Bartleby


1h 18m 1970

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
1970

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 18m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
1970

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 18m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Articles

Bartleby (1970) on DVD


On first, second, and third glance, Herman Melville's classic short story, Bartleby the Scrivener, about a lowly copier who keeps showing up for his office job even though he refuses to do any work, doesn't appear to be prime screen material. Sure, there's conflict, which every script needs in order to keep moving forward. If you insist on telling your bewildered boss that you'd "prefer not to" whenever he gives you an assignment, conflict is pretty much guaranteed. But Bartleby is such a freakishly withdrawn character, he barely exists as a person. Though that seems to be the entire point, after his fourth or fifth tortured shrug in response to a direct order from the person who signs his paycheck, you basically just want to smack him.

This one works better on paper, no doubt about it. So God only knows why it's been filmed so many times (The Internet Movie Database lists six versions!), the most recent attempt being an intolerable 2001 mess featuring Crispin Glover, the crown prince of grating annoyance. Image Entertainment's new DVD release of the 1972 British version, Bartleby, hues closely to Melville's original story while changing the setting to London in the early 70s. Paul Scofield gives his usual crisp performance as Bartleby's bewildered boss, a dapper professional who, rather unbelievably, seems stymied by Bartleby's good manners. It's a lot more watchable than the Glover version while remaining a test of even the most committed Melville fan's patience.

John McEnery plays Bartleby, an inwardly-directed former "dead letter office" postal worker who answers a help wanted ad for an audit clerk. Common sense is immediately tossed out the window when Scofield interviews the applicant. Bartleby's non-answers are so bewildering, no one in their right mind would hire him. Nevertheless, Scofield does, then grows obsessed with the young man when he draws so far into himself he politely but resolutely refuses to do the most simple tasks around the office. He just sits at his desk, staring into the middle distance. When his increasingly agitated co-workers confront him about it, he can barely connect with them.

This might make for more interesting viewing if Bartleby were an evocative, false wisdom-spouting zero, like Peter Sellers' Chance the Gardener in Being There. Instead, he's a walking dead letter office, a black hole where possibilities go to die. You sense that, even when he gets placed in a mental hospital, we're supposed to be picking up life lessons from him. But what you really learn is that stories about people who don't do things are a great deal less cinematic than stories about people who do. At least Scofield's character grows more complex as time goes on, and he becomes increasingly perplexed by Bartleby's enigmatic behavior.

Image Entertainment hasn't done much to gussy this one up. The print is unexceptional, with occasional scratches marring the image, and the Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is run of the mill for a film of this age. Extras include the original shooting script and a release script, a production essay by director Anthony Friedmann, some reviews of the film, and Melville's original short story...or so I'm told. I had problems assessing these features on my perfectly functional PowerBook G4 so you might want to check and see if you have similar issues with the disk. If it's defective, the folks at Image Entertainment need to know.

For more information about Bartleby, visit Image Entertainment. To order Bartleby, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Tatara

Bartleby (1970) On Dvd

Bartleby (1970) on DVD

On first, second, and third glance, Herman Melville's classic short story, Bartleby the Scrivener, about a lowly copier who keeps showing up for his office job even though he refuses to do any work, doesn't appear to be prime screen material. Sure, there's conflict, which every script needs in order to keep moving forward. If you insist on telling your bewildered boss that you'd "prefer not to" whenever he gives you an assignment, conflict is pretty much guaranteed. But Bartleby is such a freakishly withdrawn character, he barely exists as a person. Though that seems to be the entire point, after his fourth or fifth tortured shrug in response to a direct order from the person who signs his paycheck, you basically just want to smack him. This one works better on paper, no doubt about it. So God only knows why it's been filmed so many times (The Internet Movie Database lists six versions!), the most recent attempt being an intolerable 2001 mess featuring Crispin Glover, the crown prince of grating annoyance. Image Entertainment's new DVD release of the 1972 British version, Bartleby, hues closely to Melville's original story while changing the setting to London in the early 70s. Paul Scofield gives his usual crisp performance as Bartleby's bewildered boss, a dapper professional who, rather unbelievably, seems stymied by Bartleby's good manners. It's a lot more watchable than the Glover version while remaining a test of even the most committed Melville fan's patience. John McEnery plays Bartleby, an inwardly-directed former "dead letter office" postal worker who answers a help wanted ad for an audit clerk. Common sense is immediately tossed out the window when Scofield interviews the applicant. Bartleby's non-answers are so bewildering, no one in their right mind would hire him. Nevertheless, Scofield does, then grows obsessed with the young man when he draws so far into himself he politely but resolutely refuses to do the most simple tasks around the office. He just sits at his desk, staring into the middle distance. When his increasingly agitated co-workers confront him about it, he can barely connect with them. This might make for more interesting viewing if Bartleby were an evocative, false wisdom-spouting zero, like Peter Sellers' Chance the Gardener in Being There. Instead, he's a walking dead letter office, a black hole where possibilities go to die. You sense that, even when he gets placed in a mental hospital, we're supposed to be picking up life lessons from him. But what you really learn is that stories about people who don't do things are a great deal less cinematic than stories about people who do. At least Scofield's character grows more complex as time goes on, and he becomes increasingly perplexed by Bartleby's enigmatic behavior. Image Entertainment hasn't done much to gussy this one up. The print is unexceptional, with occasional scratches marring the image, and the Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is run of the mill for a film of this age. Extras include the original shooting script and a release script, a production essay by director Anthony Friedmann, some reviews of the film, and Melville's original short story...or so I'm told. I had problems assessing these features on my perfectly functional PowerBook G4 so you might want to check and see if you have similar issues with the disk. If it's defective, the folks at Image Entertainment need to know. For more information about Bartleby, visit Image Entertainment. To order Bartleby, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Tatara

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