The Wild Affair (1965) ***

An unexpected gender equality twist as fiancée Marjory (Nancy Kwan) decides to embark on the equivalent of a stag party after seeing the state it left potential husband in. Although the full-scale Hen Party was a few decades away, Britain had given way to the Permissive Society, so, theoretically at least, a young lass on the brink of marriage could have a wild fling and with her last day at work coinciding with the office Xmas party she does her best.

Predatory men, of course, have a sixth sense regarding available women so there’s no shortage of suitors and she is egged-on by an alter-ego she calls Sandra who tut-tuts at her in the mirror when she fails to let herself go. Meanwhile, boyfriend Andy (Donald Churchill) has decided she will be bored silly at the party and plans to whisk her away for Xmas shopping.

The roster of potential lady-killers is headed by boss Godfrey (Terry-Thomas) forever maneuvring her into the confines of his office. Scottish salesman Craig (Jimmy Logan) wines and dines her in a private room. The company’s in-house designer Quentin (Victor Spinetti) tries to seduce by spouting poetry by D.H. Lawrence.

An office party being the kind of occasion where emotions run wild, tempers fray and home truths spill out, we discover Marjory is not the only one with romance in mind. An older secretary Mavis (Betty Marsden), lip perpetually a-quiver, more or less announces that Godfrey is the love of her life, ignoring, at least for the moment, that he has already embarked on an affair with model Monica (Joyce Blair).

Marjory switches from staid housewife-to-be (she has to quit her job on getting married, as was standard at that time) to exploring her inner Sandra, submitting to a make-over by Quentin that turns her into a vamp. With clothes by Mary Quant and a bob from Vidal Sassoon, she would have been quite the eye-catching catch had she remained still long enough for anyone to catch her. However, this being a comedy, and Marjory/Sandra an innocent among wolves much of the running time is spent getting her out of situations of her own making.

But although humor is to the fore, you get the sense this is a ground-breaking film desperate to break out into something more serious. Marjory challenges the notion that marriage ended careers, that women had to make do with sitting at home doing housework waiting for husband to return, in a life devoid of excitement or development.

If this is her idea of beginning married life, you certainly get the idea that her marriage will have a more feminist tinge than Andy might be expecting. The Sandra alter-ego, initially expressed as a flighty piece, soon develops into inner doubt, channeling a potential rebel. In some respects, this is standard stuff, middle-class girl sensing opportunity only to be taken advantage of and certainly this particular year appeared to be filled with characters on the cusp of change and/or consequence – Four in the Morning (1965), The Pleasure Girls (1965), The Hallelujah Trail (1965), Georgy Girl (1965), and you might even include Doctor Zhivago (1965). Female characters later in the decade would have fewer qualms.

So it has a time capsule feel, full of surreptitious suggestion. You get the impression that when Marjory quashes Sandra it’s only a temporary solution and that questions that remain unanswered will pop up at a later stage.

The ploy of the alter-ego in the mirror allows writer-director John Krish (Unearthly Stranger, 1963) to seed the comedy with more serious elements and ask questions that might be uppermost in the female mind. He throws in the occasional surreal moment such as the husband being trapped in a phone booth by a drunk (Frank Finlay) or an innovative way to stifle rising chaotic emotions. But some scenes could do with editing, namely the makeover scene which relies overmuch on reaction shots.

Nancy Kwan at last fulfils the potential shown in The World of Suzie Wong (1960), portraying a more complex character than the free-spirited Tamahine (1963). Terry-Thomas (Arabella, 1967) does too much mugging and his well of double-takes runs dry for this to be considered one of his better works. Joyce Blair (Be My Guest, 1965) makes the most of a man-eater role.

Silent American film superstar Bessie Love puts in an appearance and Scottish comedian Jimmy Logan is convincing in a dramatic part. Frank Finlay (A Study in Terror, 1965) is an inspired drunk and English comic Bud Flanagan has a bit part. Krish based the script on a  novel by William Samsom. If you want to learn more about “The Permissive Society,” check out a course run by the University of York, which dates it starting in 1957.

Strictly matinee material until you notice the undertones.

Masquerade (1965) ***

Made just before director Basil Dearden embarked on Khartoum (1965), this is probably best-known these days for being screenwriter – and ace self-publicist – William Goldman’s first credit. It’s based on Castle Minerva by Victor Canning whose previous filmed books included The Golden Salamander (1950) with Trevor Howard, The Venetian Bird (1952)  with Richard Todd, and The House of the Seven Hawks (1959) with Robert Taylor.

I’d like to say this is a self-aware thriller with spy and comedic elements but it veers awful close to either a cult film or a mess. Basic story has Frazer (Cliff Robertson) hired by former wartime commander and now British intelligence agent Col Drexel (Jack Hawkins) to look after an Arab princeling who has been kidnapped by the British (so much for Brits always being on the side of the angels) to help seal an oil concession in the Gulf.

Theoretically, the kidnapping is for the teenager’s own good, to prevent him being assassinated before he ascends to the throne…see it’s getting awfully complicated already. Anyway, it turns out he actually has been kidnapped by Drexel who has turned rogue in order to fund his retirement. The boy is held in some kind of fortress/castle in Spain and then another more sinister one.

