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  • Harold Pinter

In preparation for my review of William Friedkin’s new film Killer Joe, I made a point to revisit a pair of his earliest films: 1970’s The Boys in the Band and 1968’s The Birthday Party. Like Killer Joe, both films are adaptations of notable stage plays. Friedkin is one of the most technically sound filmmakers in American history, and he gives both films his own auteurist stamp, but there’s no denying that they also owe a great deal to their source material.

Watching The Birthday Party again got me thinking about Harold Pinter, the venerable English dramatist who penned the original script for the stage and adapted a screenplay for Friedkin in 1967. As it happens, The Birthday Party isn’t Pinter’s first foray into the world of cinema: in 1963, he adapted the short story The Servant for American ex-pat Joseph Losey. Originally written by Robin Maugham, it tells the story of a wealthy Londoner, Tony (James Fox), who takes on a mysterious manservant, Barret (Dirk Borgade), to help him tend to his large flat. Over the course of the film, Barret manages to reverse their social standing; before long, he’s head of the house and Tony tends to its upkeep.