Crimes Against Cinema is a blog devoted primarily to bad and “B” movies, but I’m going to break that rule for now. This movie wasn’t successful in it’s time, but to me it’s a classic and I feel it is imperative that it be a part of your life.
The Ruling Class (1972) is a political satire about out of touch wealthy people squeezing the kindness and love out of someone to further their interests. It’s a healthy dose of catharsis moving into 2017. It is co-written and staring Peter O’Toole. He plays Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, an aristocrat who believes he is the god of love. Oh, and the movie is a musical.
Jack inherits his title when his father suddenly dies. His relatives believe he is totally unfit to run the estate. They tell him that all this love nonsense he keep talking about makes him look insane in modern times. They keep pushing him to adapt and he does. But not in the way they were expecting.
The most important and biting element in The Ruling Class (1972) is its examination of what makes a person suitable for modern times. It’s chilling, darkly comedic, and surreal all at once.
It’s chilling because of how well it depicts the poisonous nature of the aristocracy. At one point Jack’s relatives force him into marriage to that they can get an heir. After which Jack will be irrelevant and they’ll have him committed. This aristocracy happens to be familial, but it’s shocking how close it is to corporate mismanagement and apathy toward the people’s interests. There’s always talk of how ruling through fear is the only way to keep the weak, corruptible common herd in line.
The movie’s dark comedy comes, at first, in seeing Jack’s relative’s inability to fathom him and how early plans seem to harm everyone but Jack. And later from how well their plans have worked and how powerless they were to stop the monster they’ve created.
The Ruling Class‘s (1972) surreal nature is most clearly on display when musical numbers erupt from cast members like tremors. These numbers play two important roles. One is simply to take the piss out of the stuffy English upper-crust. The other and more important role is to convey Jack’s mental standing throughout the film. Two numbers that show clear change in his character are The Varsity Drag and Dem Bones. The Varsity Drag comes early in the film while Dem Bones shows how well Jack is adjusting to his family’s definition of a modern man.
The one weak area of the movie is it’s sound design. The British are notorious for having poor sound design and this movie is no exception. The volume levels will change noticeably in some scene’s dialogue and others have hard cuts in sound. The rest of the technical aspects of the film are fine. The cinematography, lighting, sets, costumes and acting are all excellent.
Overall, I’d say the movie is is close to being a masterpiece. It lets me have a morbid laugh, but in that I find great comfort and I hope you will too. If they felt as though a new era of brutal rule and flagrant disregard for tolerance was coming back in 1972 and survived, then maybe the same can be said for 2017.