Frazer meantime falls for the seductive charms of Sophie (Marisa Mell) who he thinks is a smuggler intent on stealing his boat but a) is part of the kidnap gang and b) in love with him enough to help him escape when he in turn is captured.

Did I mention the film also included a circus, a clown act, a gunfight on a dam, characters left dangling on a rope bridge, a lady in red, a balancing act along a perilous ledge, entrapment in a wine tanker (huh?) and an animal cage (double huh?), a vulture, men in bowler hats…

It is enlivened by visual gags – ultra-large footprints (from somebody wearing flippers). The dialogue sparkles as when the prince, with an overactive entitlement gland, says, “I am practically divine,” to which Hawkins deadpans “Your Highness, you are irresistible.” Add to that various cliché-twisting scenes – the double-dealing Sophie now overcome by love, says to Drexel: “Ask me anything you want and I will tell you the truth,” but every question he asks solicits the response, “I don’t know.” Then, imprisoned in a cage, after protracted cobbling together of lengths of bamboo to steal keys they turn out to be the wrong keys.

Throw in: British propriety  – Frazer’s  substantial fee for risking his life is reduced to a miserable sum once tax has been deducted; and a superb Arab charge on horseback with tracking cameras, either a rehearsal for Khartoum or the scene that got Dearden the gig.

Actually, the more I write about it the more fun it sounds and I wish it were, but it does not quite gel. Cliff Robertson (The Devil’s Brigade, 1968) and Marisa Mell (Danger: Diabolik, 1968) don’t convince – Robertson talks through gritted teeth without suggesting he has much inner grit – although Jack Hawkins (The Third Secret, 1964) and other British stalwarts like Charles Gray (The Devil Rides Out, 1968) and Bill Fraser (The Best House in London, 1969) and Frenchman Michel Piccoli (Danger: Diabolik) deliver the goods. It should have been a straightforward three-star job or – if qualifying as a cult – in the five-star class. It is definitely not an outright stinker. Perhaps best filed under “curiosity.”

Four in the Morning (1965) ****

Directors learned this early that you only had to point the camera at Judi Dench (Oscar winner for Shakespeare in Love, 1998, but here in her first starring role) and even without the benefit of dialog she will always be compelling. And that’s just as well because this is one of those elliptical movies that were in fashion in the wake of Last Year in Marienbad (1960).

Less twisty and self-conscious for sure two apparently unconnected tales are conjoined by a mysterious drowning in the Thames. And this isn’t tourist London, either, but the working version, a city waking up, famed fruit and flower markets coming to life, ferryboat teaming with passengers, the skyline dominated by tiny dots setting off for the office.

In fact, the picture draws its power from three women, the aforementioned Dench as a young woman smothered by motherhood, marriage disintegrating, Ann Lynn (The System/The Girl-Getters, 1965) who breaks out of the supporting role cage where her character is generally fixed from the start to take advantage of a name-above-the-title role as a reticent lover to explore a gamut of emotions. Last of the trio is the drowned woman, whose callous treatment dominates the action.

If you ever wanted to find out what happens to a drownee here’s your chance. Unceremoniously dragged from the shore, transported to a mortuary in a coffin, head laid on a block of wood, clothes cut off, naked body sluiced with water, fingerprints taken, stored in a refrigerator, indignity run riot, it’s a harrowing sight.

As if to compound the movie’s arthouse sensibilities – and it won big at various film festivals – the characters remain anonymous. The wife (Judi Dench), stuck at home with a mewling teething infant, is disconcerted to find husband (Norman Rodway) has returned from a night on the town with  buddy (Joe Melia) in tow. They want to continue partying, waking up wife and baby, resulting in non-stop argument.

Divorced manager of an upmarket bar (Ann Lynn) tries to put off a boyfriend (Brian Phelan) pestering her for a date. Eventually, she relents and they embark on an initially unsatisfying date before she finally comes alive when he steals a speedboat and they power upriver. Even when passion takes over she remains wary of commitment.

I chose this purely on the strength of the score. I first heard the theme on this album when I was in my teens. Fearing that my parents might veto the purchase because of the nudity on the cover – and since the record player was in the lounge – I showed suprising nous for a teenager, and stuck sticky tape over the offending bits. Of course, I then had to come up with a reason why there would be brown sticky tape on the album cover.

Beyond the to-and-fro of each couple’s situation, there’s little in the way of story, but the dialog is refreshing as it winds back and forth through a variety of emotions, including playfulness, a genuine sense that this is not about scoring points but exploring characters, each development the consequence of action however minimal. The mood is often bleak but always ruminative, a sense that emotions could tip at the touch of a switch, nothing quite defined, except that angst one way or another is going to hold sway.

Most British kitchen sink dramas of the period took place up north, not in the country’s capital, and the wife is too young to expect to be so hemmed in by motherhood, unable to grasp, what with the changing times, that she has still contracted, through marriage, to carry the burden of child-rearing.

The sting in the tale is that since the drowned woman is never identified that she turns out to be one or other of the women, my bet being on the wife, who seems at the end of her tether. This might have been more easily tagged as a couple of one-act plays except for the concentration on the drowning and the focus on girlfriend and suitor exploring various parts of the capital at its least tourist-y. But it’s almost a ghostly city, hardly the location for romance.

