Rebus / Appointment in Beirut (1968) ***

Ann-Margret, at this point in her career, must have had a clause written in her contract that she gotta sing, gotta dance. And you can see the sense of that demand because, as in previous films, she proves she can shake her booty, that number more of a showstopper than her earlier crooning. But, honestly, she has taken a backward step in terms of billing. Here, she’s effectively the leading lady rather than the top-billed star, and really, beyond the dancing, little more than “the girl.”

The heist itself is niftily done, making use not just of such an old-fashioned notion as a magnet but also making a pitch for early recognition as one of the originators of solar power. (How that combination works out, I’ll leave to your imagination.) But, in a twist in the heist genre, the focus is largely on those trying to stop a major robbery from a casino in Beirut, the latest in a series of thefts from top casinos around the world. And it’s not a heist in the normal sense. Millions of dollars have gone missing, but no one can figure out how.

Naturally, your automatic port of call would be an alcoholic croupier, Jeff (Laurence Harvey), currently working at The Playboy Club in London because it’s about the only city where he’s not been blacklisted. Anyway, handed a ticket to Beirut and the prospect of some easy cash by Benson (Jose Calvo) who initially appears as a drunken apparition in the fog, Jeff decides it’s the easiest option.

Benson, it transpires, is not the shady character Jeff imagined, but some kind of investigator entrusted with finding out who is defrauding the casinos. Jeff makes the acquaintance of night club singer Laura (Ann-Margret), who soon develops a soft spot for him, but not enough to join him for a drink (or, presumably, sex) after work since that time is set aside for current squeeze Ghinis (Ivan Desny).

No sooner has Jeff worked out that a huge amount of cash is at stake than he carves himself  a slice of it, $100,000, working for Benson. But, no sooner has he won that particular lottery than the bad guys make a counter-offer, the same amount but at least you’ll come out of the deal alive. Laura is clearly some kind of bait to keep him sweet, though she could be bait for hundreds of customers as she shakes her booty during her big number, “Take a Chance,” the lyrics, ironically enough, encouraging gambling.

This being the kind of European co-production that requires assistance from the authorities, we are treated to a tour of the sights of Beirut (there’s also a journey by motorbike earlier on from Highgate in London to Mayfair and by taking rather a detour manages to take in many of the capital’s finest tourist sites). The Beirut leg of the movie itinerary takes in a traditional concert in some first-class ruins, a bazaar, and for reasons that may be more to do with commercial concerns than tourist, an oil refinery.

There’s also a very irritating shrill American, Mrs Brown (Camilla Horn), who, constantly getting in Jeff’s way, appears to be there just for comic effect, intent as if she had a social media channel to film everything in view. Turns out her movie camera and the lady herself are there for another purpose entirely.

The heist, itself, is particularly well done, especially as it appears to be achieved by a bunch of proper strangers – that is people who seem to have no connection to each other at all rather than the old trope of strangers coming together for a robbery by the end of which they know far too much about each other.  

Unfortunately, from the narrative perspective and for fans of Ann-Margret (The Swinger, 1966), she is less the femme fatale than the equivalent of the dumb blonde. But pretty much you could have advertised this as starring two Hollywood stars who had fallen from grace and were taking Italian coin because little else was on offer. Laurence Harvey (Life at the Top, 1965) is actually pretty good, when sober capable of dealing with good guys and bad guys and with still enough charm to make romance with Ann-Margret seem plausible. Except that this is not a great movie, though interesting enough in a double-cross kind of way and the heist is good, both actually acquit themselves well, Ann-Margret correct in her assumption that her dancing goes a long way to keep audiences sweet.

This was only the second film for director Nino Zanchin, and the fact that he only got to make one more tells its own story.

You may have been scratching your head, wondering when the hell “Rebus” is going to appear or perhaps imagine it’s some kind of code word or password. No amount of head-scratching by myself right to the end of the movie made any sense out of this title. That was the original title, but some distributors, fed up presumably with scratching their heads, opted for the more sensible Appointment in Beirut.

An okay watch, some decent twists and lifted I guess you would have to say by Ann-Margret’s dance number more than Laurence Harvey’s snippy performance

Blow-Up (1966) ****

Movies can break all sorts of rules but they can’t cheat.

A film has to stick to an internal logic. For example, it can’t portray a photographer so obsessed with his calling that he even takes a camera with him to an antique shop and starts shooting off roll and after roll capturing the area’s rundown streets but then the one time he really could do with a camera – to prove there is a corpse at his feet – he is somewhat remiss. Especially when that the movie turns on that plot point.

