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Joseph Losey's restored 'Accident' high on shock value

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Joseph Losey's 1967 'Accident' back in theaters after a British Film Institute restoration

Based on a Nicholas Mosley novel adapted by Harold Pinter early in his screenwriting career (after a decade as a playwright), Joseph Losey's "Accident" shared the Grand Prize at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival. The film was restored by the British Film Institute in 2009 to celebrate the centenary of Losey and lands back in theaters this weekend.

Dirk Bogarde stars as Stephen, an Oxford professor undergoing a midlife crisis. In the opening scene, his pupils William (Michael York, in one of his first screen roles) and Anna (Jacqueline Sassard) flip their car sideways while en route to visit Stephen. Flashbacks reveal that Stephen has fancied Anna while deliberately steering her toward both his media-savvy colleague, Charley (Stanley Baker), and William.

The story turns out to be an elaborate contest in which every man strains to one-up the other via professional accomplishment, alcohol tolerance, athletic prowess and sexual conquest. But each one has met his match in Anna, a femme fatale who can play a man like a fiddle.

"Accident" seems like an early prototype for Neil LaBute plays but without their infuriating provocations and ugly morale. The film doesn't lack for shock value, as Stephen finally asserts dominance over Anna with — spoiler alert — an act of violence. But the film glosses over this heinous transgression by downplaying her trauma. The film's didactic indifference also makes it unclear whether Stephen ups the ante or gets his comeuppance in the end.

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"Accident"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's Royal, West Los Angeles.

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