Judi Dench is superb – she won the Bafta that year as the Most Promising Newcomer – as she captures a character twisting and turning in a situation she never expected to be so depressing. But Ann Lynn, whose career did not have as much upward mobility, is equally expressive as she changes from morose to excited until heightened romance is sufficient to kill off any expectation of fulfilment. Norman Rodway (The Penthouse, 1967), Joe Melia (Modesty Blaise, 1966) and Brian Phelan (A High Wind in Jamaica, 1965) has less room for  development, tending to be more focused on pleasure than emotion.

This didn’t open too many doors for writer-director Anthony Simmons (Your Money or Your Wife, 1960) and he didn’t get behind a camera for another eight years and only made four films in total. Quite why he was so ignored remains a mystery because this is a haunting piece of work, with an excellent script. John Barry (The Lion in Winter, 1968) wrote evocative score.  

Worth seeing for Dench’s performance alone.

The System / The Girl-Getters (1964) ***

Surprisingly subtle performance from Oliver Reed (Hannibal Brooks, 1968), eschewing the trademark quick inhalation of breath and steely glare, as leader of a gang seducing impressionable young girls during the summer season in an English seaside town.  Surprisingly artistic touches – swipes, montage, a meet-cute involved blowing bubbles – from the more usually heavy-handed director Michael Winner (Hannibal Brooks). Surprising amount of rising talent including cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now, 1971).

And unlike the previous The Damned / Those Are the Damned (1963), the impromptu gang headed by Tinker (Oliver Reed) is not hell-bent on violence and destruction, and the various seducers, thankfully, could hardly be described as sexual predators. Young girls away on their own for the first time, disappointed not to find the love of their lives,  are still happy to settle for a holiday affair.

The American title is more appropriate and only an overbearing parent would dream of marketing it – effectively from the male perspective – as girls entering perilous territory rather than with the lightness of tourist romance a la The Pleasure Seekers out the same year. The “system,” a misnomer if ever there was one, involves the guys finding various ways of getting tourists’ addresses – Tinker as a beach photographer has the advantage here – in order to seduce them.

Sometimes the plan goes wrong and a girl gets pregnant leaving Nidge (John Alderton) not only abandoning the frolics but doing the decent thing by proposing. Oddly, there’s no sense of the guys competing with each other for the biggest tally of notches on a bed-post; in fact they’re a democratic bunch, dividing up the potential prospects equally.  Equally oddly, I guess, none of the women come across as virgins, no first-timer angst.

Tinker, who spends most of his time avoiding telling compliant girls what they are desperate to hear, i.e that he is in love with them and that the holiday affair might turn into something more permanent, falls for posh model Nicola (Jane Merrow).

There is some, for the time, risqué material, a view in very long shot of a nude woman, a girl in bra and panties (getting dressed after sex, so perhaps where Roeg got the idea from for the famed montage in Don’t Look Now), a brutal fight between rival photographers, camera smashing on the stairs. But there’s also Tinker’s humiliation by the jet set as he tries to fit in, thumped at tennis, and dumped by the married lover he ignores during the season. There’s surprising inventiveness, a demonic parade where effigies of bride and groom are burned on a pyre, a soulful scene of a bubble salesman blowing bubbles on a deserted beach at night.

The twist is of course that some girls come to the seaside town to find boys from whom they want no commitment, instead just the enjoyment of a casual fling. Should a man like Tinker happy to fall in love, more fool he.

Naturally, with a film aimed at the young crowd, there are snatches of pop performers – the Rockin’ Berries the most prominent – and a rock arrangement of Khachaturyan’s Sabre Dance that would four years later become, for someone else, a hit single.

Oliver Reed proves very engaging, especially when in playful mode, benefitting from lengthy screen time rather than being forced into a supporting actor’s scene-stealing. Jane Merrow (The Lion in Winter, 1968), excellent as the self-aware boy-getter, heads a raft of rising talent that includes David Hemmings (Blow-Up, 1966), almost unrecognisable with a side parting rather than the trademark mop of hair, and really a bystander here. John Alderton (Hannibal Brooks) is also permitted more artistic leeway, and takes it, rather than the comedic gurning of later years.

Look out for Julia Foster (Half a Sixpence, 1967), Barbara Ferris (Interlude, 1968), and Ann Lynn (Baby Love, 1969). Even Harry Andrews (The Hill, 1965) tones down his usual screen persona.

Considerably more thoughtful and visually interesting – and occasionally playful, for goodness sake – than anything else Winner produced during the decade. A good script by Peter Draper on his screen debut makes its points without either being too clever or too forceful.   

Life at the Top (1965) ***

Succession as seen from the perspective of someone like the inadequate Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who has married his way into big business and has an elevated idea of entitlement.

Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) was a genuine working-class hero of Room at the Top (1958) who connived his way into the marriage bed of businessman Abe Brown’s (Donald Wolfit) daughter Susan (Jean Simmons) and set himself up as the heir apparent. Several years on, it’s not quite worked out the way he planned, stuck in a loveless marriage, out of his depth among the Yorkshire elite, passed over for promotion, pinning hopes of personal happiness on an affair with television personality Norah (Honor Blackman).

