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Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment


‘…there’s always something going on here, and the politics are often confounding…’

Let’s start as we mean to go on; by digression. When I was a kid, I learned a great deal about movies and criticism from ye old Halliwell’s Film Guide, updated annually, a publication listing all known films with pithy, out-dated opinions to boot. Pretty much no films got a four star rating after 1966, modernity was not something that appealed to Leslie Halliwell, and so, by his own reckoning, the only great film made between 1966 and 1987 was…Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment.

I saw this film on a weekday morning on STV, absent from school after a minor car accident. It’s out-of-time black and whiteness hadn’t helped secure a reputation. David Warner starred as Morgan, an artist with atavistic tendencies; David Mercer’s first draft has been a tv play in which the protagonist was a writer, but perhaps that was too close for comfort. In this more cartoonish, chunkier version, Morgan starts out by trying to take the proverbial out of his posho wife Leonie, played with real verve by Vanessa Redgrave. He hides a skeleton in her bed, and sets up other pranks to annoy her. His wife wants a divorce so she can marry an art gallery-owner (a perfectly cast Robert Stephens), so Morgan’s hostility is understandable, even if his methods aren’t. He ends up escaping from hospital to disrupt her wedding in a gorilla costume.

Karel Reisz’s film is a curiosity to be sure; with a cool jazz score by Johnny Dankworth, plus support from Arthur Mullard and Irene Handl as Morgan’s communist mother and her beau, there’s always something going on here, and the politics are often confounding. Yet Morgan’s disaffection caught a certain mood in 1966 from all accounts, this film garnered Oscar nominations, and yet it’s quite forgotten now. One reason is that there’s an unpleasant edge to the way that Morgan torments his wife; his ‘jokes’ about legal ways for a man to ‘control’ his wife don’t just fall flat, but seem quite appalling now.

For a film once deemed so vital, Morgan’s reputation seems as diminished as the anti-hero’s art itself; this film has been forgotten, although Ben Wheatley paid tribute to it in his recent High Rise, so maybe a BFI re-issue could be on the cards. It’s a revolutionary work, but not in a good way; it exists on the cusp of infantile regression, predating the swinging-sixties and the rise of the idiot youth as a cultural guide. It’s a comedy which now seems to have less to offer in terms of laughs than in serious intent; seen in 2020, Morgan is a suitable case for treatment, and deservedly so.

Thanks to Studio Canal for access to this film.


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  1. I’m not particularly interested in watching this, but I do have to admit that I a teeny bit curious about him driving a motorcycle in a monkey suit to disrupt a wedding. It sounds like it has real comic potential.

    • Will be keen to see what you think. Leans a little heavily on the male POV, and is a little too mcuh in love with Morgan’s negative attitude, but it’s worth seeing to see what a British kind of revolutionary was in 1966. Citizen Smith but without the politics, although Morgan’s ‘parents’ are worth a review by themselves…

  2. I know he isn’t fashionable, but I loved Halliwell. My copy of the Guide fell apart from overuse. He really had his biases, but you always knew where he was coming from. Morgan hasn’t dated as well.

    • He couldn’t be less fashionable. But he was a one man encyclopedia, which does make his views, turgid as they are from the mid-sixties onwards, interesting to see what happens when he loses his thread on cinema. It falls apart when they start second guessing his opinions after his death, and altering the star ratings in a wildly inconsistent way. I’ve had fun with frinds writing miserable Halliwell-style reviews of popular films. Toy Story; Tiresome animation for easily pleased kids; the characters lack moral standards and appear to have crawled out from under rocks.

      • I couldn’t look at the Guides after he died. The new editor(s) couldn’t fill his shoes. Those pithy one-sentence smackdowns are actually hard to write. I seem to remember him saying of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter “would to God the title meant what it said.”

        • They really made a bodge of it. I’ve got one from after his death, which a few switched ratings; the useful bit are the reviews from elsewhere after each major title, which often express opinions hard to find….

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