It’s understandable that Paul Scofield, an intelligent, choosey actor, should have been intrigued by this enigmatic, short film.
Bartleby is virtually a duel between Scofield and John McEnery, who plays a young audit clerk, a fallout from society. He is no rebel or rabble-raiser; just a guy who can’t adjust himself to the demands of these times. He gets a job with Scofield who patiently employs him but is astounded at the young man’s attitude. Very politely he insists that ‘he prefers not do this or that’. Baffled, Scofield does everything possible to get through to the young man but is thwarted and eventually, irritated, fires him. But Bartleby prefers not to go.
This modestly-budgeted picture, from Herman Melville’s story, is downbeat. But it is intriguing because of the two main performances. Scofield, who radiates thought and integrity in every speech movement and gesture is fine. McEnery underplays the incomprehensible, pitiful Bartleby with just the right note to engender sympathy but not ridicule.
The film is a riddle but it should intrigue any thoughtful filmgoer.