Setting aside what’s a somewhat contrived snapshot of “Swinging London” there’s a lot to admire here. The absence of music for one thing. Most of the movie runs without musical accompaniment, a bold move since so often we rely on the soundtrack to provide guidance for a scene or an overlay for the entire film. Here, Michelangelo Antonioni (Zabriskie Point, 1970) makes us falls back on our own interpretation.

David Hemmings (The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1968), all mop-top and intense stare, is a high-flying high-living fashion photographer in the David Bailey mold (casual sex with wannabe models a perk) who turns investigator on being confronted in a park by Vanessa Redgrave (Hemmings’ adulterous love interest in The Charge of the Light Brigade) after taking snaps she wants back. Tension is sustained by her sudden appearance at his studio, willing to pay with her body for the return of the photos, and then by Hemmings’ careful, photo-by-photo blow-up-by-blow-up analysis that slowly comes closer to the truth.

Everything in his world is judged through a lens, as if he can capture elusive truths, and he has aspirations to being more than a mere fashion adjunct, having spent time taking portraits of down-and-outs. He judges Redgrave as he would a model, she has a good stance and sitting posture. Even by the standards of the permissive society, he is a bit of sexual predator, taking advantage of two giggly model wannabes – Jane Birkin (Wonderwall, 1968) and Gillian Hills (Three, 1969).

But the photography scenes are well done and Antonioni captures the intimacy between model and photographer that create the best images. If you want to see what a model brings to modeling check out real-life model Veruschka posing in an outfit held together by the thinnest of threads, bringing to life the much-touted notion that a model makes love to a camera. If you can get past the cheat and the deliberate obtuseness this creates – and the tsunami of artistic interpretations it inspired about the director’s intent – then it remains intriguing.

This isn’t Hemmings’ greatest work – Fragment of Fear is much better – but it certainly provided him with a marketable movie persona. Redgrave is excellent as the nervy woman willing to do what is required and the movie might have worked better had she had been allocated more screen time and their duel had continued through other scenes. But then that would have been Hitchcock and not Antonioni.  

Sarah Miles (The Ceremony, 1963), Peter Bowles (The Charge of the Light Brigade) and John Castle (The Lion in Winter, 1968) have small parts. The film certainly captures the electricity of a photo shoot between a skilled photographer and pliant model, but it also works as an extended metaphor about the elusiveness of cinematic truth.

Despite my misgivings about the “cheat,” an intriguing and satisfying exploration of an artist seeking to jettison the fripperies of his art yet unable to avoid the temptation of enjoying the easy sexual benefits.

Oscar Wilde (1960) ****

You might be surprised to learn there were two Oscar Wildes. Not the famed writer and a doppelganger of course but two films on the same subject that were released in the same month. This is the low-rent version, costing a fraction of the rival The Trials of Oscar Wilde directed by Ken Hughes. It’s easy to be disdainful of the cheaper effort, with little cash available for scenery and costumes, but somehow it rises above budget limitations. Structurally, both movies focus on the trial – or in the case of The Trials of Oscar Wilde the three trials he endured – but the glossier pictures it has to be said glosses over a great deal.

While I enjoyed it at the time, I now find that in trying to make a modern martyr out of Oscar Wilde, the Ken Hughes picture built him up so much that it was difficult to find any flaw in his character. We never find out what was the actual slur the Marquis of Queensbury made on Wilde, resulting the playwright taking him to court for libel. And that version begins with Wilde and Alfred Lord Douglas (“Bosie”), son of the Marquis, already deep into their affair.

On the other hand, Oscar Wilde, the final film of Hollywood veteran director Gregory Ratoff (Intermezzo, 1939), starts at the beginning of their relationship with greater emphasis on Wilde’s practicality rather than his wit and Bosie’s (John Neville) tortured relationship with  his hypocritical father (Edward Chapman) who, while taking the moral high ground, keeps a mistress. On Wilde (Robert Morley) being described as a sodomite by the Marquis, Bosie’s desire to see his father humiliated in court verges on revenge. “You weren’t looking for a friend,” Wilde astutely tells his lover, “You were looking for a weapon.” Bosie is big on humiliation – he is the one to break the news of Wilde’s duplicity to the author’s wife (Phyllis Calvert). So determined is he on the court case that he fails to tell Wilde that his father has private detectives scouring London to find evidence.

While in court Wilde can keep the jury in stitches with his epigrams, he soon comes up against the Marquis’s formidable lawyer Sir Edward Carson (a quite stunning performance by Ralph Richardson). From Carson we learn a great deal more of Wilde’s practices, some of which nowadays would be termed grooming. Essentially, Carson paints a portrait of a predator, an older man (Wilde was 41) whose uses his wealth and wit to court many lovers, mostly aged around 20, but some as young as 16, barely the age of consent.. And when he felt his secret life was in danger of being exposed, he went so far as to pay for the passage to America of one of his lovers, Alfred Woods, to get him out of the way.

