THE ASSASSINATION OF TROTSKY, starring Richard Burton, Alain Delon, Romy Schneider; screenplay by Nicholas Moseley. Directed by JOSEPH LOSEY. Distributed by Anglo—EMI.
Joseph Losey makes films about the human condition and this time he has turned his attention to the personal dilemma of those who live the falsest lives of all, politicians, and more particularly Trotsky, who in 1941 was living in exile in Mexico, ageing, ill and living in terror of being assassinated. Not only is he in exile from Russia, but from the idealism he supposedly stood for. He is in every sense living in an ivory tower. His house is surrounded by a high wall which is patrolled by American guards, and inside an inverted Trotsky strides about talking like an academic book, recording his ‘left words’ for Time and Life magazines, periodically pausing for bourgeois little tea parties. A fine madness. While Trotsky is locked away from the proletariat he claims to represent, in the streets outside Mexico is expressing its dilemma. As quickly as the new bright Coca Cola signs go up, there is another red flag demonstration.
Trotsky’s assassin, coolly, mysteriously played by Alain Delon, in the beginning has a logical idealism. He knows why Trotsky must be destroyed; American capitalism will bring industrialism, prosperity. The slums will disappear, and as he looks at murals in a church, he relishes the good society where the artist can express himself freely.
But this is a film about the human condition, so of course the doubts and uncertainties set in. Through his girlfriend, Trotsky’s secretary, he meets him, talks to him. He goes to a bull fight, that symbol (in Mexico anyway) of the hardness and toughness of capitalist society; it makes him cry. He thinks; he suffers from the diabolic illusion that he loves his girlfriend, and she worships Trotsky, has no idea of Jacson’s (Delon) plan to kill him. The passionate scenes between them are hard and beautiful.
The final assassination attempt comes at last. No quick bang or thrust with a knife, but Jacson in complete and utter conflict, trembling, and then thrusting, but not hard enough to kill instantly. The blood pours from Trotsky’s head. Jacson stands paralysed; he can’t run away; he screams like the bull which has been speared by the matador. The Police: “Why did you do it. What is your name? What was your motive?” Silence … then softly – “I killed Trotsky.” “I killed Trotsky.”
This is a very heavy film. It’s not a gay night out, it’s a piece of beautifully detailed work that is a real effort to watch and to concentrate on, and worth it. Burton is surprisingly superb and how like Losey, as well as Trotsky,
Losey has made him look. The film is not particularly pro-American, but is certainly anti-Trotsky in atmosphere. Perhaps Losey has now purged himself of the communist views and involvement which led to his demise in the McCarthy purge of Hollywood. Perhaps he has purged himself of the madness of politics and its crazy academic thinking, and this is why he is making masterpieces about people. Recommended.