Tamahine (1963) ****

Columbia sold this as if Nancy Kwan was a Bond girl with massive images of the star in a bikini (see above) – the advert in the trade magazine comprised a drop-down A2 pull-out i.e. three times the size of a normal page. But anyone expecting a salacious time would have been in for surprise. For although Kwan swam underwater during the credits (not Helen Mirren style as in The Age of Consent, 1969) and did reveal a naked posterior, you could not have imagined a more innocent, joyous, movie.

Tahitian teenager Tamahine (Nancy Kwan) wreaks havoc on the British stiff upper lip when after the death of her father she is sent to the all-male English public school run by his cousin Poole (Dennis Price), a widower. But it’s not a sex comedy with all the misunderstandings and double entendres that genre normally entails. Instead, it’s a clash of cultures, free love and expression versus prudery and repression. Poole has trouble enough on the female front, his daughter Diana (Justine Lord) inclined to enjoy a gin-soaked afternoon and in the middle of an affair with art master Clove (Derek Nimmo).

The advertising department, however, could not resist the temptation
to stick a double entendre in the poster.

Without mischievous intent, Tamahine causes chaos, assuming an artist’s model would be naked she scandalizes the petrified Clove and egged on by a gaggle of schoolboys whose hormones are off the scale she jams a chamber pot on the school weather vane. The plot, if there is one, is mostly Tamahine fending off suitors, Clove and Poole’s son Richard (John Fraser), and attempting to persuade Poole to take a paternal interest in her well-being.

But mostly it’s about how a sweet-hearted woman struggles to survive in a world where attitudes to sex remain Victorian and in which the avowed aim of education is to build character through manly pursuits such as beating the living daylights out of each other rather than teaching them to express emotion. And certainly the movie takes a more benevolent view of public schools than the later, brutal, If…(1968).

While endorsing free love, Tamahine draws the line at crossing the line in the matter of Richard, whom she deems a relation, no matter how distant. Challenging all conventions, she takes part in sports day.

But the comedy is so gentle and Tamahine so charming that this is best described as a delight. I found myself chuckling throughout and I felt I had just watched a genuine feel-good movie. On paper it certainly doesn’t sound so potentially good, especially when you consider the clichéd portrayals you might expect from the supporting cast, but in reality it exerts an extraordinary appeal.

Hardly off-screen, Kwan (The World of Suzie Wong, 1960), in only her fourth film, easily carries the movie as if she scarcely felt the weight of stardom on her shoulders and is a revelation as the imparter of tender wisdom. What aids the film enormously is that Dennis Price and Derek Nimmo play more interesting parts than their movie personas suggest. Price (Tunes of Glory, 1960), in a far cry from his Ealing comedy heyday, dispenses with his wry delivery and cynical demeanor. Unusual for a character actor, his character actually has a story arc and turns what could have been a stereotypical role into a moving performance. Before his strangulated vowels got the better off him, Derek Nimmo (The Liquidator, 1965), too, delivers probably his best performance.

Justine Lord (Night after Night after Night, 1969) is good as the rebellious daughter but James Fox offers none of the intensity he brought to the screen a year later in The Servant (1964) and neither does John Fraser (El Cid, 1961) light up the screen. In small parts you can spot Michael Gough (Batman, 1985) and Coral Browne (The Killing of Sister George, 1968).

Full marks to director Philip Leacock (The War Lover, 1962), himself a former public school boy, for not taking the easy way out with loutish comedy but instead crafting a film full of sensitivity and sensibility. Denis Cannan (Why Bother to Knock, 1961) based his screenplay on the Thelma Nicklaus novel.

You might be surprised at the four-star rating and I do confess it is a shade optimistic but it is worth more than three stars. It’s worth taking a moment to examine the whole issue of ratings. You might be asking how can Tamahine be given four stars, the same as The Sleeping Car Murders and a tad below the five-star award given to They Shoot Horses, Don’t They. The answer is I compare like with like. If the best films in your opinion must concern social comment or excel technically, then there will be little place in your world for a sheer confection like Tamahine. But if you watch a wide variety of films and recognize those that contain a high enjoyment factor then you will want to draw attention to such. Hence, the rating.

It’s true that sometimes we do want movies to tackle difficult issues or take us into other worlds, but other times there is nothing to beat an old-fashioned good-hearted picture like this.

The Liquidator (1965) ****

Brilliant premise, brilliant execution, brilliant acting. The best send-ups are driven by their own internal logic and this is no exception: spy boss, known simply as The Chief (Wilfred Hyde White), determines in most un-British fashion to get rid off a mole in the operation by eliminating all potential suspects. Bristling Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard) recruits Boysie Oakes (Rod Taylor) for the job, believing Oakes showed particular gallantry during World War Two, unaware this was pure accident. Oakes is given all the perks of a super spy – fast cars, fashionable apartment – and attracts women in a way that suggest this is also a perk and once realizing that being a killer is outside his comfort zone delegates the dirty work to another hit man Griffen (Eric Sykes).

The sweet life begins to unravel when Oakes takes a weekend abroad with Mostyn’s secretary Iris MacIntosh (Jill St John) and is kidnapped. Forced to battle for survival, another Oakes emerges, a proper killer.  Cue the final section which involves trapping the mole.