No matter that Wilde at the start can gloss over his promiscuity, complaining that Carson is misinterpreting innocent gestures of friendship, the cunning attorney soon has the author tied in knots as he wheels out one by one information regarding the various lovers.

It’s quite odd to realise that The Trials of Oscar Wilde in presenting the more accurate truth – that the author underwent three trials – fails to provide little more than a surface treatment of  the man’s real-life affairs. Oscar Wilde perhaps delves too deeply for audiences brought up to consider the author a martyr who deserves the free pass allocated all writers of genius. I found Oscar Wilde the more riveting watch because, of course, I already knew the outcome, but the sight of the famed writer, encouraged by the vengeful Bosie,  hung out to dry by his own hubris, and for a man of such wit to be outwitted in the courtroom by Carson was an exceptional watch.

Of course, the imprisonment of Wilde for the crime of being a homosexual is detestable. Even at the point this film was made homosexuality was a crime. So it’s fascinating to see how much The Trials of Oscar Wilde skirts round issues that Oscar Wilde had little problem in spelling out.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Robert Morley’s performance. I may be wrong, but I think this was the only time he was accorded leading man status. Mostly, he was a supporting actor (The African Queen, 1951, say, or Genghis Khan, 1965) and often just playing a version of his self. Of course, he is outshone by a simply brilliant Ralph Richardson (Khartoum, 1966). John Neville (A Study in Terror, 1965) presents a more in-depth performance than in the rival picture. One-time British box office star Phyllis Calvert (The Golden Madonna, 1949) does well in a small but pivotal role. You might also spot Dennis Price (Tunes of Glory, 1960) and Alexander Knox (Mister Moses, 1965).

Lacking a budget to do much more, Gregory Ratoff sticks to the detail and draws out two superb performances, aided by a tight script by Jo Eisinger (Gilda, 1946; Cold Sweat, 1970) based on the play by Leslie and Sewell Stokes and the work of Frank Harris. As swansongs go, this is hard to beat.

Vastly underrated.

Catch it on YouTube.

NOTE: Oscar Wilde appeared in first run in Glasgow at the La Scala cinema in June 1960 one week ahead of The Trials of Oscar Wilde at the first run ABC Regal and ABC Coliseum.

Four in the Morning (1965) ****

Directors learned this early that you only had to point the camera at Judi Dench (Oscar winner for Shakespeare in Love, 1998, but here in her first starring role) and even without the benefit of dialog she will always be compelling. And that’s just as well because this is one of those elliptical movies that were in fashion in the wake of Last Year in Marienbad (1960).

Less twisty and self-conscious for sure two apparently unconnected tales are conjoined by a mysterious drowning in the Thames. And this isn’t tourist London, either, but the working version, a city waking up, famed fruit and flower markets coming to life, ferryboat teaming with passengers, the skyline dominated by tiny dots setting off for the office.

In fact, the picture draws its power from three women, the aforementioned Dench as a young woman smothered by motherhood, marriage disintegrating, Ann Lynn (The System/The Girl-Getters, 1965) who breaks out of the supporting role cage where her character is generally fixed from the start to take advantage of a name-above-the-title role as a reticent lover to explore a gamut of emotions. Last of the trio is the drowned woman, whose callous treatment dominates the action.

If you ever wanted to find out what happens to a drownee here’s your chance. Unceremoniously dragged from the shore, transported to a mortuary in a coffin, head laid on a block of wood, clothes cut off, naked body sluiced with water, fingerprints taken, stored in a refrigerator, indignity run riot, it’s a harrowing sight.

As if to compound the movie’s arthouse sensibilities – and it won big at various film festivals – the characters remain anonymous. The wife (Judi Dench), stuck at home with a mewling teething infant, is disconcerted to find husband (Norman Rodway) has returned from a night on the town with  buddy (Joe Melia) in tow. They want to continue partying, waking up wife and baby, resulting in non-stop argument.

Divorced manager of an upmarket bar (Ann Lynn) tries to put off a boyfriend (Brian Phelan) pestering her for a date. Eventually, she relents and they embark on an initially unsatisfying date before she finally comes alive when he steals a speedboat and they power upriver. Even when passion takes over she remains wary of commitment.

I chose this purely on the strength of the score. I first heard the theme on this album when I was in my teens. Fearing that my parents might veto the purchase because of the nudity on the cover – and since the record player was in the lounge – I showed suprising nous for a teenager, and stuck sticky tape over the offending bits. Of course, I then had to come up with a reason why there would be brown sticky tape on the album cover.

