Morgan: A Suitable Case for Mistreatment (1966): Karel Reisz Black Comedy, Starring Vanessa Redgrave in Oscar-Nominated Performance

Czech-born, London-based Karel Reisz’ black comedy Morgan (aka “Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment”) put the great Vanessa Redgrave at the forefront of international actresses, having appeared that year in Antonioni’s arthouse hit, “Blow-Up.”

Redgrave received the acting kudo from the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie world-premiered, and then her first Best Actress Oscar nomination, competing with her younger sister Lynn Redgrave, nominated for the anarchic comedy, “Georgy Girl.”

A quintessentially British film, sort of a combo of “Look Back in Anger” serio, angry mood and the lighter, frenzier touches of swinging, normless London, then at its height, the film was shot in black and white, even though color was the norm. David Mercer, who originally wrote the story for a TV drama called “A Suitable Case for Treatment,” adapted his play to the screen, while introducing a number of changes. By turning the lead into a lunatic, scribe Mercer and director Reisz not only discard any semblance of normalcy and order, but also carry their saga to the kinds of extremes that only young, adventurous viewers can embrace.

Tale centers on the lunatic efforts of a young left-wing painter, Morgan Delt (well-cast David Warner), who fantasizes he’s a gorilla in order to retrieve his divorced, upper class wife (Redgrave). Morgan spends most of his time daydreaming about swinging through the jungle, which upsets and then totally alienates his more educated wife. Images from “King Kong” and the “Tarzan” movies are interspersed in Morgan’s dream sequences.

Leonie secures a divorce, but Morgan, presumably in Greece, shows up on the day the papers are to be grantedand complications ensue. He claims he loves her and wants her back. Her simply can’t tolerate the fact that Leonie is engaged to Charles Napier (Robert Stephens, then Maggie Smith’s husband), a priggish art dealer, who’s closer to her in social class, life style, and taste.

Morgan’s efforts to win his wife in what could be described a s a variation on the Hollywood subgenre of the “comedy of remarriage,” includes bombs, skeletons, kidnapping, and clowning in gorilla suits.  He ultimately fails, and Leonie goes on to marry Napier.

However, at the end of the film, she visits Morgan at the mental institution where he is absorbed in his own form of Marxist horticulture and tells him that her unborn child is his.

The last image of the feature is both ambiguous and enigmatic, showing Leonie with a Mona Lisa smile on her face, and then a hammer and sickle motif.

Reisz’s helming is admirably courageous, even if his blend of realism, surrealism, and fantasy is not always successful, and his attempts at sophisticated humor show strain. The tone is consciously variegated, veering from light to heavy and back to light, resulting in a bizarre film that has become more outdated than many other UK films of the era. Truly a capsule of the late 1960s zeitgeist, “Morgan” is a film that could not have been made in the 1950sor 1970s, for that matter.

Sharply dividing critics, “Morgan” nonetheless became a college favorite, playing in film societies throughout the late 1960 and early, appealing to students with its character’s self-absorption, anarchic mood, and cultural nihilism that some of the more mainstream reviewers dismissed as sheer infantilism and self-indulgence.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Best Actress: Vanessa Redgrave

Costume Design (black/white): Jocelyn Rickards

Running time: 97 Minutes


Morgan Delt (David Mercer)
Leonie Delt (Vanessa Redgrave)
Charles Napier (Robert Stephens)
Mrs. Delt (Irene Handl)
Mr. Henderson (Newton Blick)
Mrs. Henderson (Nan Munro)
Policeman (Bernard Bresslaw)
Wally (Arthur Mullard)
Counsel (Graham Crowden)