The 1965 film, Rapture, is an odd one.
It takes place in France, largely at an isolated home sitting on a cliff above the Brittany coast. Frederick Larbaud (Melvyn Douglas) is a former judge who has largely retreated from society. He lives in his house with his teenager daughter, Agnes (Patricia Gozzi) and his promiscuous housekeeper, Karen (Gunnel Lindbloom). He’s a stern man, one who is obviously struggling to overcome a vaguely defined personal tragedy. He is very overprotective of his daughter, Agnes.
As for Agnes, she alternates between moments of childish immaturity and moments of surprising clarity. She’s the type who still plays with dolls but who also casually tosses them over the cliff so that they can shatter on the rocks below. She seems to be naive and innocent but, at the same time, she’s also capable of blackmailing Karen and threatening to tell her father that Karen’s boyfriend sneaks into the house at night. When the sheltered Agnes gets her father’s permission to make a scarecrow for the garden, she throws herself into the work, even going so far as to flirt with the scarecrow after it’s been built.
Meanwhile, a sailor named Joseph (Dean Stockwell) has been arrested for getting into a fight during a drunken night on the town. While he’s being transported to jail, the prison bus runs off the road. Joseph escapes from the bus and runs up a hill, passing by Frederick, Agnes, and Karen. Though the police manage to seriously wound Joseph, he still escapes.
Later that night, during a violent storm, Agnes is shocked to see that her scarecrow has vanished. While she’s out searching for it, she comes across a delirious Joseph. Because Joseph has stolen the scarecrow’s clothes, Agnes decides that her scarecrow has come to life and, as a result, Joseph belongs to her. Surprisingly, Frederick expresses no reservations about allowing Joseph to stay at the house while he recovers from his gunshot wound.
Once Joseph recovers, he explains to Frederick what happened and says that he should probably turn himself in and hope for the best. Frederick, however, disagrees. It turns out that Frederick has an agenda of his own and part of that agenda is revealing that brutality of the police. He continues to allow Joseph to hide out at his house but little does Frederick know that Joseph is falling in love with Agnes (and, of course, Agnes still thinks that Joseph is her scarecrow come to life).
Rapture took me by surprise. When the film started, I honestly thought it was going to be unbearably pretentious and I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence when I discovered that the film was directed by John Guillermin, a prolific British director whose career spanned from the 50s and the 80s but whose overall output is not particularly highly regarded among film historians. With its obvious debt to Ingmar Bergman, Rapture did not seem like the type of movie that one would expect to be successfully directed by the 1960s equivalent of Taylor Hackford. And, it should be said, that the first fourth of the film is rather pretentious and a bit silly. The black-and-white cinematography is frequently gorgeous and atmospheric but Agnes’s eccentricity often feels overwritten and it seems to take forever for Joseph to actually show up at the house.
However, things get better. The film, itself, doesn’t become any less pretentious but eventually Joseph starts to fall for Agnes and the chemistry between Dean Stockwell and Patricia Gozzi is strong enough that it carries the viewer over the film’s rough spots. The film becomes less about how strange Agnes is and more about a sheltered girl falling in love for the first time and, freed from the inconsistency that marred her characterization during the first part of Rapture, Patricia Gozzi’s performance starts to click as Agnes becomes relatable and even sympathetic.
The film hits a high point when Joseph and Agnes try to start a life for themselves away from Agnes’s father and we watch a lengthy montage of their steadily deteriorating relationship. In a manner of minutes, we witness how quickly the intrusion of the real world threatens to cause their too perfect romance to go awry. Most of the montage is made up of overhead shots and it captures the feeling of two naive lovers being overwhelmed by the difficulties of living in the real world. With each movement of the camera, we feel Agnes and Joseph’s world getting a little bit more claustrophobic and a little more threatening.
The film ends on a sad note, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone watching. From the minute that Agnes leads a wounded Joseph into the house, we know that their love is doomed. That said, it’s still a rather odd ending and one that raises more questions than it answers. It’s a strange ending for a strange film and it’s one that will stick with you long after you watch it.