Beyond the to-and-fro of each couple’s situation, there’s little in the way of story, but the dialog is refreshing as it winds back and forth through a variety of emotions, including playfulness, a genuine sense that this is not about scoring points but exploring characters, each development the consequence of action however minimal. The mood is often bleak but always ruminative, a sense that emotions could tip at the touch of a switch, nothing quite defined, except that angst one way or another is going to hold sway.

Most British kitchen sink dramas of the period took place up north, not in the country’s capital, and the wife is too young to expect to be so hemmed in by motherhood, unable to grasp, what with the changing times, that she has still contracted, through marriage, to carry the burden of child-rearing.

The sting in the tale is that since the drowned woman is never identified that she turns out to be one or other of the women, my bet being on the wife, who seems at the end of her tether. This might have been more easily tagged as a couple of one-act plays except for the concentration on the drowning and the focus on girlfriend and suitor exploring various parts of the capital at its least tourist-y. But it’s almost a ghostly city, hardly the location for romance.

Judi Dench is superb – she won the Bafta that year as the Most Promising Newcomer – as she captures a character twisting and turning in a situation she never expected to be so depressing. But Ann Lynn, whose career did not have as much upward mobility, is equally expressive as she changes from morose to excited until heightened romance is sufficient to kill off any expectation of fulfilment. Norman Rodway (The Penthouse, 1967), Joe Melia (Modesty Blaise, 1966) and Brian Phelan (A High Wind in Jamaica, 1965) has less room for  development, tending to be more focused on pleasure than emotion.

This didn’t open too many doors for writer-director Anthony Simmons (Your Money or Your Wife, 1960) and he didn’t get behind a camera for another eight years and only made four films in total. Quite why he was so ignored remains a mystery because this is a haunting piece of work, with an excellent script. John Barry (The Lion in Winter, 1968) wrote evocative score.  

Worth seeing for Dench’s performance alone.

Life at the Top (1965) ***

Succession as seen from the perspective of someone like the inadequate Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), who has married his way into big business and has an elevated idea of entitlement.

Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) was a genuine working-class hero of Room at the Top (1958) who connived his way into the marriage bed of businessman Abe Brown’s (Donald Wolfit) daughter Susan (Jean Simmons) and set himself up as the heir apparent. Several years on, it’s not quite worked out the way he planned, stuck in a loveless marriage, out of his depth among the Yorkshire elite, passed over for promotion, pinning hopes of personal happiness on an affair with television personality Norah (Honor Blackman).

The only problem is that screen-wise he’s a b*****d without an ounce of the dominating personality of Brian Cox, the ultimate b*****d’s b*****d. This plays out more The Tale of Two Spoiled Brats. So if you’re looking to see Lampton get his come-uppance on several fronts, you’ve come to the right place. Unfortunately, that means there’s isn’t a single likeable character in sight. It might be the way of the world among the high-rollers but it makes for rather dispirited watching.

On the other hand, Lampton was always such a louse it is enjoyable to see him not only being put in his place but ending up a few rungs further down the ladder than where he started. This might have scored some points for social commentary but it’s such a scattershot approach – racing pigeons, local government corruption (by Tories, who else), strip club, ballroom dancing (the original Come Dancing before that usurper Strictly Come Dancing came along), drinking a yard of ale, swimming in the canal, ruthless entrepreneurs, luvvies  – it does little justice to any.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect is the independence of the women. Susan has a lover Mark (Michael Craig) and emasculates Joe by going behind his back to get whatever she wants, financially, from her father. Ambitious Norah refuses to give up her career for Joe and is likely to withdraw her favors should his ambition fails to match hers.

Even the cuckolded get in on the act, taunting those who had fallen for their partners’ adulterous ways. George Aisgill (Allan Cuthbertson) mocks Joe for falling (in the previous film) for his wife when she went after anything in trousers. Similarly, Mark’s wife ridicules Susan for just being the latest notch on Mark’s bed.

Naturally, Joe hasn’t the wit to see what a good deal he has and spends all his time in self-pitying mode. Poor Joe – he is stuck with driving a white Jag while Abe swans around in a Rolls-Royce. Poor Joe – his wife isn’t going to make do with hotel bedrooms for illicit assignations, but makes full use of the house. Poor Joe – his son doesn’t like him. Poor Joe – he trots out all his childhood deprivations at the slightest opportunity as if auditioning for a Monty Python sketch.

