Saturday 8 June 2024

The Fourth Man (De Vierde Man) (1983)


Den fjerde mand

If I could give this movie a subtitle, it would be “Hitchcock in Dutch”. Hitchcock on acid with plenty of nudity, gory violence, some gay sex and plenty of religious symbolism, bordering on the blasphemous. Is it good? I do not know, but it is very much Verhoeven.

Jeroen Krabbé (who for me will always be the villain in “The Fugitive”) is Gerard Reve, a fiction writer of renown, but also a man with quite a few... issues. In short order these are: alcoholism, visions, obsession with catholic symbols, with death and his bisexuality. The first half hour of the movie is essentially a rundown of all the things that trouble this fellow.

Gerard is going from Amsterdam to the port town of Vlissingen to give a speech to the local book club. As it gets a bit late, he is offered to stay overnight with the treasurer of the club, the cosmetologist Christine Halsslag (Renée Soutendijk). She is a very delicious woman and a widow, so the night is well spent together, and we get see all of the pretty Ms. Soutendijk, literally. Gerard is also easily talked into spending a few extra days.

In the course of his stay, Gerard wants to write a story abut Christine. He finds out that she is also seeing a handsome young man called Herman. Gerard instantly falls in love with Herman and talks Christine into fetching him from Germany. While she is away, Gerard gets ridiculously drunk and learns, from Christine’s home movies, that she was married not once, but thrice and that they all died horrible deaths.

Christine returns with Herman, plenty of sex ensues and Gerard gets convinced he will be the fourth man.

“The Fourth Man” (“De vierde man”) references Hitchcock extensively. “Vertigo” and “Rear Window” is easy to recognize, but there are elements from quite a few more. The platin blonde girl, the witness to murder, the confusing signs, the even more confused potential victim and so on. The references queue up and I can imagine a sport of spotting them. This is not a spoof of Hitchcock, but more like fanfiction with a lot of oomph. All the elements get an extra notch or two in volume.

This is particularly the case with the Verhoeven staples. Our lead, Gerard is a very flawed character. We may understand him, but with his extreme qualities, it is difficult to sympathize with him. The religious symbols stack up, but also seem to be a red herring. They lead our attention, but apparently to nowhere and at the end may only be a product of Gerard’s delirium.  There is a lot of sex, hints of sex, sex motives and full-frontal nudity of both genders. Very Dutch. The function of the nudity is a bit obscure though, and besides the shock value, I think it is mostly used to intensify Gerard’s delirium.

From a murder mystery point of view, we are presented with the very Hitchcockian question of whether or not murders were committed or if it is only in the head of the potential fourth victim. Yet, I get the feeling that Verhoeven is less interested in this question and a lot more focussed on following, with some glee, the deroute of his protagonist. This is all about a guy going crazy.  

I do like a murder mystery, and I do love some Hitchcock, but I do not share the excitement of watching a guy go crazy. Gerard needed help to begin with and by the end he is a raving lunatic. Is that fun? Or exciting? He is playing with fire and losing, but he was losing from the very beginning and that makes this just a very sad movie with some sex and violence.

After this movie Verhoeven went on to Hollywood and among his later movies was the remake of “The Fourth Man”: “Basic Instinct”. All everybody talked about was how we saw a little too much of Sharon Stone, but frankly, it is peanuts compared to the original.

A little too Dutch for me I suppose.


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