A RADA Curious Western
"The Singer Not the Song" is one of the most curious movies I have watched, well a movie which features Dirk Bogarde as a Mexican bandit speaking English like a thespian, wearing tight leather pants and acting camp when not stroking a cat like a Bond villain should be curious in anyone's books. Dirk Bogarde's camp portrayal of an evil bandit is not the only curious thing about the movie and to be totally honest it is a mess of a movie. But because "The Singer Not the Song" is a mess it is curious, you can read things into it, you make assumptions about certain characters and it makes it strangely entertaining for all the wrong reasons.
Sent to a Mexican village to take over from Father Gomez (Leslie French), Father Michael Keogh (John Mills - Swiss Family Robinson) discovers that the town is under the control of Mexican bandit Anacleto Comachi (Dirk Bogarde - Campbell's Kingdom) who strikes fear into the residents and dislikes the church. Determined to defeat Anacleto and make the church the centre of the village once again Anacleto is intrigued by Keogh and whether it his belief or the man himself which makes him so determined.
So "The Singer Not the Song" is really a movie of two stories with the first being the preacher coming to town to take over the church and having to deal with the Mexican bandit who rules the town by fear. Sounds a little familiar and in many ways it is but this isn't a preacher who reaches for a gun but one whose faith is strong and refuses to be intimidated taking the fight to Anacleto Comachi by preaching in the streets and standing his ground. And this develops into Anacleto being fascinated by Father Keogh, wanting to know whether it is his belief in the word of God or just how he is which makes him such a determined and fearless man.
That is basically the first half of "The Singer Not the Song" the second half revolves around a love triangle because local beauty Locha has fallen for Father Keogh but he is oblivious to this and thinks maybe she is in love with Anacleto. Anacleto on the other hand is not so oblivious and knows that Locha has feelings for Keogh and maybe Keogh has feelings for her but because of his religious position ignores them. It goes back and forth, with Anacleto using what he knows to try and get his way but is all a bit messy and convoluted.
That is the thing about "The Singer Not the Song" it is a messy movie with things not quite gelling. And in a way it comes down to the rather strange characterisation of Anacleto because we have Dirk Bogarde playing a Mexican bandit but delivering a very RADA accent. Not only that we have him in the tightest of leather pants and make suggestive movements, caressing pages, looking longingly, hand on the hip, playing with a whip and even stroking a cat. It is basically a very camp performance which almost suggests that Anacleto fancies Father Keogh but in such a serious movie such campness feels out of place.
Dirk Bogarde is not the only curiosity because John Mills as Father Keogh has an accent which goes from perfect English most of the time to the occasionally hint of an Irish twang. It just doesn't work and nor do the scenes which Mills shares with Bogarde and you get a sense that neither actor got on with the other. Add to the mix the sexy MylÃ¨ne Demongeot as Locha whose French accent dominates much of her performance and it is all a bit of a strange mismatch. Maybe director Roy Ward Baker was intentionally trying to mix things up with the wrong accents and strange performances but it makes it all a bit laughable.
What this all boils down to is that "The Singer Not the Song" is a rather strange movie with elements of a western but not really a western and with some very strange performances. As such it is entertaining but more for being curious than for being good.