Playgirl After Dark / Too Hot to Handle (1960) ***

Passable British crime B-picture, mainlining on sleaze, plot as flimsy as the costumes of the dancers, rescued by, flipping her screen persona on its head, a heartfelt performance by Jayne Mansfield.  Career tumbling spectacularly after her Frank Tashlin heyday (The Girl Can’t Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, both 1957) she was loaned out to any outfit that would have her. Director Terence Young’s (Dr No, 1962) career was also at a low ebb after Safari and Zarak (both 1956) while Carl Boehm (Peeping Tom, 1960) and future Carry On stalwart Barbara Windsor, minus trademark Cockney accent, were on the way up.

Ostensibly an expose of the Soho strip club business, invests too much time in cabaret, though Midnight Franklin’s (Jayne Mansfield) number is surprisingly well done. Parallel plots see journalist Robert (Carl Boehm) investigating the industry while rival night club owners Johnny Solo (Leo Genn) and Diamonds Dielli (Sheldon Lawrence) duke it out over the spoils.

As you might expect, such clubs are populated by seedy customers, some harmless like a Leipzig salesman falling for disinterested showgirl Lilliane (Danik Patisson), others on the creepier side like Mr Arpels (Martin Boddey) who tempts unwary girls with talk of setting them up in the movie business. Naturally, so many girls together, jealousies simmer and tensions flare, resulting, as you might expect, in a catfight. But that’s nothing compared to the beating handed out to Johnny by Diamonds’ thugs. Matters aren’t helped by Johnny’s manager Novak (Christopher Lee) being in the pay of the opposition.

Apart from wearing outfits that would give the censor of the time a heart attack, Midnight is really a sensible girl, hating violence, warning boyfriend Johnny to get out of the business before he ends up dead. She’s got few illusions left, hardly expecting Johnny to pop the question, but like Richard Widmark in yesterday’s Two Rode Together (1961) gradually becoming repelled by his actions.

For the most part she accepts that Johnny effectively pimps out his acts to wealthy customers like Arpels but recoils when he attempts to do so with Ponytail (Barbara Windsor) whom most people believe to be under-age. However, when Ponytail’s attempted rape turns into murder and the police turn up at the nightclub, Midnight, initially obeying the laws of omerta, turns on Johnny after she discovers his gun. But in a wonderful closing scene, she picks up the discarded flower he wore in his lapel and kisses it.

There’s some surprisingly potent dialogue and sharp one-liners – “that’s a very nice dress you nearly got on” / “I had a friend once but it didn’t take”/ “there’s not enough milk of human kindness around here to fill a baby’s bottle” / after a date with Arpels “some girls came back with promises…one came back with a baby.” A good bit more of such zingers and the movie would barrel along regardless of limp plot.

Energy is lost by focusing too long on the cabaret acts and on the growing romance between Robert and Lilliane. As glamorous fading nightclub star, Midnight provides the necessary oomph in more ways that one, but the movie would have benefitted by concentrating more on her ruefulness and self-awareness. Though besotted by Johnny, she knows he’s no lifetime ticket, tries to keep from herself as long as possible acknowledgement of his more sinister side, not so much knowing her place but aware which barriers not to cross. There’s a terrific scene in the middle of the night when she guesses he might be in trouble but hesitates over telephoning him in case this would be deemed over-familiar intrusion. Even she doesn’t know why she still hangs around a joint like this except “fish gotta swim, bird gotta fly.”

Bombastic on stage, she’s subtle off. You will come away believing Jayne Mansfield can actually act. But there’s nothing much to get excited about from the other performers, mostly in the stolid category, though it’s interesting to see what Barbara Windsor can do without  reverting to a Cockney accent. Oscar-nominated Leo Genn (55 Days at Peking, 1963) proves that even crooks can possess a stiff upper lip. At this point with only a couple of horror pictures to his name Christopher Lee (The Devil Rides Out, 1968) could still be found in dramatic fare, but this is no break-put role.

Herbert Kretzmer, credited with the screenplay along with Harry Lee (All That Heaven Allows, 1955), would go onto worldwide fame and enormous wealth for Anglicizing French hit musical Les Miserables. While posters boast of Eastman color, which would have added to enjoyment of the dance routines, you can pretty much only find this in black-and-white and with ten minutes lopped off.