Poor Joe – he’s not even that good a businessman, so naïve that he doesn’t realise that many deals require sweeteners, backhanders, bribes, though smart enough enough to add on a little extra, when extracting such sums from the more worldly Abe, for himself. Poor Joe – he believes business blandishments. Poor Joe – Abe has no interest in the “Report” he’s slaved his guts over. Poor Joe – when he applies for another job, his lack of education marks him down.

The big problem is it’s impossible to feel any sympathy foe Joe. Your heart is more likely to go out to those he wounds with his atrocious behavior. The more he blames everyone else for his predicament, the more an idiot he looks, duped and a biter bit.

And Laurence Harvey (A Dandy in Aspic, 1968) whose screen person is one part arrogance, one part snarky, and one part well-groomed male is not capable of making you feel for his character. Jean Simmons (Rough Night in Jericho, 1967) reveals greater depths, vulnerable, passionate, seductive, practical. Honor Blackman (A Twist of Sand, 1968) gives a good account of herself as an ambitious woman with a conscience.  

Few of the other characters are more than ciphers but there’s a decent supporting cast in Donald Wolfit (Becket, 1964), Michael Craig (Stolen Hours, 1963), Robert Morley (Deadlier than the Male, 1967), Allan Cuthbertson (The 7th Dawn, 1964) and Nigel Davenport (Sands of the Kalahari, 1965).

Canadian Ted Kotcheff (Tiara Tahiti, 1962) directed from a screenplay by fellow country man Mordecai Richler (Young and Willing, 1962) based on the John Braine bestseller.  And it seems a bit mean to film it in black-and-white, presumably to emphasize the social aspects when in fact most of its takes place in glamorous settings.  

Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (1968) ***

So, John Wayne, what first attracted you to working with British director Douglas Hickox for tough cop thriller Brannigan (1975)? Was it his work on tough thriller Sitting Target (1973)? Or could it be you were entranced by his directorial debut on this whimsical low-budget  London-based musical?

Credit for making a splash in turning the operetta into something that might appeal to the cntemporary youth didn’t go to The Who with Tommy or Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but with middle-of-the-road song-writing team Les Reed and Barry Mason, best known for supplying a constant stream of hits for Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. They need a string of songs here as the opera format excludes dialog, so the music carries both story and emotion.

The theme tune gave British pop star Engelbert Humperdinck a Top Ten hit.

Belsize, in case you are unaware, abuts Hampstead, the most upmarket suburb of London, devoid of the garish tourist scene, immune to the wrecking balls that demolished the same year’s The London Nobody Knows. Hampstead Heath is a huge swatch of parkland, untouched by moviemakers more concerned with Swinging London, red buses and Big Ben. This has more in common with the London of Mary Poppins, rooftops prominent, the camera often lofty.

The French title, suggesting arthouse fare, could not be more misleading except that to some extent it emulates Jacques Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964). However, the French picture had a more serious theme. This just concentrates on the simplicity of falling love.

At first it’s puppy love as, after a collision, a female child (Leslie Goddard), on a tricycle, follows a young man Steve (Anthony May) on his bicycle. He crashes through a billboard featuring a model Julie (Judy Huxtable) – or a model advertising something called “Julie” (it’s not clear) – and falls in love with her. And, coincidence being the essence of movie romance, bumps into her outside a shop.

She is somewhat disenchanted with the whole model business, constantly turned this way and that for the definable pose, and looking for true love. Initially, though separated by a window, their eyes have met, and they are drawn to kiss each other through the glass. Much to the little girl’s displeasure, Steve pursues Julie but the disappointed youngster soon makes a match of her own with someone her own size.

French singer Mirieille Mathieu had the chart hit in France.

Apart from the songs, this is surprisingly well done. The fantasy elements, which failed to click on movies like Wonderwall (1968) and Can Hieronymus Merkin… (1969), work a treat here, never galloping off into the unlikely, but remaining core to the movie’s light-hearted mood.

But it is directed as an audition piece, Douglas Hickox attempting more with the camera than with the script. There’s use of the fish-eye lens, the rarely-seen wipe, this time in vertical rather than horizontal fashion, long tracking shots, and characters silhouetted on the skyline.

We open audaciously with a spinning chimney pot before panning across rooftops to a shaving mirror on top of a chimney pot and watch Steve, mounted on his bike, reach the ground in a series of acrobatic moves. There’s unexpected comedy. The little girl is fond of blowing a raspberry. Doing so at a bus stop causes the waiting passengers to blame each other, the scene degenerating into unexpected slapstick. There’s a Cinerama moment as Steve loses control of his bike and the screen races past.

But once Julie is introduced in person it shifts to something deeper. The eyes meeting across an empty space and the lips approaching each other through the glass is very well done. But that’s undercut by the model being treated as a puppet.