The only problem is that screen-wise he’s a b*****d without an ounce of the dominating personality of Brian Cox, the ultimate b*****d’s b*****d. This plays out more The Tale of Two Spoiled Brats. So if you’re looking to see Lampton get his come-uppance on several fronts, you’ve come to the right place. Unfortunately, that means there’s isn’t a single likeable character in sight. It might be the way of the world among the high-rollers but it makes for rather dispirited watching.

On the other hand, Lampton was always such a louse it is enjoyable to see him not only being put in his place but ending up a few rungs further down the ladder than where he started. This might have scored some points for social commentary but it’s such a scattershot approach – racing pigeons, local government corruption (by Tories, who else), strip club, ballroom dancing (the original Come Dancing before that usurper Strictly Come Dancing came along), drinking a yard of ale, swimming in the canal, ruthless entrepreneurs, luvvies  – it does little justice to any.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect is the independence of the women. Susan has a lover Mark (Michael Craig) and emasculates Joe by going behind his back to get whatever she wants, financially, from her father. Ambitious Norah refuses to give up her career for Joe and is likely to withdraw her favors should his ambition fails to match hers.

Even the cuckolded get in on the act, taunting those who had fallen for their partners’ adulterous ways. George Aisgill (Allan Cuthbertson) mocks Joe for falling (in the previous film) for his wife when she went after anything in trousers. Similarly, Mark’s wife ridicules Susan for just being the latest notch on Mark’s bed.

Naturally, Joe hasn’t the wit to see what a good deal he has and spends all his time in self-pitying mode. Poor Joe – he is stuck with driving a white Jag while Abe swans around in a Rolls-Royce. Poor Joe – his wife isn’t going to make do with hotel bedrooms for illicit assignations, but makes full use of the house. Poor Joe – his son doesn’t like him. Poor Joe – he trots out all his childhood deprivations at the slightest opportunity as if auditioning for a Monty Python sketch.

Poor Joe – he’s not even that good a businessman, so naïve that he doesn’t realise that many deals require sweeteners, backhanders, bribes, though smart enough enough to add on a little extra, when extracting such sums from the more worldly Abe, for himself. Poor Joe – he believes business blandishments. Poor Joe – Abe has no interest in the “Report” he’s slaved his guts over. Poor Joe – when he applies for another job, his lack of education marks him down.

The big problem is it’s impossible to feel any sympathy foe Joe. Your heart is more likely to go out to those he wounds with his atrocious behavior. The more he blames everyone else for his predicament, the more an idiot he looks, duped and a biter bit.

And Laurence Harvey (A Dandy in Aspic, 1968) whose screen person is one part arrogance, one part snarky, and one part well-groomed male is not capable of making you feel for his character. Jean Simmons (Rough Night in Jericho, 1967) reveals greater depths, vulnerable, passionate, seductive, practical. Honor Blackman (A Twist of Sand, 1968) gives a good account of herself as an ambitious woman with a conscience.  

Few of the other characters are more than ciphers but there’s a decent supporting cast in Donald Wolfit (Becket, 1964), Michael Craig (Stolen Hours, 1963), Robert Morley (Deadlier than the Male, 1967), Allan Cuthbertson (The 7th Dawn, 1964) and Nigel Davenport (Sands of the Kalahari, 1965).

Canadian Ted Kotcheff (Tiara Tahiti, 1962) directed from a screenplay by fellow country man Mordecai Richler (Young and Willing, 1962) based on the John Braine bestseller.  And it seems a bit mean to film it in black-and-white, presumably to emphasize the social aspects when in fact most of its takes place in glamorous settings.  

Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (1968) ***

So, John Wayne, what first attracted you to working with British director Douglas Hickox for tough cop thriller Brannigan (1975)? Was it his work on tough thriller Sitting Target (1973)? Or could it be you were entranced by his directorial debut on this whimsical low-budget  London-based musical?

Credit for making a splash in turning the operetta into something that might appeal to the cntemporary youth didn’t go to The Who with Tommy or Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but with middle-of-the-road song-writing team Les Reed and Barry Mason, best known for supplying a constant stream of hits for Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. They need a string of songs here as the opera format excludes dialog, so the music carries both story and emotion.

The theme tune gave British pop star Engelbert Humperdinck a Top Ten hit.

Belsize, in case you are unaware, abuts Hampstead, the most upmarket suburb of London, devoid of the garish tourist scene, immune to the wrecking balls that demolished the same year’s The London Nobody Knows. Hampstead Heath is a huge swatch of parkland, untouched by moviemakers more concerned with Swinging London, red buses and Big Ben. This has more in common with the London of Mary Poppins, rooftops prominent, the camera often lofty.

The French title, suggesting arthouse fare, could not be more misleading except that to some extent it emulates Jacques Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964). However, the French picture had a more serious theme. This just concentrates on the simplicity of falling love.

At first it’s puppy love as, after a collision, a female child (Leslie Goddard), on a tricycle, follows a young man Steve (Anthony May) on his bicycle. He crashes through a billboard featuring a model Julie (Judy Huxtable) – or a model advertising something called “Julie” (it’s not clear) – and falls in love with her. And, coincidence being the essence of movie romance, bumps into her outside a shop.