Where films featuring Matt Helm and Derek Flint imitated the grand-scale espionage they aimed to spoof, the laughs here come from small-scale observation and attacks on bureaucracy. According to regulations, Oakes’ liaison with MacIntosh is illicit. There is endless paperwork. Apart from an aversion to needless killing, Oakes has terrible fear of flying. Nobody can remember code names or passwords. Oakes’ automobile numberplate is BO 1 (the letters in those days being a standard acronym for “body odor”). It is all logical lunacy. And even when the story gets serious, it follows logic, a ruse, a dupe, a climax pitting resolve against human weakness.

Best of all, the parts appear custom-made for the players. Rod Taylor (The Birds, 1963), in his first venture into comedy, displays a knack for the genre without resorting to the slapstick and double takes requisite in the Doris Day pictures to follow. And he is a definite screen charmer.

By this point in his career the screen persona of Trevor Howard (Von Ryan’s Express, 1965) had been shorn of subtlety. He was generally one choleric snort away from a heart attack. Here, while the narrative pricks his pomposity, he remains otherwise ramrod certain. The audience is in on the joke, but nonetheless his genuine ability as a spy master is not in question. On the other hand Jill St John (Who’s Minding the Store, 1963) is allowed considerable leeway in the subtlety department, as a demure English rose rather than the sexier roles into which she was later typecast.  In some respects British television comedian Eric Sykes is miscast. It is a particular English joke to present him as a killer since on television (in shows unlikely to be shown in America) he was hapless.

And it is worth mentioning Akim Tamiroff whose villainous stock-in-trade is allowed greater depth. David Tomlinson (Mary Poppins, 1964) and Gabriella Licudi (You Must Be Joking!, 1965), have small parts. Aso watch out for future British television stars Derek Nimmo (Oh, Brother, 1968-1970) and John Le Mesurier (Dad’s Army, 1968-1977) as well as Jennifer Jayne (Hysteria,1965) and Betty McDowall (First Men in the Moon, 1964).

Director Jack Cardiff had tried his hand at comedy before with My Geisha (1962) starring Shirley Maclaine but was better known for Oscar-nominated drama Sons and Lovers (1960) and action picture The Long Ships (1964).  John Gardner, who wrote seven books in the Boysie Oakes series, later penned James Bond novels.

It is well worth considering whether The Liquidator would have punctured the success of both Our Man Flint (1966) and The Silencers (1966) and sent spy spoofery in a different direction. It had premiered in the U.K. prior to both but litigation held up its American launch  until long after that pair had gone on to hit box office heights.

Catch-Up: Previously reviewed in the Blog are Jack Cardiff’s The Long Ships, Rod Taylor in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) and Hotel (1967) and Trevor Howard in Operation Crossbow (1965) and Von Ryan’s Express (1965).

Murder Ahoy! (1964) ***

Agatha Christie tales were in a mostly B-movie limbo in the 1960s, despite Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and would have to wait another decade before glorious all-star resurrection in Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express (1974). In the meantime, audiences made do with Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple in an MGM quartet – all directed by George Pollock – that ended with Murder Ahoy! Rutherford did not enjoy the national treasure status of the likes of Maggie Smith and Judi Dench these days but she had been elevated to late-career fame by winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The VIPs (1963). But she never quite made the cinematic impact anticipated after Blithe Spirit (1945) and she was mostly seen in roles that called for eccentricity or determination, characteristics associated with Christie’s second most famous sleuth.

The title had led me to expect a picture set on a liner or a cruise ship. Instead, this being a cheaply-made British black-and-white feature, we are limited to a sojourn on a sail training ship which remains moored at all times. Nonetheless, Rutherford is resplendent in naval attire and disports herself as if she were the captain. Her excuse to get on board is the sudden death of a member of the committee overseeing said ship just before he makes an announcement. Miss Marple relies on a good deal more than Hercule Poirot on little grey cells and through laboratory experiment determines the man died from strychnine poisoning. Among her other hidden talents are signaling mastery and dexterity with a sword and she drops popcorn on corridor floors to warn of imminent arrivals when she invades cabins. The suspects include Lionel Jeffries (First Men in the Moon) at his pompous best, Derek Nimmo (BBC’s Oh, Brother), and William Mervyn while Nicholas Parsons (ITV game show Sale of the Century) makes an appearance as a doctor, described in double entendre fashion as “brisk.”   

The Marple films usually ended up on the bottom half of a double bill in the UK.

Naturally, there is more murder, and the subplots include burglary, secret romance (Joan Benham) and thwarted romance (Norma Foster). However, nothing can deter Miss Marple and she soon puts the world to rights. It’s an engrossing enough little film, the resolution a surprise, and Rutherford has skill and charm enough to almost trademark the role. At one time in the 1960s in the USA the Marple pictures were revived as double bills but generally in Britain treated with less regard. Although you could argue that MGM could have bolstered the standards of production, much of the merit derives from the quaintness and the quintessential English lives portrayed. As a bonus there are moments of well-observed comedy and a very inventive score from Ron Goodwin whose 633 Squadron appeared the same year.   

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