The 4th Man

The 4th Man (1983)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Jeroen Krabbe, Renee Soutendijk
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer, Storyboards, Talent Bios

When is an art film not an art film? When the filmmakers go out of their way to make an art film. During the audio commentary for ’The 4th Man’, director Paul Verhoeven admits that because Dutch critics had blasted all of his previous films, he and his partners decided to make a film that was overflowing with artistic symbolism. The resulting film was ’The 4th Man’ and ironically, the critics in Holland loved it! I was very surprised to learn this, because for me, it’s the visuals and the symbolism, along with the great story, that make ’The 4th Man’ work.

’The 4th Man’ stars Jeroen Krabbe as Gerard Reve (the actual name of the author who wrote the source novella), a novelist, who is also an alcoholic and a homosexual. He is invited to a seaside town to speak to a literary society. There, he meets Christine (Renee Soutendijk). Gerard goes home with Christine, and becomes her lover (mostly due to the fact that he’s broke and she has food & alcohol). Gerard soon becomes obsessed with Christine’s other boyfriend, Herman (Thom Hoffman), and uses Christine to pursue Herman. At the same time, Gerard begans to learn more about Christine’s past. She tells him that she’s been married once and that she inherited her money from her husband, but Gerard begins to suspect that she’s not telling the truth. Gerard soon finds himself surrounded by symbols of death and he dreams of a mysterious woman in blue. Is Gerard really in danger, or is this part of his alcoholism? Could Christine be a killer?

Parallels can easily be drawn between ’The 4th Man’ and Verhoeven’s later hit, ’Basic Instinct’, except that ’The 4th Man’ is actually a good movie. (And, of course, that Americans would never stand for a bisexual protagonist.) The beauty of ’The 4th Man’ is that it can be enjoyed on two levels. The overly done symbolism mentioned earlier really is the core of the film. Verhoeven, writer Gerard Soeteman, and cinematographer Jan de Bont (yes, the director of ’Speed’ and ’Twister’), have combined their talents to fill the movie with many images, mostly religious (or sacreligious, depending on your view). But, also, the story is quite intriguing, and Verhoeven does a good job of slowly revealing the truth (?) about Christine. Despite the abundance of casual male nudity (!), ’The 4th Man’ is a visual feast, which also offers an engrossing story.

Anchor Bay brings ’The 4th Man’ to DVD with exciting results. The film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen, and is letterboxed at 1.66:1. The image is sharp and clear, although is does seem a bit dark at time. There are no overt defects from the source print, but there is some subtle grain in the daytime shots. The colors really stand out in the transfer, most noticably the red of Christine’s dress and the mysterious blue door which Gerard must enter. The audio on the DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono, which offers crisp dialogue and no popping on the soundtrack. The English subtitles are yellow, and despite the fact that they are on the image, easy to read.

’The 4th Man’ DVD features an audio commentary by director Paul Verhoeven. As usual, Verhoeven is very animated, and being the veteran of many commentaries, knows exactly what the listener wants to hear, juggling stories about how the film was made and what the movie is supposed to be about. The theatrical trailer for ’The 4th Man’ is included and it’s letterboxed at 1.66:1 as well. Some of Verhoeven’s original storyboards are presented here, and there are biographies for the director and the two lead actors. The DVD package contains extensive liner notes tracing the careers of those involved with the film, as well as the real Gerard Reve. This is certainly one eye-popping DVD!