The Devils. 1971. Directed & Written by Ken Russell.
Starring Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave, Dudley Sutton, Max Adrian, and Gemma Jones.
Rated X (original U.K & U.S release). 117 mins (restored cut).
★★ (DVD release)
I know people act grand about films sometimes, like they’re the be all end all of life, but sometimes they just are. The Devils is one such film for me. I love everything about it, and I always hope to hear more people are seeing it. Recently I got a copy of it on DVD. Though it’s not the full version, it does have a few of the cut scenes. I have seen the completely uncut version before. It was glorious.First of all, this was my introduction to Ken Russell. I’ve since seen a few more of his films, and I’ve got to say, at the very least Russell is intriguing. I mean, I know why some people feel how they feel about his work in general. It’s all a bit wild when it comes down to it. I haven’t seen all his films, but what I’ve seen has been intense. I think he’s got magic in him.
The Devils is a visual treat. There’s something so medieval even about the way it’s filmed. This is also the film where I fell in love with both Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave. There are several really good performances here; it’s like an orgy of near over-the-top acting, but just near enough to still be cracking. However, it’s Redgrave and Reed who really knock this one out into the parking lot. They’re intense, real, raw, emotional. Redgrave, as a fanatical, Manson family-esque nun, is astounding, and though I love her films I really think this is the one role where she really gets me the most.
Reed- where do I start? The man is one of the most intense, wild actors on and off the screen in the history of film, as far as I’m concerned. Here he plays the priest Urbain Grandier, accused of possessing a group of nuns and basically sexually destroying them, or so the nuns claim anyways. He does an amazing job, and some of the scenes are just agonizing to watch him in.
What gets me here is the plot. It is based on true events; another stellar film, Mother Joan of the Angels, is based upon the same event. What I enjoy is how gritty the story is, and how terrifying the sense of religious power overtaking all these people is. It often reminds me of similar feelings I get while reading or watching Arthur Miller’s The Crucible; the injustice and inhumanity, the lack of free thinking, rational thought of any kind, is just mind boggling and so frustrating. It really makes for a great film, combined with Ken Russell’s visionary work. I highly recommend anybody seeing this- even if you can’t see the fully uncut version, it’s still worth it.
Yet I still urge you to see it uncut, with The Rape of the Christ scene still in tact; that’s the ultimate viewing of Russell’s The Devils.
As far as the DVD goes, this particular release is not great. It came advertising it included all the uncut scenes, and it did not. It did however have some, as I said earlier, of the cut scenes in many of the versions still around. The Rape of the Christ is by far one of the most controversial scenes, I would say, ever. It’s too bad this DVD was advertised incorrectly. I wish someone would finally put the film together in its proper state and release a good print. As far as I’m aware, this hasn’t been done. I couldn’t find it. Please – if I’m wrong, correct me in the comments. Because I would love to be able to get my hands on the right copy. This film deserves to be seen fully uncut. I mean, the quality is great and I’m happy with that, but it would be nice to have the fully uncut copy Ken Russell intended to be seen.
I’d have to give this DVD release a 2 out of 5 stars, unfortunately, but that being said I give The Devils as a film a full 5 out of 5 stars. Without a doubt. I’d just suggest really being sure of the copy you’re buying before you purchase this film. A lot of copies out there claiming to be fully uncut yet they are not. Beware. If you can find a legitimate copy, totally uncut, I suggest snatching it up quickly, and heading back to your DVD player, just as quickly if not quicker, to enjoy this wonderful film.