Wanna feel sorry for Jayne Mansfield, this is for you.

A Home of Your Own (1964) ***

The phrase “classic silent British comedy” isn’t one that naturally trips off the tongue. Add in “of the 1960s” and you can guarantee furrowed brows. Thanks to the boom in recycling Hollywood silent classics in the early 1960s – which I may come back to in a later Blog –  there was a subsequent mini-boom in what were called “wordless” pictures, as if using the term “silent” was blasphemous. The oddity is that so many emerged from Britain, primarily in shortened format – not more than one hour long – as the second feature in a double bill.

Blame for this development lay in the hands of producer and later writer and later still director Bob Kellett, Britain’s unsung comedy king.

A Home of Your Own is beautifully structured, following the mishaps in building a block of new apartments. A credit sequence covers the stultifying bureaucracy involved so that what was a pristine site at the beginning of the endeavor turns into a waterlogged dump before the first brick is laid. Sight gags and slapstick abound with mostly everyone getting in each other’s way, or not, the traditional approach of the work-shy British builder being to provide an audience for someone else to dig up a road or a trench.

No paddle goes unsplashed, mud only exists to drench people, and in pursuit of comedy gold most of building materials end up misused. The gatekeeper’s main job is to make tea and there is naturally an union official whose chief task is to obstruct.

Pick of the gags is Ronnie Barker’s laying of cement, delivered with exquisite comedy timing, followed by Bernard Cribbin’s stonemason delicately chiselling out a plaque only to discover at the end in a laugh-out-loud moment that he has misspelled one word, and the carpenter who appropriates the closest implement with which to stir his tea. Some of the jokes grow legs – the morning tea break, a ham-fisted carpenter, the pipe-smoking architect arriving in a sports car, and a patch of ground on the road outside constantly being dug up by different contractors representing water board, gas, electricity.

Once the building is complete, the job has taken long enough for the aspiring apartment-owner, a mere fiancé at the outset, to lift his wife over the threshold accompanied by three kids. Any sense of personal accomplishment – the British thirst for owning property quenched – is undercut by problems the young couple now face thanks to the shoddy workmanship we have witnessed.  

All this is accompanied by a very inventive Ron Goodwin score which provides brilliant musical cues. As a bonus, the film features a roll-call of British television comedy superstars  including Ronnie Barker (The Two Ronnies, 1971-1987), Richard Briers (The Good Life, 1975-1978) and Bill Fraser (Bootsie and Snudge, 1960-1974).  Peter Butterworth and Bernard Cribbins were Carry On alumni. Janet Brown achieved later fame as an impressionist while Tony Tanner hit Broadway as the star of Half a Sixpence before expanding his career to choreographer-director, Tony-nominated for Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

A Home of Your Own went out as the support to the Boulting Brothers’ comedy Rotten to the Core (1964) which gave a debut to Charlotte Rampling. Despite being effectively a B-film, primarily made to take advantage of the Eady Levy (a cashback guarantee for producers), it was surprisingly successful.  “Will delight arthouse patrons” commented Box Office magazine in America (“Review,” October 4, 1965, p160) as British comedy films in those days tended to end up in the arthouses. In part, this was because it was the official British entry to the Berlin Film Festival. It was distributed in the U.S. there by Cinema V in a double bill with Rotten to the Core and launched in what was misleadingly called a “world premiere engagement” at the prestigious Cinema 1 in New York.

Jay Lewis (Live Now, Pay Later, 1962) directed and co-wrote, along with Johnny Whyte, the mini-feature. Kellett continued in this enterprising vein with the 55-minute San Ferry Ann (1965) – which he wrote – about a group of British holidaymakers going abroad and the 49-minute Futtock’s End (1970) – which he directed – featuring a bunch of guests descending on an ancient country house owned by Ronnie Barker.

Television stars showcased in these two featurettes included Wilfred Bramble (Steptoe and Son, 1962-1974), Rodney Bewes (The Likely Lads, 1964-1966), Warren Mitchell (Till Death Do Us Part, 1965-1975) and Richard O’Sullivan (Man About the House, 1973-1976). Ron Moody composed the Oscar-winning Oliver! (1968) while Joan Sims and Barbara Windsor made their names in the Carry On series and theatrical knight Sir Michael Hordern appeared in Khartoum (1965) and Where Eagles Dare (1968).

