The Wicker Man can never decide on a tone. Director Hardy and writer Anthony Shaffer are both interested in minutiae of the film’s fictional setting, but never the same minutiae at the same time. Hardy is more interested in how the people live, cut off from the mainland, while Shaffer is more interested in how it all concerns the mystery.
Only Hardy isn’t much interested in the mystery. He’s too busy giving a folk feeling to a decidedly not folky setting. Stylistically, it’s a wonderful disconnect–a bunch of islanders, living in the modern world, but with ancient religious beliefs, all different ages, all apparently co-existing peaceably. The mysteriousness of the island, however, proves a problem as it’s supposed to be this utterly controlled environment–private property owned by lord Christopher Lee–yet Shaffer’s characters aren’t a bunch of isolates, they’re “normal.” Or normal enough the audience should be disturbed by them.
However, the unevenness aside, The Wicker Man’s a fine picture. Hardy does a good job directing–he and editor Eric Boyd-Perkins cut a constantly foreboding (but not necessarily threatening) experience, with Edward Woodward a solid lead. Woodward’s mainland police officer is sympathetic without being likable. The film sends him to the island in search of a missing girl; Woodward (and the viewer) are left to imagine her awful fate.
It should be more exploitative than it comes across. Hardy doesn’t exactly hurry through anything, but he keeps a different, brisker pace during certain sequences.
However, once Lee shows up, he starts running circles around Woodward. Lee’s not just better, he has a far better part. There’s a lot more he can do with it, while Woodward’s pretty much stuck.
There’s some good support from Britt Ekland, who has a sense of humor about it. Lee has one too. It helps–especially since Diane Cilento and Ingrid Pitt, as blonde harpies meant to fill Woodward’s mind with impure thoughts, play it all way too seriously.
The Wicker Man has numerous significant rewards (like when Harry Waxman’s photography gets to shine), even if it stalls quite often on Shaffer’s various narrative shortcuts.
Directed by Robin Hardy; written by Anthony Shaffer; director of photography, Harry Waxman; edited by Eric Boyd-Perkins; music by Paul Giovanni; produced by Peter Snell; released by British Lion Film Corporation.
Starring Edward Woodward (Sergeant Howie), Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle), Diane Cilento (Miss Rose), Britt Ekland (Willow), Ingrid Pitt (Librarian), Irene Sunters (May Morrison) and Lindsay Kemp (Alder MacGreagor).