There are some audacious cuts. A car swings by and a door opens and the next thing Julie is in the back seat twisting round to look out the back window while male fingers yank her face back to the ever-present camera. She’s constantly prodded into position. Her look changes with every wig.

The fashion is more mainstream than Wonderwall, hippie dress and headband, short red dress and matching red tights, a striped fur coat, a mini skirt and knee-high boots. By the time the camera focuses on the model, she is the one afflicted with angst, Steve more happy-go-lucky and it’s a tribute to the direction that Julie’s face is more reflective, expressive.

Given the lack of dialog, Judy Huxtable (The Touchables, 1968) is to be applauded for creating an immediately recognisable character. Anthony May (No Blade of Grass, 1970) managed less emotion in his part.

I didn’t mention that this was hardly a full-length feature, coming in at around the 30-minute mark, and hardly set Hickox up for the action genre, any more than his next picture Entertaining Mr Sloane (1970). The team of Francis Megahy and Bernie Cooper (Freelance, 1970) plus Michael Newling devised the screenplay.

Innovative and interesting with hummable tunes. You can catch it on YouTube.

The Midas Run (1969) ***

You ever wonder what triggers criminality? Don’t deny an upper class English civil servant his knighthood, don’t fire an American university lecturer for an anti-war demonstration, don’t humiliate your beautiful wife by making her part of a business transaction. They might all feel robbery is the best revenge.

The highly respected Pedley (Fred Astaire) has talked his superiors in government into the notion that the best way to ship a consignment of gold is by passenger rather than commercial airplane. He recruits wannabe author Mike (Richard Crenna) who, in turn, comes to the rescue of glamorous Sylvia (Anne Heywood) when she is being sold off to sweeten a business deal.

The apparently eccentric casting was based on unfulfilled promise. Fred Astaire, who had not starred in a film for over decade, had made a comeback for Finian’s Rainbow (1968). But that had flopped, putting a dent in his marquee credentials and dramatic roles were hardly the forte of this twinkle-toed dancer. Richard Crenna’s bid for leading man status in Star! (1968) had spectacularly derailed at the box office.

Anne Heywood, the only one of the three principles to have a recent hit, in unexpected sleeper The Fox (1967), found no demand consequently for her services except from lover, future husband and biggest fan, producer Raymond Stross who had bankrolled the lesbian drama, and assigned her female lead here. You could extend your incredulity to the involvement of Swedish director Alf Kjellin,who hadn’t made a picture since Siska seven years before, and like most of his countrymen was seen as producing arthouse fare.

The biggest problem in a gold heist, as anyone watching the current television series The Gold will be aware, is shifting loot that weighs a ton. So Mike and Sylvia hire some Italian crooks to supply a couple of petrol tankers to hide and transport the bullion after the airplane has been forced down over Italian airspace by an Albanian fighter plane, Mike driving the World War Two tank that supplies the ground-based pressure.

As with any heist picture, robbery is only the beginning, double-cross the middle and triple-cross the end. Pedley, who has accompanied the shipment, is delegated by the British secret service to recover the gold, aided by suspicious assistant Wister (Roddy McDowall).  The twist here is that he not only recovers most of the gold, apart from some secreted away by the now romantically-inclined twosome, but points the finger at his accomplices, including the fence General Ferranti (Adolfo Celi).

It then becomes a question of whether the younger crooks can evade his clutches, whether Wister can confirm his suspicions that the investigation has proceeded a tad too conveniently, and discover what the heck the bowler-hatted Englishman is up to. And, of course, whether Mike can trust Sylvia. It wouldn’t be the first – or last (see Perfect Friday, 1970) – grand theft in which the male has been the dupe.

Along the way there is some clever comedy, a play on the British assumption that everyone in the world naturally speaks English, the implicit trust that the upper-classes place in each other, and the stock view that any Italian, law enforcer or crook, can be distracted by a pretty face or comely derriere.

On the downside, the set-up takes too long coming to fruition, especially a mid-movie  interlude that seems intend on channelling the worst romantic notions of the era, idyllic strolls in fields, that I half-expected a burst of slow-motion trotting, or some metaphor for the orgasm. There is some little understood banter about war games. And, for obvious reasons, La Heywood strips down to brassiere in the overheated tank (Mike manages to resist such un-English impulses) though she has previously indulged her innovative ideas about dress, turning a bedsheet into a fashionable toga at a moment’s notice.

There’s nothing particularly new here but Fred Astaire makes a deft impression as a typical upper-class Englishman, accent not found wanting, and successfully reinvents himself as a dramatic actor, that highpoint an Oscar nomination for The Towering Inferno (1974). Anne Heywood, once you realise she is playing all sides against each other, slips easily into the femme fatale role. Richard Crenna’s acting appears limited since his character, despite occasional initiative, is outwitted by all and sundry, and that was scarcely a good look in those days for the leading man to be out-thought by the leading woman.

