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Lurid, nightmarish and ultimately irresistible Dutch art-house chills from, ironically enough, Paul Verhoeven, one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers.  Obviously this intellectually charged film was made before its director’s ascent to the Hollywood A-list, but anyone familiar with BASIC INSTINCT, Verhoeven’s biggest hit, will note a distinctive sensibility. 

The Package 
     1983’s THE 4th MAN (DE VIERDE MAN) and 1992’s BASIC INSTINCT are exemplary of Paul Verhoeven’s filmmaking before and after his move to Hollywood (where he debuted with ROBOCOP in 1987 after establishing himself in his native Holland).  Both are gory, sex-filled thrillers featuring randy protagonists involved with dangerous women.  But THE 4th MAN is intelligent and thought provoking a la the best of Hitchcock, while BASIC INSTINCT is for the most part empty-headed and sensationalistic.  Both nevertheless are products of a similar sensibility (both were photographed by Jan De Bont); it’s often difficult to discern whether we’re meant to take either film seriously or not (for an equally valid, though far more outlandish comparison, contrast Verhoeven’s 1975 KEETJE TIPPEL, an earthy account of a determined woman’s rise from rags to riches, with his similarly themed SHOWGIRLS).
     THE 4th MAN’S stars Jeroen Krabbe and Renee Soutendijk are Verhoeven regulars, from SOLDIER OF ORANGE (1977) and SPETTERS (1980), respectively.  Screenwriter Gerard Soeteman, the writer of all Verhoeven’s previous films, was here adapting a semi-autobiographical (if uncharacteristically gruesome) novel by Gerard Reve, one of Holland’s most successful scribes.

The Story
     Gerard Reve, a gay alcoholic writer, finds himself beset by bizarre, often disturbingly grotesque (and possibly prophetic) hallucinations, which kick into overdrive when he meets the sexy Christine.  Attracted by her androgynous looks, Gerard is drawn into a sexual relationship with her, despite the fact that after their first tryst he graphically imagines her severing his penis!
     As the relationship progresses (a strapping young male lover of Christine’s makes her an even more attractive prospect for our gay hero), Gerard discovers that Christine has had three previous husbands, all of whom died under mysterious circumstances.  Did she in fact murder them?  And if so, is Gerard to be the fourth victim?  His continuing hallucinations, which seem to be bleeding more and more into reality, certainly point to that possibility... 

The Direction 
     Verhoeven’s kinetic, fast-moving style fits the subject matter well.  His trademark roving camerawork is even more jittery than usual, giving us a pitch-perfect visual representation of the main character’s increasingly fractured mental state; Jan De Bont’s sharp, lurid cinematography helps immeasurably in this area.  In contrast to the documentary-like naturalism of previous Verhoeven films like SOLDIER OF ORANGE and SPETTERS, THE FOURTH MAN is, like his subsequent Hollywood pictures, heavily stylized and deliberately artificial.  It’s also—and this in keeping with ALL Verhoeven’s work—utterly unsparing in its depiction of extreme sex and violence (male and female nudity are constant).
     It’s no surprise that THE 4th MAN inspired Hollywood to take notice of this exceptional filmmaker—I still can’t help but wonder, though, about the kinds of films that might have resulted if Verhoeven had continued to work in his native land.  That might mean no ROBOCOP, but then it’d also mean no SHOWGIRLS...which, if you ask me, isn’t such a bad thing! 

Vital Statistics 

Verenigde Nederlandsche Filmcompagnie/Anchor Bay Entertainment 

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Producer: Rob Houwer
Screenplay: Gerard Soeteman
(Based on a novel be Gerard Reve)
Cinematography: Jan De Bont
Editor: Ine Schenkkan
Cast: Jeroen Krabbe, Renee Soutendijk, Thom Hoffman, Dolf de Vries, Geert de Jong, Hans Veerman, Hero Muller, Caroline de Beus, Reinout Bussemaker, Erik J, Meijer, Ursul de Geer, Filip Bolluyt, Hedda Lornie, Paul Nygaard

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