Frederick Clegg (Terence Stamp) is a lonely, unbalanced young man who stalks, kidnaps, and imprisons a pretty, young art student, Miranda Grey (Samantha Eggar). One day, after following her in his van, Frederick kidnaps and chloroforms Miranda, locking her in the windowless stone cellar that he has prepared with a bed, some furnishings, and an electric heater. Frederick is a butterfly collector and treats Miranda as if she is one of his specimens.
When Frederick proclaims his love for Miranda, she fakes appendicitis as a ploy to escape but is caught. Seeking her freedom, Miranda tries to connect with Frederick, to bargain with him, and finally to seduce him, all to no avail. Many weeks go by, and Miranda realizes just how unstable Frederick is and that she will never leave alive. While being taken from the house to the cellar in the rain, she seizes a nearby shovel and strikes Frederick in the head with it. Frederick is wounded; but he manages to pull her back into the cellar, breaking the heater during their struggles. Miranda remains locked in the cold cellar, soaking wet. Frederick returns three days later to find Miranda terribly ill, and he goes into town to get medicine. When Frederick returns, he finds Miranda dead.
In a voice over, he says it was Miranda's fault for not trying to get to know him and for losing his respect and that his only mistake was choosing a woman who was much too clever and of a different social background. The final scene shows Frederick back behind the wheel of his van, stalking a young nurse.Terence Stamp as Freddie Clegg
Samantha Eggar as Miranda Grey
Mona Washbourne as Aunt Annie
Maurice Dallimore as Neighbor
Allyson Ames as First victim
William Bickley as Crutchley
Gordon Barclay as Clerk
David Haviland as Clerk
Edina Ronay as the Nurse
Kenneth More as 'GP' (scenes deleted)
In his autobiography, Stamp confessed surprise at being chosen for the role, expecting Anthony Perkins or John Hurt to play Clegg. Having been chosen, he assumed (as had most others) that Julie Christie — regarded at that time as the best young actress of the era — would be given the role of Miranda, but Wyler chose Eggar because he thought it would introduce the correct air of sexual tension and awkwardness between the two protagonists. Wyler also knew Eggar had turned Stamp down when they both were studying together at Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.
Wyler gave Stamp private instructions to stay in character and give Eggar the cold shoulder during the filming. This created tension on the set between the two actors.
The screenplay was written by Stanley Mann and John Kohn, based on the novel by John Fowles. However Terry Southern did an uncredited script revision for Wyler after the producers became unhappy with the book's original darker ending; they wanted Miranda to escape. Southern's "happier" ending was rejected by Wyler.
The opening kidnap scenes were shot in Mount Vernon, Hampstead, London. The film's ending was filmed in Forest Row, East Sussex.
The original cut of The Collector ran for three hours. Because of pressure from his producers, Wyler was forced to cut the film heavily. This resulted in the complete removal of 35 minutes of prologue material starring Kenneth More. Wyler said, "Some of the finest footage I ever shot wound up on the cutting room floor, including Kenneth's part."
The film was nominated at 38th Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Director, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
Stamp won the Best Actor Award and Eggar won the Best Actress Award at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival. Eggar also won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama.
In 1988, Robert Berdella held his male victims captive and photographed their torture before killing them. He claimed that the film version of The Collector had been his inspiration when he was a teenager.