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.

Deadlier than the Male (1967) ****

Now revealed as the first film seen by Quentin Tarantino – at the age of five.

For a movie intended to set up a series character in the vein of James Bond, it was ironic that it was the women who stole the show, not just from their tendency to turn up in bikinis but for their outrageous villainy. Irma (Elke Sommer) and Penelope (Sylva Koscina) are the seductive assassins in the hire of Carl Petersen (Nigel Green) who has designs on an Arab oil empire. On her own Irma dispatches mogul Henry Keller (Dervis Ward) then the pair – emerging from the sea like a pair of latter-day Ursula Andresses – harpoon his colleague Wyngarde (John Stone).   

Soon Hugh Drummond (Richard Johnson), investigating the death of Wyngarde, becomes a target  and that sets him off, with nephew Robert (Steve Carlson) in tow,  to the Mediterranean and the yacht of oil-rich King Fedra (Zia Mohyeddin) where, of course, the girls lie in wait.

Dispensing with the gadgets – except for one item employed by the villainesses – and gimmicks of Bond, but retaining the quips, this is a fun ride with a more down-to-earth leading man – like the early Bonds – smarter girls, a more old-fashioned mystery, a hefty thug Chang (Milton Reid)  in the Oddjob mold, a castle doubling as the villain’s lair, a suave master criminal, some detective work, and a super scene involving giant robotic chess men.

The bickering between Irma and Penelope, who is not just a tad sadistic but a kleptomaniac especially as far as her partner is concerned, coupled with their overweening confidence, makes them much more human than any Bond Girl and the character traits explored have a pay-off at the climax. Equally interesting are the mind games, Drummond vs. Peterson but also Drummond vs. Irma. And that the female baddies see it as points on their scoreboard to seduce Drummond rather than the other way round.

Drummond is every bit as capable a seducer as Bond and equally ruthless, stripping a suspect naked. Petersen is also a clever character, faking his own death and running a very smooth operation, and certainly his recruitment techniques are second to none.

Some ideas were certainly ahead of their time, the chess men are the equivalent of a modern computer game while the human bomb has, unfortunately, entered the modern lexicon and there are enough female serial killers around to prevent anyone believing they are always (to use an outmoded sexist phrase) the gentle sex. However, in the middle 1960s, the concept that women would be partial to murder and torture not to mention repeatedly seducing males went so much against the grain of the male authority figures that the British censor slapped an X-certificate on the movie.

Shakespearian actor Richard Johnson was a one time MGM contract player, but his only previous top-billed outing was the Italian-made The Witch (1966). He certainly made a splash with this character, investing it with a great deal more gravitas than Flint or Helm. The Teutonic Elke Sommer (The Venetian Affair, 1966) is brilliant as one half of the assassin tag-team with a batch of one-liners for every occasion. Sylva Koscina (A Lovely Way To Die, 1968), nose always put out of joint, almost steals the show.  Nigel Green (Tobruk, 1967), while his usual sardonic self, has the playfulness of the rich and powerful.

Steve Carlsen, in his movie debut, doesn’t make much of an impact in a largely lame role. Zia Mohyeddin has a more interesting part as the oil kingpin wanting to help his people. As you can expect in a spy picture there are a host of beautiful women – Suzanna Leigh (The Lost Continent, 1968) a defector, Virginia North, also making her debut, Justine Lord (Night after Night after Night, 1969), and Didi Sydow in her only screen appearance.

The light comedy experience of director Ralph Thomas (Doctor in Distress, 1963) comes is very handy, as his sense of comic timing is excellent, but, perhaps learning from his previous brush with espionage in Agent 8¾ / Hot Enough for June (1964) brings a bigger punch to the action scenes. And it’s a bold ploy to start with an action sequence revolving around Irma and Penelope rather than our star man.

The screenplay was a team effort – Jimmy Sangster (The Devil-Ship Pirates, 1964), taking a break from Hammer duties, David D. Osborn (Maroc 7, 1967) and Liz Charles-Williams, making her screen debut  – all involved.  This was familiar territory for composer Malcolm Lockyer (Five Golden Men, 1967). British pop act The Walker Brothers had a hit with the theme tune.

This is more fun than camp, not a send-up of the genre like Derek Flint and Matt Helm, but a spy picture with a believable leading men and excellent villains. But the plot is more centred on filthy lucre rather than global control and there is a genuine understanding of how businesses work – takeovers, mergers, dirty dealings – though small wonder Petersen would like to be shot of pedantic boardroom nuisances like Bridgenorth (Leonard Rossiter) – wouldn’t we all?

Bulldog Drummond was an international crime-buster invented by “Sapper,” the pen-name of H.C. McNeile. Bulldog Drummond had been a Hollywood mainstay for over four decades, the twenty-plus pictures attracting stars like Ronald Colman (Bulldog Drummond, 1929, and Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, 1934), Ray Milland (Bulldog Drummond Escapes, 1937), Walter Pidgeon (Calling Bulldog Drummond, 1951) and a young Ralph Richardson (The Return of Bulldog Drummond, 1934). But the notion, in the Swinging Sixties, of tagging any leading man by the moniker of ‘Bulldog’ did not seem like a good idea, so the character underwent wholesale reinvention and his nickname is never mentioned.  

The title comes from a line in a poem by Rudyard Kipling, The Female of the Species. That was the original title of the film and also of a Sapper book.

You can get his on a double bill with the sequel Some Girls Do from Network at a very reasonable price. Will be reviewing Some Girls Do next.

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