Effortless, and harmless enough for a matinee.

Corruption (1968) ***

Admit it, you always wanted to discover what went on behind Peter Cushing’s chilly British reserve. The man who appeared to be constantly tormenting that nice Dracula or donning a deerstalker to outwit countless villains or battling otherworldly creatures like the Daleks or just a dependable character who in the unconventional Sixties knew right from wrong.

Of course, our Peter had occasionally come unstuck, the duped bank manager in Cash on Demand (1961) but even as Baron Frankenstein he never revealed a demonic side even as he  created monsters who had a tendency to run wild, always civil to the last, stiff upper lip never quavering.

So it’s something of a surprise to see him cast in the first place as the older man lusting after a younger woman. Sir John Rowan (Peter Cushing) is a highly esteemed surgeon who has fallen for model-cum-flighty-piece Lynn (Sue Lloyd) and although he sticks out like a sore thumb at a typical Swinging Sixties party full of gyrating lithe young women he is happy to put up with it for the sake of his girlfriend.

But Lynn has a strong independent streak, she’s not the submissive lass who might have been content to swoon at the feet of such a highly intelligent man, and objects to his attempts at control and can’t resist the chance to show her allure to all and sundry by giving in to the temptation to pose for louche photographer Mike (Anthony Booth), and, as it happens, the assembled throng.

Sir John isn’t going to stand for such brazenness, starting a fight with Mike that ends in a dreadful accident, destroying half Lynn’s face. Naturally, plastic surgery being the coming thing and Sir John capable of turning his hand to anything he’s able to fix up her face good and proper.

Except it’s a temporary measure, something to do with the pituitary gland, and it turns Sir John into a serial killer. There’s no mystery to it, no detective scouting around trying to put together clues, the question soon becomes can Sir John keep it up and what psychological damage is inflicted on Lynn as she comes to the realization that the beauty she had taken for granted, setting aside the predations of age which are still some way off, could vanish in an instant leaving her shrieking in a mirror.

Things get out of hand when they head for the country and fresh victims and find themselves trapped in a home invasion by a gang as gormless and vindictive as the pair from The Penthouse. It doesn’t end the way you’d expect because there’s a twist in the tail that you might accept as par for the course in the unconventional cinematic Sixties or you might just put the producers down for wanting to have their cake and eat it.

Still, it’s good while it lasts. Cushing certainly reveals a different side to his screen persona, and I can’t remember ever seeing him truly in love or indulging in a passionate screen kiss, and certainly to see his murderous side emerge is quite a treat, no scientific excuse to mask his behavior.

And it’s equally good to see Sue Lloyd (The Ipcress File, 1965) in another of those roles where she displayed considerable independence.  As an added bonus future Hammer Queen Kate O’Mara (The Horror of Frankenstein, 1970), here cleavage well hidden, turns up as Lynn’s sister.  You might also spot Vanessa Howard (Some Girls Do, 1969) and Marianne Morris (Vampyres, 1974). Anthony Booth (Girl with a Pistol, 1968) was trying to shake off the shackles of BBC comedy Till Death Us Do Part

Robert Hartford-Davis (The Black Torment, 1964) does pretty well unsheathing the beast within the context of a vulnerable older man. Derek Ford wrote the screenplay with his brother Donald before he decided the sex film was his way to British film legend. The version released abroad contains more gore and sex than when the British censor had its wicked way.

Perfect Friday (1970) ****

Delicious caper movie. Under-rated and largely dismissed because a) it is very British, b) audiences preferred Stanley Baker in an action film like Zulu (1964) and c) it appeared a year after the action-driven heist picture The Italian Job. So many black marks you might think it was an automatic candidate for relegation.

But, in fact, it is a delight, a gem that never outstays its welcome and, furthermore, elicits tremendously enjoyable performances from the three principals, with the added bonus, I guess, of the costume budget being much reduced by Ursula Andress prancing around so much in the nude.

Mr Graham (Stanley Baker) is an uptight, bowler-hatted, spectacled, unmarried, straitlaced banking executive. That’s too fancy a title for his job. He’s not the manager, he’s not even the deputy, he’s the deputy to the deputy (here called an “under-manager”) and his sole joy in life appears to be granting or refusing overdrafts, an action that might, to one of life’s smidgeons, be construed as an exercise in power.