She is somewhat disenchanted with the whole model business, constantly turned this way and that for the definable pose, and looking for true love. Initially, though separated by a window, their eyes have met, and they are drawn to kiss each other through the glass. Much to the little girl’s displeasure, Steve pursues Julie but the disappointed youngster soon makes a match of her own with someone her own size.

French singer Mirieille Mathieu had the chart hit in France.

Apart from the songs, this is surprisingly well done. The fantasy elements, which failed to click on movies like Wonderwall (1968) and Can Hieronymus Merkin… (1969), work a treat here, never galloping off into the unlikely, but remaining core to the movie’s light-hearted mood.

But it is directed as an audition piece, Douglas Hickox attempting more with the camera than with the script. There’s use of the fish-eye lens, the rarely-seen wipe, this time in vertical rather than horizontal fashion, long tracking shots, and characters silhouetted on the skyline.

We open audaciously with a spinning chimney pot before panning across rooftops to a shaving mirror on top of a chimney pot and watch Steve, mounted on his bike, reach the ground in a series of acrobatic moves. There’s unexpected comedy. The little girl is fond of blowing a raspberry. Doing so at a bus stop causes the waiting passengers to blame each other, the scene degenerating into unexpected slapstick. There’s a Cinerama moment as Steve loses control of his bike and the screen races past.

But once Julie is introduced in person it shifts to something deeper. The eyes meeting across an empty space and the lips approaching each other through the glass is very well done. But that’s undercut by the model being treated as a puppet.

There are some audacious cuts. A car swings by and a door opens and the next thing Julie is in the back seat twisting round to look out the back window while male fingers yank her face back to the ever-present camera. She’s constantly prodded into position. Her look changes with every wig.

The fashion is more mainstream than Wonderwall, hippie dress and headband, short red dress and matching red tights, a striped fur coat, a mini skirt and knee-high boots. By the time the camera focuses on the model, she is the one afflicted with angst, Steve more happy-go-lucky and it’s a tribute to the direction that Julie’s face is more reflective, expressive.

Given the lack of dialog, Judy Huxtable (The Touchables, 1968) is to be applauded for creating an immediately recognisable character. Anthony May (No Blade of Grass, 1970) managed less emotion in his part.

I didn’t mention that this was hardly a full-length feature, coming in at around the 30-minute mark, and hardly set Hickox up for the action genre, any more than his next picture Entertaining Mr Sloane (1970). The team of Francis Megahy and Bernie Cooper (Freelance, 1970) plus Michael Newling devised the screenplay.

Innovative and interesting with hummable tunes. You can catch it on YouTube.

Taste of Excitment (1969) **

Must-see for all the wrong reasons. An epic of confusion, appalling acting and dodgy accents make this thriller a prime contender for the “So-Bad-It’s-Good” Hall of Fame. Director Don Sharp (The Devil-Ship Pirates, 1964) jibed at star Eva Renzi (Funeral in Berlin, 1966) when he should have concentrated on a script that is over-plotted to within an inch of its life. A couple of kidnaps, casino visit, a sniper, and a vertiginous cliff-top maneuver are thrown in before a truth serum lights up the climax in spectacularly hilarious fashion.

Promising material goes badly awry. English tourist Jane Kerrell (Eva Renzi), floating around the South of France, is being targeted for unknown reasons. A white Mercedes has tried to drive her off the road, mysterious phone calls and visions make her believe she is going mad, that prognosis helped along by handy psychiatrist Dr Forla (George Pravda). And before you can say Surete, Scotland Yard and NATO she is the chief suspect in the murder of a man called Chalker on the ferry to France. Assistance comes in the form of handsome artist David Headley (David Buck) – preposterously famous “I’m David Headley” “The painter?” – who nearly does what’s she’s been complaining everyone else is trying to do, namely knock her down with his car. He specialises in painting nude women and for no reason at all, given he is identified immediately as a lothario, he resists her attempts to take her to bed.

Turns out Jane is something of a boffin, as any self-respecting computer expert would be known in those days, and a millionaire businessman Beiber (Paul Hubschmid), one of Headley’s rich clients, enlists the painter to offer her a job. Of course, he has something else in mind. His company is being accused to shipping unnamed goods to the unnamed opposition, hence the involvement of NATO chap Breese (Francis Matthews).

But nobody is to be trusted, especially as the French police have dismissed her fears as nonsensical. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Malling (Peter Vaughan) throws flames on the fire by not coming to her rescue but planning to arrest her since she is the last person to see Chalker alive. Then it turns out Chalker must have given her a code or secret message before he died. The police take apart her red Mini Cooper in clinical French Connection style but find nothing. That just shows how dumb they are. It never occurred to them, as it does instantly to Headley, to check the carburretor.

By now you’ll have guessed consistency is not this movie’s strong point. You never even know who the sniper Gaudi (Peter Bowles) is targeting his aim is so appalling. There’s even a sinister secretary Miss Barrow (Kay Walsh) with a pronounced Scottish accent in the Jean Brodie class. Headley comes up with an idea to disguise her – by changing her hairstyle (that’ll fool them!! – and astonishingly, in keeping with the bizarre tone, it does).

For someone who is meant to be paranoid Jane is surprisingly trusting, toddling off with clearly-identified villains when fed a line.

Most of the advertising, including this spread in “Films and Filming” magazine, made play of the sight of Eva Renzi’s naked derriere but ignored the unusual gender equality when it came to the nudity since in this scene David Buck gets out of bed and stands as equally starkers by the window.

You won’t be surprised when Jane ends up trussed and gagged, in her bikini naturally, in a fabulous house with an electrified fence. I can’t resist telling you about the truth serum. Before the evil psychiatrist has the chance to question her he is bopped on the head, Headley having sneaking in before (the dolts!) Gaudi thought to switch on the electric fence. (The electric fence is nullified by the police who just switch off all the electricity in the area.) But when she escapes, still full of the truth drug, when Gaudi calls out to find out where she is hiding, the serum forces her to give the correct answer. In the midst of the danger, Headley takes the opportunity to get an honest answer to the question of whether she loves him. And that’s not the best bit. The final line, given there hasn’t been a decent line all the way through, is a cracker. “Never believe a woman when she is telling you the truth” certainly gives you something to ponder.

So much is held back from the audience that there is never a chance, unlike Charade (1963), of genuine tension. Even the one gripping moment, taking a shortcut along a perilous cliff road, which is well done, is undercut by their pursuer beating them to their destination. The whole thing has an air of being improvised or being devised by someone who thought that twists counted more than characterisation, plot development or relationships.

The acting is so uniformly bad that Eva Renzi actually looks good. David Buck (Deadfall, 1968) is miscast in the slick Cary Grant role. While it is entertaining to see Peter Bowles (The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1968) drop his plummy English accent, his Italian accent fails to pass muster. Peter Vaughan (Alfred the Great, 1969), saddled with the bulk of the murky exposition, does his best. In a bit part, veteran Kay Walsh (A Study in Terror, 1965), holds the acting aces but she doesn’t have much competition.

Director Don Sharp also had a hand in the screenplay so it’s difficult to know who must take most blame, him or colleagues Brian Carton and Ben Healey. This was the alpha and omega of this pair’s movie career.

If you want to see how not to handle a potentially classy thriller tune in.  Can’t make up my mind whether to give this two stars for being so bad or four stars for being so bad it’s good. You decide.

And you can do so for free on Flick Vault. Be warned that you have to get past some adverts first. And if you’re wondering what happened to the opening credits, there ain’t any.

The Midas Run (1969) ***

You ever wonder what triggers criminality? Don’t deny an upper class English civil servant his knighthood, don’t fire an American university lecturer for an anti-war demonstration, don’t humiliate your beautiful wife by making her part of a business transaction. They might all feel robbery is the best revenge.

The highly respected Pedley (Fred Astaire) has talked his superiors in government into the notion that the best way to ship a consignment of gold is by passenger rather than commercial airplane. He recruits wannabe author Mike (Richard Crenna) who, in turn, comes to the rescue of glamorous Sylvia (Anne Heywood) when she is being sold off to sweeten a business deal.

The apparently eccentric casting was based on unfulfilled promise. Fred Astaire, who had not starred in a film for over decade, had made a comeback for Finian’s Rainbow (1968). But that had flopped, putting a dent in his marquee credentials and dramatic roles were hardly the forte of this twinkle-toed dancer. Richard Crenna’s bid for leading man status in Star! (1968) had spectacularly derailed at the box office.

Anne Heywood, the only one of the three principles to have a recent hit, in unexpected sleeper The Fox (1967), found no demand consequently for her services except from lover, future husband and biggest fan, producer Raymond Stross who had bankrolled the lesbian drama, and assigned her female lead here. You could extend your incredulity to the involvement of Swedish director Alf Kjellin,who hadn’t made a picture since Siska seven years before, and like most of his countrymen was seen as producing arthouse fare.

The biggest problem in a gold heist, as anyone watching the current television series The Gold will be aware, is shifting loot that weighs a ton. So Mike and Sylvia hire some Italian crooks to supply a couple of petrol tankers to hide and transport the bullion after the airplane has been forced down over Italian airspace by an Albanian fighter plane, Mike driving the World War Two tank that supplies the ground-based pressure.

As with any heist picture, robbery is only the beginning, double-cross the middle and triple-cross the end. Pedley, who has accompanied the shipment, is delegated by the British secret service to recover the gold, aided by suspicious assistant Wister (Roddy McDowall).  The twist here is that he not only recovers most of the gold, apart from some secreted away by the now romantically-inclined twosome, but points the finger at his accomplices, including the fence General Ferranti (Adolfo Celi).

It then becomes a question of whether the younger crooks can evade his clutches, whether Wister can confirm his suspicions that the investigation has proceeded a tad too conveniently, and discover what the heck the bowler-hatted Englishman is up to. And, of course, whether Mike can trust Sylvia. It wouldn’t be the first – or last (see Perfect Friday, 1970) – grand theft in which the male has been the dupe.

Along the way there is some clever comedy, a play on the British assumption that everyone in the world naturally speaks English, the implicit trust that the upper-classes place in each other, and the stock view that any Italian, law enforcer or crook, can be distracted by a pretty face or comely derriere.

