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.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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