Though disdained by critics, Kellett went on to become by far the most influential British comedy director of the 1970s. His output included the Frankie Howerd trilogy Up Pompeii (1971), Up the Chastity Belt (1972) and Up the Front (1972), as well as The Alf Garnett Saga (1972). He was well ahead of his time with the transgender comedy Girl Stroke Boy (1972) and female impersonator Danny La Rue in Our Miss Fred (1972).

You can find all four films in a compilation released by Network under the title Futtock’s End and Other Short Stories.  Thanks to Dolphin PR for a copy. You can catch it on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital services.

A Study in Terror (1965) ****

Excepting Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) the world’s most famous fictional detective had been absent from the big screen for over two decades so it seemed an inspired decision to set him on the trail of the world’s most infamous serial killer – Jack the Ripper. The result is high-class comfort food – the first of the series made in color – classic deduction coupled with barbaric murders in a fog-bound London replete with cobbled streets, Dickensian urchins and sex workers apop with cleavage and corset. Throw in sensitivity towards the abject poverty of the period, female exploitation and a nod towards an upper-class cover-up and you have a movie with a surprisingly contemporary outlook.

This is a tougher Holmes, handy with his fists, sporting a spring-loaded knife in his walking stick. The investigation draws in the Prime Minister (Cecil Parker) and the Home Secretary (Dudley Foster) as well as Sherlock’s pompous brother Myron (Robert Morley) and the ubiquitous Inspector LeStrade (Frank Finlay).

Pretty quickly it is Suspects Assemble. Due to a scalpel being the murderer’s instrument of choice, doctors are immediately implicated, the most likely candidate the philanthropic Dr. Murray (Anthony Quayle) who operates a soup kitchen. Publican Max Steiner (Peter Carsten), with a sideline in blackmail, is another possibility. And there is the mysterious disinherited son of a lord, Michael Osborne who has married sex worker Angela (Adrienne Corri).

The Italian ad campaign combined a more conservative Sherlock Holmes
with exploitative illustrative detail.

As ever, the plot is complicated by red herrings and sleights of cinematic hand. But the highlight of a Holmes picture is the sleuth’s mastery of deduction based on clues missed by the ordinary mortal and every now and then the story comes to a halt to allow time for the detective to demonstrate genius. Occasionally he dons a disguise. And thoroughly enjoyable these scenes are before he gets down to the main business of uncovering the killer.

A Study in Terror introduces social depth to the Holmes saga. When the crimes focus the media spotlight on Whitechapel, Dr. Murray draws attention to the constant “murder by poverty” ignored by the state. Female exploitation is of course the norm in the sex worker business and small wonder that such women are easy targets for the Ripper and although that is an overdone trope in this case a different angle comes into play. 

Shakespearian actor John Neville (Oscar Wilde, 1960) handles the main character with considerable aplomb with Donald Houston (The Blue Lagoon, 1949) as his often baffled sidekick Watson. Robert Morley (Genghis Khan, 1965) is a splendid Mycroft although Anthony Quayle (East of Sudan, 1964) fails to nail down his Scottish accent.

The considerable supporting cast includes Judi Dench making her second film appearance, Barbara Windsor of Carry On fame, John Fraser (Operation Crossbow, 1965), John Cairney (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963), Peter Carsten (Dark of the Sun, 1968),  singer Georgia Brown (Nancy in the original stage production of Oliver!), Edina Ronay (The Black Torment, 1964), Corin Redgrave (The Girl with the Pistol,1968), former British leading lady Kay Walsh (Oliver Twist, 1948) and future television comedy writer Jeremy Lloyd (Are You Being Served?, 1972-1985).

The picture was unusual in that it was not drawn from the existing Holmes canon but as an original devised by Derek and Donald Ford (The Black Torment), the former going onto a more extensive career as a director of British sexploitation pictures such as Suburban Wives (1972). Production company Sir Nigel Films had been set up as an official vehicle to exploit the Holmes legacy.

Director James Hill (The Kitchen, 1961) had won an Oscar for the short Giuseppina (1960) and was a year away from his breakthrough Born Free. Given the low-budget this is a highly watchable picture.

Flick Vault has this for free on Youtube or if you want to own it forever there’s a DVD.

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