On the downside, the set-up takes too long coming to fruition, especially a mid-movie  interlude that seems intend on channelling the worst romantic notions of the era, idyllic strolls in fields, that I half-expected a burst of slow-motion trotting, or some metaphor for the orgasm. There is some little understood banter about war games. And, for obvious reasons, La Heywood strips down to brassiere in the overheated tank (Mike manages to resist such un-English impulses) though she has previously indulged her innovative ideas about dress, turning a bedsheet into a fashionable toga at a moment’s notice.

There’s nothing particularly new here but Fred Astaire makes a deft impression as a typical upper-class Englishman, accent not found wanting, and successfully reinvents himself as a dramatic actor, that highpoint an Oscar nomination for The Towering Inferno (1974). Anne Heywood, once you realise she is playing all sides against each other, slips easily into the femme fatale role. Richard Crenna’s acting appears limited since his character, despite occasional initiative, is outwitted by all and sundry, and that was scarcely a good look in those days for the leading man to be out-thought by the leading woman.

Effortless, and harmless enough for a matinee.

Behind the Scenes: Top of the Flops, United Artists 1965-1969, Global Box Office – Part Two

United Artists took an unholy bath on George Stevens’ all-star The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), shouldering a colossal loss of $9.1 million in global rentals (not gross), one of the biggest financial disasters of the decade. In second place, by a long margin, was Blake Edwards’ anti-war comedy What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966). The presence of James Coburn at  a career-high thanks to the Flint spy pictures couldn’t prevent this ending up $2.75 million in the red.

Another all-star prestige war movie, though this time set in the Crimea, Tony Richardson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) ran it close, registering a deficit of $2.59 million. This was not the first time the studio’s faith in Richardson proved unfounded. He had lost $1.17 million on Sailor from Gibralter (1967) and another $1 million Mademoiselle (1966), both starring French actress Jeanne Moreau, cited in divorce proceedings brought by his wife Vanessa Redgrave.

History was also unkind to John Huston, coming unstuck with romp Sinful Davey (1969), also set in Britain, and starring newcomer John Hurt. With only $250,000 in rentals in the U.S. market it dropped a total of $2.4 million. Richard Lester was also well off the mark with anti-nuke comedy The Bedsitting Room (1969) which imploded to the tune of $1.42 million.

Although Dick Van Dyke justified his fee for the studio’s Chitty,Chitty Bang Bang, his marquee status proved decidedly unjustified in two other pictures. Some Kind of Nut (1969) lost $1.36 million while Fitzwilly (1967) was $312,000 short of break-even.

British star Michael Caine also fell into the questionable category. Billion Dollar Brain (1968), his third outing as spy Harry Palmer, proved a dud, $1.18 million down while Second World War picture  Play Dirty (1968) lost out at the box office wickets to the tune of $350,000.

Others in the million-dollar-loser class were: The Honey Pot (1967) despite the presence of Rex Harrison and Cliff Robertson; Alan Arkin’s ill-fated attempt to emulate Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau (1968); Jules Dassin’s 10.30pm Summer (1966); and A Twist of Sand (1967) with Richard Johnson and Honor Blackman.  And Peter Sellers himself misjudged the material for After the Fox (1966) for it came home $432,000 short of the target.

The Witches (1967) failed to coast home on the back of new sensation Clint Eastwood in the cast plus an all-star directing team including Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and Pier Paolo Pasolino and lost $880,000.

World War Two pictures proved too often problematic in registering global appeal. Michael Winner’s Hannibal Brooks (1969) starring Oliver Reed shed $650,000, John Guillermin’s The Bridge at Remagen (1969) was on the downside of $526,000, Richard Lester’s How I Won the War (1967) was $257,000 shy of budget and even low-budget numbers that were expected to at least break even failed to do so, The 1,000 Plane Raid (1969) missing out by $316,000 and Submarine X-1 starring James Caan by $156,000.

The notion that westerns had universal appeal turned out to be a dodgy proposition for some products. Whereas foreign made a distinctive impact in the box office for a film like Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969) it did not always play out that way. Though John Sturges’ Hour of the Gun (1967) toplining  James Garner and Jason Robards did better aboard than at home that still wasn’t enough to offset losses of $627,000. Overseas rentals matched domestic for Young Billy Young (1969) starring Robert Mitchum but that still kept it out in the cold with another half a million needed to get over the line.

You would think minimal budgets would be a guarantee against outright failure, but too often promise remained unfulfilled. Charlotte Rampling and Sam Waterston were touted as rising talents when cast in Three (1969). The budget was a miserly $355,000. Yet it still lost $305,000, generating rentals of just $25,000 both at home and abroad. Bryan Forbes’ The Whisperers (1967), with Edith Evans winning an Oscar nomination, lost $180,000 on a budget of just under $400,000. The Russian version of Hamlet (1966) dropped $55,000 on a $75,000 budget.  Don’t Worry We’ll Think of a Title (1966) starring Morey Amsterdam only earned back $50,000 on its $181,000 cost.

Some movies came pretty close to break-even – another $16,000 would have seen Danger Route (1968) also with Richard Johnson reach the magic mark, American football drama Number One (1969) with Charlton Heston required another $40,000.  

SOURCE: “United Artists Corporation and Subsidiaries Motion Picture Negative Costs for Pictures Released in the Year Ended 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969,” United Artists Files, Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, University of Wisconsin.

