupted by the arrival of a strange man named Crossley (Alan Bates). He invites himself to lunch one day and then stays on to dominate the couple through occult powers he has acquired while living with an aboriginal tribe in Australia. The narrator of the bizarre tale is none other than Crossley himself, who is now an inmate at the asylum and intent on recounting the recent turn of events to fellow cricket scorer Robert Graves (Tim Curry). Whether Crossley's story is a clear reflection of his madness or the revelations of a man with truly mystical powers remains an enigma up to the end, despite some indications that he is exactly what he claims to be. Yet Skolimowski's approach is deliberately ambiguous and one which plays mind games with the viewer while conjuring up a place and time that merges the real with the metaphysical.

Much ado was made about the complex and striking Dolby sound mix of The Shout prior to its release and, for those lucky enough to see it in a movie theatre, it was a marvel of aural distortion and separation, particularly in those sequences where Anthony, a composer of electronic music, was experimenting in his studio. The real showstopper though was Crossley's deafening shout which has the power to kill and does so, striking down a farmer and his entire flock of sheep in one disturbing sequence.

The Shout was the eighth feature film for Polish director Skolimowski, who became an international film festival favorite after Rysopis (aka Identification Marks: None), his debut feature in 1964 (he had previously directed several short films). In addition to Rysopis, Walkover (1965), Barrier (1966) and Le depart (1967) are considered key early achievements but his later work, when he dabbled in international productions such as The Adventures of Gerard (1970) and King, Queen, Knave (1972), an adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel starring David Niven, Gina Lollobrigida and John Moulder-Brown, has been more erratic. There were a few extraordinary exceptions, however, such as Deep End (1971), an inspired coming-of-age tale which combined quirky black humor with obsessive sexual longing; it was poorly distributed by Paramount and overlooked at the time, though it is now considered one of Skolimowski's most personal and innovative films.

After more than a decade of middling success and commercial failures, the director surprised everyone with The Shout; it won the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes and was his biggest critical success since le depart eleven years earlier. An independent film, distributed by The Rank Organization, The Shout was distinguished by an intelligent, literate script by Skolimowski and Michael Austin, which at times exudes the sinister atmosphere of a Harold Pinter play (The Birthday Party, The Servant). It also sports an avant-garde music score composed by Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford (two members of the rock group Genesis), stunning cinematography by Mike Molloy (Scandal [1989], The Hit [1984]) and an impeccable cast headed by Alan Bates, who is appropriately intense and menacing as Crossley. Cast in the role of the bewitched Rachel, Susannah York was already an internationally acclaimed actress for her work in such films as They Shoot Horses, Don't They? [1969] and Images [1972] but John Hurt as her baffled, rational-minded husband was just beginning to emerge as a major film actor which would be confirmed by the end of the decade in such films as Midnight Express [1978], Alien [1979] and The Elephant Man [1980]. Tim Curry, trying to broaden his range after being stereotyped by fans as Dr. Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show [1975], and Robert Stephens make the most of their small roles and, if you watch closely, you'll notice Jim Broadbent in the cricket match scenes as an inmate who goes bonkers during the lightning storm at the climax; it was his first film appearance.

When The Shout was released in the U.S., it was admired by many critics and dismissed by others as pretentious. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "a vivid, piercingly loud movie as well as an almost totally incoherent becomes so full of loose ends, contradictions, cryptic symbols and close-ups of objects that, at the moment, have no meaning, that one eventually tunes out of the narrative..." He did, however, find things to praise: "Charles, played by Mr. Bates with the great looney relish he brings to such roles, is brilliant." He also noted that it "is an elegant looking movie, nicely performed." More positive notices were posted by Variety which called it "gripping" and Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times who wrote "What makes the movie terrifying is the way in which the outback magic is introduced so naturally into the placid fabric of village life."

The Shout had a brief run on the arthouse circuit in the U.S. and then disappeared but its reputation has improved considerably since that time thanks to repertory screenings and reappraisals by film scholars. Skolimowski, who also occasionally works as an actor in such films as Volker Schlondorff's Circle of Deceit [1981] and Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls [2000], has enjoyed other critical successes since The Shout as represented by Moonlighting [1982] starring Jeremy Irons, Success Is the Best Revenge [1984] with Michael York, Anouk Aimee and John Hurt, and Cztery noce z Anna [English title, Four Nights with Anna, 2008], which won the special jury prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival and garnered three awards at the Polish Film Festival.

Producer: Jeremy Thomas
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Screenplay: Michael Austin, Jerzy Skolimowski; Robert Graves (story)
Cinematography: Mike Molloy
Art Direction: Simon Holland
Music: Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford
Film Editing: Barrie Vince
Cast: Alan Bates (Crossley), Susannah York (Rachel Fielding), John Hurt (Anthony Fielding), Robert Stephens (Medical Man), Tim Curry (Robert Graves), Julian Hough (Vicar), Carol Drinkwater (Wife), John Rees (Inspector), Jim Broadbent (Fielder in cowpat), Susan Wooldridge (Harriet), Nick Stringer (Cobbler).
C-86m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford