A slightly amended version of the original review: One of the most enduring and pertinent films of the British film invasion of the 1960s, Karel Reisz’s Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) is the first such film that combines comedy, charm and a sense of something deeply disturbing in just about equal measure. The freewheeling, cheeky exuberance of Richard Lester’s Beatles films starts to turn nasty here. The idea that the Beatles tried to act sane in an insane world finds an extension — and an unnerving one — in Morgan Delt (David Warner in his signature role). Morgan is an iconoclastic young painter with a simian fixation, a communist background and some increasingly obvious mental problems that are exacerbated when his rich wife, Leonie (Vanessa Redgrave), divorces him. As madcap gives way to madness, the film paints a less-than-lovely image of the youth culture — while, amazingly, never losing sight of its appeal and its merits, and staying within the playful confines of Brit-invasion, creative filmmaking style.
Morgan offers an early critique of the emptier side of the counterculture. Our hero Morgan has been raised along strict communist party lines by his constantly grumbling (“I’ll never get any peace in this world and I don’t believe in the next”) mother (Irene Handl), but he has reduced her Marxist teachings to the colorful trappings and empty revolutionary symbols of the hammer and sickle, red stars on train engines and the song “The Red Flag” (much like any jingoist “patriot”). He certainly has no qualms whatsoever about living well off Leonie’s money. In essence, he’s the embodiment of the revolutionist whose primary interest is strictly his own self-indulgence. And yet, he strangely remains the hero of the film — in itself something of a comment on society. Possibly even more disturbing is the fact that the youth of 1966 accepted him as someone with whom they could identify. Much like its hero, the film is brilliantly unbalanced.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment Friday, Dec. 6, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com.