A Time for Killing / The Long Ride Home (1967) ****

The American Civil War is often slotted into the wrong genre. It is not a western. It is a war, with all the inherent wrongheadedness, viciousness and atrocity. We begin with senseless execution and end on a note of humiliating barbarity. Along the way we witness easily the greatest performances in the careers of George Hamilton (The Power, 1968) – a wonder after this how he was ever associated with playboy characters – and Inger Stevens (Firecreek, 1968).

At the tail end of the war in a Confederate POW camp, the disciplinarian commander orders raw recruits to execute an escapee. When they fail to find to the target Major Wolcott (Glenn Ford), witnessed by appalled missionary fiancée Emily (Inger Stevens), steps in to finish the job. In the wake of this Wolcott sends Emily away under escort.

POW leader Captain Bentley (George Hamilton), fully aware the war might end in days, but determined to escape to Mexico and continue the fight, organises a breakout. Instead of sneaking out quietly, in revenge he turns the Union cannons on his captors. And despite being better informed how close the war is to an end, the dutiful Wolcott sets off in pursuit.

Bentley ambushes Emily’s escort, killing the soldiers and stealing their mounts, but promising Emily that as befits a Southern gentleman he will respect her honor. She’s not so innocent of war, anyway, begging Bentley to kill a fatally wounded Union soldier rather than leaving him to the buzzards or, one assumes, marauding Apaches.

Unfortunately, his comrades don’t share that sentiment and when Emily makes the mistake of unloosing her blouse to wet her neck at a stream it inflames their lust. Equally, unfortunately, Emily doesn’t keep to her part of the deal and in attempting to escape hits Bentley a humiliating blow with his own saber.

While unfamiliar with the territory, Wolcott is a pretty good soldier, taking a shortcut over the mountains to cut off their retreat. “How come he knew what we were gonna do before we done it,” wails a Confederate soldier. “Before you even thought it,” snaps the over-confident Emily.

A few miles from the border, the Confederates hole up in a bordello where Bennett finds a despatch announcing the war is over. Ignoring the fact that for the ordinary soldier you couldn’t find a better place to celebrate peace than in a whorehouse, and determined to continue the war, Bennett conceals the information.

In revenge for losing face in front of his soldiers, he (luckily off camera) rapes the half-stripped and bloodied Emily. In the manner of every savage taking advantage of wartime conditions, Bennett tells her, “You think nothing like this can ever happen to you. But you’re lucky because your humiliation will be over soon. You and your major are going to know I won.”

Rape, as currently in the Ukraine and as in many previous conflicts, used as a weapon.

When Wolcott arrives, it’s obvious what has happened and while holding a lid on his own emotions (a Glenn Ford hallmark), once he has proof the war is over, he refuses to give chase. Brutally, he tells her,  “I can see (witness) men die for their country but I can’t see them die for your honor.” It’s Bennett who, oddly, comes to her rescue, opening fire on the Union soldiers, compelling Wolcott, in breach of the rules of war, to cross the border into Mexico in pursuit.

This isn’t a typical Glenn Ford (The Pistolero of Red River/The Last Challenge, 1967) picture where he plays the central character and is scarcely off screen. Here, he disappears for long stretches as the camera focuses on George Hamilton, his squabbling gang and the growing tension between him and Inger Stevens. If you’ve only seen Hamilton in his screen playboy persona, this is a revelation as honor and misguided duty turn into repulsive action.

And this is by far the best performance by Inger Stevens. What she achieved here launched her career, although admittedly as a female lead rather than top-billed star. The emotion her face portrays without the benefit of dialog is quite astonishing. Expecting to be an innocent bystander, unexpectedly thrown into the tumult, physically abused, and then, contrary to her Christian beliefs, she goes from stalwart to victim to, against her Christian principles, showing no sign of turning the other cheek but in full Old Testament mode urging revenge.

The scene when Emily enters a room full of soldiers, attempting to retain some dignity in the face of torn clothes and bloodied face, while acknowledging her humiliation, is stunning. The only scene that comes close to matching its power is at the end, the sequence shot from above, light streaming into a darkened cellar, when, having killed Bennett, Wolcott abandons his potential bride.  

Phil Karlson (The Secret Ways, 1961), a stand-in for original director Roger Corman, does an excellent job of focusing on the brutalities of war, not just the rape and violence, but the recruits, as dumb as they come on both sides, who fail to cope with the pressures. You would have to be fast to spot Harrison Ford (billed as Harrison J. Ford) making his screen debut, but Harry Dean Stanton (Cool Hand Luke, 1967) has a bigger role. Halstead Welles (The Hell with Heroes, 1968) wrote the screenplay based on the novel The Southern Blade by Nelson and Shirley Wolford.

A couple of later westerns might have raided this picture for ideas: continuing the fight in Mexico was the focus of The Undefeated (1969); a constantly carping pair who delight in slaughter evidenced in The Wild Bunch (1969); relentless pursuit a constant theme of 1969 westerns as diverse as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, Mackenna’s Gold and Once Upon a Time in the West.

Regard this as a western and you will be disappointed. Take it more seriously as a war picture and it offers far more. I’m probably being a tad generous in giving it four stars but I was knocked out by the performances of Hamilton and Stevens and a number of excellent scenes, the two in particular mentioned above for example, and the dialogue.

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