best film:  Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963) features Akira Kurosawa-like frame compositions and William Wyler-like deep focus. In front of the camera, it is a brilliant sort of love triangle with Dirk Bogarde as Barrett, James Fox as Tony, and Sarah Miles as Vera. This is Bogarde’s best film, edging out strong contenders like Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Despair (1978).


best performance:  It is a Losey film, Visconti film and a Fassbinder film here again numbers one through three for Bogarde with Death in Venice taking the place of The Damned (moving that very strong performance down to the four slot).  Bogarde is stunning as Barrett in Losey’s complex relationship and class power struggle. The film would work powerfully with just the actors and Harold Pinter’s writing – even if it did not have Losey’s hefty accomplishment behind the camera and photographical genius. The answer here is The Servant.


By its definition, a strict two-hander has only two actors and The Servant has more of course.  But, the definition in cinema has led to a more open take for a film with dual leads like The Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and even 2019’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The Servant falls into this ladder, looser definition of the two-hander. And no offense to James Fox who plays Tony here, but unlike those other previously mentioned sensational two-hander references, The Servant is a two-hander where one actor is clearly levitating above the other from a talent and skill level.


stylistic innovations/traits:  Dirk Bogarde had an affinity for portraying tangled characters in a seemingly unending list of one word titled movies for some reason (Libel, Victim, Darling, Accident, Despair). There is a talent for portraying subtext here like Montgomery Clift or Jean-Louis Trintignant.  Bogarde was born in 1921 but really did not hit his stride until his 40s. The Oscars missed on Bogarde altogether – not a single nomination – but he was recognized often by the British equivalent (six-time BAFTA nominee). The fourteen (14) total archiveable films for Bogarde are a bit slight for this position on the list – but there is not much fat in those fourteen (14) films – not much in the realm of small part or cameo/uncredited work. He gets to show off in a dual role in Libel (there were not as many of these in the 1950s) – like Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers (1988) or Nicolas Cage in Adaptation (2002) but the real strength of Bogarde’s case when he gets to put that trademark rich character intricacy (and what a compliment to be known for that as a trademark for an actor) in a film (and with a director) that has the highest of artistic ambitions in mind as well (The Servant, Despair).


Despair (1978) is from a Vladimir Nabokov’s (Lolita) novel, starring Dirk Bogarde and shot by Michael Ballhaus (The Marriage of Maria Braun, Goodfellas) so there is talent spilling out all over the place. Bogarde plays a wealthy chocolatier named Herman in early 1930s Berlin. Hitler and the brown shirts are coming. Bogarde’s character becomes obsessed with escaping his life. He fantasizes about a doppelgänger, he sets up a scheme in his mind surrounding his wife and life insurance. Fassbinder had to have viewed the use of Bogarde (Death in Venice) as borrowing from Visconti – a major influence on Fassbinder. The Damned – also starring Bogarde – was one of Fassbinder’s favorite films. There is no better actor at putting on a false front while coming apart on the inside than Bogarde.


directors worked with: Joseph Losey (3), Luchino Visconti (2), John Schlesinger (1), John Frankenheimer (1), Alain Resnais (1), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1)


from Death in Venice (1971) – an achievement for Bogarde – such an intricate character – lust, pained. He is rude to everyone he talks to virtually.  Visconti mostly uses the slow zoom as his stylistic weapon as a way to portray Bogarde’s Gustav von Aschenbach’s mind, memory and gaze. Zooming in on his nuanced and often tortured face  – all in dialogue-free long sequences often eyeing the young Tadzio.


top five performances:

  1. The Servant
  2. Despair
  3. Death in Venice
  4. The Damned
  5. The Night Porter


archiveable films

1954- The Sleeping Tiger
1955- Cast a Dark Shadow
1959- Libel
1961- Victim
1963- The Servant
1965- Darling
1967- Accident
1968- The Fixer
1969- The Damned
1971- Death in Venice
1974- The Night Porter
1977- A Bridge Too Far
1977- Providence
1978- Despair