Film Reviews:

The Fourth Man/De Vierde Man

(Paul Verhoeven, Holland, 1983)

Verhoeven's highly-regarded thriller based upon Gerard Reve's popular Dutch novel is a fascinating if slightly remote film. The opening image of a fly caught in a spider's web is an obvious but effective visual summation of the plot. A beautiful blonde (Renée Soutendijk), who may or may not have killed three husbands, lures gay writer Gerard Reve (Jeroen Krabbé) into her bed despite already having a young lover. Using her captivating charms, she convinces the writer to stay with her, but it isn't long before he begins to discover disturbing details of the deaths of her three husbands.

Novelist Reve also co-wrote the film (with Gerard Soeteman) and one can't help but wonder about the naming the lead character. Having finally caught up with The Fourth Man after many years of reading about it, some of the praise heaped upon it seems rather excessive. Comparisons to Buñuel, Hitchcock and others are understandable but lazily flippant. That's not to say it isn't a good film. It is. Most successful, beyond Krabbé's excellent performance, is the slightly off-kilter, ever so subtly surreal world cleverly realised by Verhoeven. The world in which Reve moves in is slightly out of step, slightly out of phase with our own. His prescient hallucinations do subtly recall those (Dali landscapes) of Hitchcock's Spellbound but are anchored much more in conventional reality. Yet they exude a palpable sense of foreboding most brilliantly captured when, from a bunch of red roses held by a woman, what looks like the barrel of a gun emerges only to twist sideways and reveal itself to be a key. Loek Dikker's superb score also brings Hitchcock's films to mind in that it is Bernard Hermannesque in both stature and effect. The dialogue is ripe with great lines like Reve's "I lie the truth" and there is a wonderfully poetic feel to the whole thing. A young Jan (Speed, Twister, etc.) de Bont is behind the effective camera work.

Rob Dyer

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