Very much a film of its time. We are presented with a story within a story, told by Alan Bates (Crossley - an inmate of what used to be called a mental asylum) to Tim Curry (Robert Graves - real life author of the short story on which the film is based). As the two keep scores for a village versus inmates cricket match, Crossley spots John Hurt (William Fielding), who is batting. This encourages the Bates character to regale poor old Tim Curry with a tale that is beautifully evocative of Devon countryside in the summertime, but laden with quasi mystical hokum. In the scoring hut story, Crossley insinuates himself into the married life of Fielding and his wife Rachel (Susannah York) by, um, following Fielding home and sitting outside his house. Clearly Skolimowski's film is not intended as a work of realism; the central narrative is, after all, told by a madman, but it rather stretches credulity to have the Bates character insert himself into the lives of Fielding and his wife Rachel quite so easily. The dinner scene where Crossley tells them that he has committed infanticide is particularly hard to swallow, and in terms of sexual politics, the dynamic between Crossley (Alan Bates dripping with testosterone, admittedly...) and Rachel is as ludicrous as it is dated. The 'shout' of the title features along the way, rather to the disadvantage of the local Devon shepherd and his woolly friends - collateral damage, sadly - and the film ends as it started, at the cricket match, but with added lightning, shouting and silliness. At least Tim Curry has the foresight to run away. It's all beautifully shot, and as noted, British summertime never felt as dreamlike, but one gets the feeling of a short story that should have stayed as just that, and a film with too little substance on which to base its characters and themes. The overdone, over long shots of birds, buckles, beaches, etc. were quite the thing at the time, but now look redundant and lazy. Do we really need a shot of Bates and Hurt walking along that goes on for about 30 seconds? They're walking along - noted, now move the story along too... Of course, there's not really anywhere for it to go beyond broken pebbles, hysterical wives and cricket amongst the cowpats. A film to watch on x4 fast forward, or perhaps, not at all.
Time Out says'Every word I'm telling you is true,' adds Crossley (Bates), beginning his terrible story which makes up the substance of The Shout: a means of whiling away time at the village versus asylum cricket match where he and Robert Graves (author of the source story, played by Curry) are designated scorers. And fascinatingly, it is the boundaries between truth and falsehood that merge, rather than those between madness and insanity. For Crossley is undoubtedly mad, mendacious and cunning, viciously manipulating his chosen victims - a musician (Hurt) and his wife (York) - appealing sometimes across omniscient peaks of rationality and sometimes by scornful superiority. But what seems like his biggest whopper - his claim to kill with his shout - is proven. Skolimowski's second feature made in Britain is something of a triumph for independent production, with an impressively streamlined screenplay and faultless performances.