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.
2 thoughts on “The System / The Girl-Getters (1964) ***”
I’m working full-time to disparage Michael Winner, and here you are building him back up! He did make a couple of good ones, and I’m intrigued by the notion of a subtle performance from Reed….
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Subtle as in not all that sharp inhaling of breath and squinty eye nonsense, not substle in the general sense.