"Do you know how much this weekend's going to cost me? Two friends, thirty thousand dollars...and a WIFE."
In the fetid Venetian lagoons, two monsters lie in wait. He is Tyvian Jones, escapee from the South Wales valleys, blustering his virility around the continent on the back of an international best-seller plagiarised from his dead brother. She is Eva, lady about town, functional schizoid and nemesis in bold type. For the next hour or so we witness a man being systematically destroyed by his obsession for a woman.
In it's longest print the 1962 film "Eva" exists with Swedish & Finnish subtitles and a clutch of very mixed reviews. It left something of a black mark on the careers of all those involved in the making of it, yet within those footnotes remains a fascinating story.
In the month of his death, Rhondda-born actor Stanley Baker received the ultimate career accolade with the award of a knighthood. Forever engrained in the consciousness of the British cinema-going public for his role of Lt. Chard in the 1964 film "Zulu", Baker forged a reputation as a socially committed actors actor who could and should have followed the Connerys and Caines towards Hollywood action-man immortality. But having rejected the money by turning down the role of James Bond for fear of being typecast, Stanley Baker began the 1960's with the intention of bringing to life the vision of a director very much in tune with himself.
In Stanley Baker's Tyvian Jones the morose Celtic division of faux machismo and brooding self-hatred is perfectly encapsulated. The films charts the self-investigation of a man who knows he is living a lie. "Stranger From Hell" the title of his dead brother's slice of life pulp-fiction, features his name on the spine and his photo on the jacket but it is only in the title that Tyvian finds the awful truth. Far off in the distance lies marriage to a beautiful fiancé and a place in an establishment he can only dream about. But right before his eyes gaping cracks appear in an insecurity he is desperate to fill. This void is filled by Moreau's Eva, willing seductress through the necessity of earning money to live the life she must live. By turns childish and demonic, for Moreau it would be one of the finest performances of her career, her post-coital eyes staring balnkly through the smoke.
"Do you find me attractive?", she asks an exasperated Tyvian during one the film's many scences of desperate, doomed seduction.
"Mean...cruel...vicious...destructive", he answers.
In one scene as Eva leads Tyvian through dark Roman streets, we glimpse piazza and fountains reminiscent of Fellini's award-winning "La Dolce Vita", yet where in that film we recall an iconic embrace at dawn, in doomed "Eva" the lovers stumble down stairs into the hovel of a sleeping vagrant. There is nothing accidental about this fall. The scene also reminds us that "Eva" was Losey's shot at doing a Visconti or Antonioni or indeed Fellini. In the early 1960's Italy was where a film director made his international mark. Losey, Baker and Moreau were clearly fighting towards this end, the stakes were high and as the funds were withdrawn Baker found himself chipping in money from his own pocket. Like Tyvian with his repressed sensitivity, rash bursts of passion were beginning to consume reason.
The final director's cut of 155 minutes would never see the light of day. Allegedly butchered by the Hakim's down to the standard 103 minute theatrical release (though some have argued this was a conceit manufactured by a director who had already lost control). Today we have access to the Scandinavian cut which allows us 119 minutes though in markedly inferior stock. Critics have commented on the longeurs of even the shortest versions of the film so it's a moot point as to whether Losey's grand vision justified his final cut. Either way after moving on to greater things he would recoil in later years over his unrealised masterpiece. (He would describe the unseen full version as "almost an orgasm"!)
Upon it's release established opinion suggested "Eva" was fit only to lurk menacingly in the back-waters of the European cinema world, though plaudits were given to Moreau's expert performance. Yet it is Stanley Baker's portrayal of a seducer devoured who shines brightest nearly half a century on. The working class lad striking out at a time when the blurring of the classes suggested everything was up for grabs strikes a resounding note. To witness the disintegration of his very being acts as a bitter morality play of universal hubris. With another amour in-tow and Tyvian reduced to a lapdog, Eva's final put-down in Piazza St Marco reminds us of the film's unusual subject matter,
"Bloody Welshman!", she spits.
As a post-script it seems fitting to recall that the film's premiere ended as tortuously as its creation. In a split-level Paris cinema, Baker found himself downstairs before a non-plussed cross-section of the weary international press, whilst upstairs Losey partied with enough Anglo-Saxon chutzpah to suggest they'd carried the whole thing off. But the hangover from this film would last a long time.