One of his clients is uber-sexy Lady Britt Dorset (Ursula Andress) who, while living in penury, manages to swan around in the most divine outfits and a swanky sports car, mostly as the result of his overdrafts. Although he believes he is tough and worldly it never occurs to him to wonder how his client has the wherewithal to repay the overdrafts.

She is married, but to the equally poverty-stricken Lord Nicholas Dorset (David Warner) whose sole income derives from a daily payment from sitting in the House of Lords and schemes such as attaching his name to a restaurant chain.

It doesn’t strike Mr Graham as particularly odd that Britt takes a fancy to him, infidelity appearing to be written into her marriage vows. And it’s not long before the deputy deputy manager starts to wonder how he might turn this relationship into something more permanent. So he comes up with a clever caper, a three-man job, or more correctly a two-man one-woman job. He’s going to steal £300,000, split three ways, from his bank. Nicholas will pose as a bank inspector, Britt will be the one who physically removes the cash and Mr Graham, naturally, will take on the role of criminal mastermind, finding a way to get hold of the necessary duplicate keys and over-riding the usual security concerns.

For a good while most of the plan consists of keeping the husband out of the way, sent on various “missions” across the country and abroad, to give Mr Graham time to enjoy making love to the wife. There’s an occasional hiccup to the plan, but mostly it appears to be running smoothly.

Except, as you might imagine, double cross is afoot. Mr Graham would like to purloin the husband’s share, all the more to set up cosy home somewhere abroad with the wife. And, as you might expect, there’s a sting in the tale.

But this is all so effortlessly done, tremendous tension as the robbery is carried out in complete silence (as was by now par for the course), jaunty music intervening at other times, the combination of the three opposites making for a delightful scenario, the stuffy manager at odds with the lazy, louche husband, and an unlikely companion for the sexy, apparently docile, wife.

Some clever directorial touches from Peter Hall (Three into Two Won’t Go, 1967) provide unexpected zest, but primarily this is a comedy of manners shifted onto the heist plane. And the best thing about it is the performances.

Ursula Andress (The Blue Max, 1966), here taking top billing, delivers her best-ever performance, the sexy front concealing a clever brain, easily manipulating lover and husband, deceit embedded in her genes, the hard-coiled core hidden from view, as she indulges both herself and her paramour.

Stanley Baker is superb, almost in Accident (1966) stiff upper lip mode, but without, until sex triggers criminality, that character’s free-wheeling attitude and immorality. He lives his entire life in a glass booth, observing and being observed, working within an arcane code of practices, not believing that he, of all people, could actually break the rules.

But David Warner (Titanic, 1997) steals the show as a bored upper-class lord who wants nothing more than a quiet life paid for by someone else and who almost throws a hissy fit when, as part of his role, he is forced to wear clothes he finds demeaning. If it wasn’t for the prize, this whole enterprise would be so much beneath him, and he doesn’t even have the satisfaction of being able to put this underling in his place.

Sheer enjoyment.

Joanna (1968) **

Mike Sarne (Myra Breckenridge, 1970) was one of those talents who ran away with himself, artistic notions indulged by the industry, until he was exposed as having little to say. Joanna is pretty empty of everything except style. And that wouldn’t be so bad if it was consistently stylish or showed a genuine flair for the visual image beyond a woman bathing in a lily pond or chasing an ambulance through a park.

And, of course, it’s never a good idea to park your inexperienced girlfriend upfront and center of your debut feature. Genevieve Waite, a model in the Twiggy fashion, had a thin, whiny baby voice, and lacked the skill to suggest any depth to the titular heroine.

The film stands up today as a shrine to misogyny, for the way in which, in the name of emancipation, women were exploited by men. Sexual freedom, bouncing along from one man to another, is the theme. “All women gained from emancipation is the privilege of being laid,” points out one (male) character. Freedom is expressed as lack of commitment. It’s kind of odd to hear young trendy men going on about commitment and expressing reservations about a flighty lifestyle, but it’s just as if the male authority figure had simply skipped a generation and was determined to keep women in their place.

Joanna, arriving from the countryside laden down with pots of home-made jam, flits through the Swinging London scene, exploring her artistic side through attending an art studio, occasionally working as a model, but more likely living off men, who are as likely to be married, and even then with another woman on the side.

She flits between artist Hendrik (Christian Dormer), nightclub owner Gordon (Calvin Lockhart) and wealthy dying toff Lord Peter Sanderson (Donald Sutherland) with a yacht in Morocco who surrounds himself with talented people because he lacks any talent himself. We don’t learn much about Joanna except her father, whom she fantasizes about cutting his throat, is a powerful enough magistrate that he can intervene when coppers are causing her boyfriend grief.

The other theme explored is racism. Gordon, a Sierra Leone native but a tax-paying British resident for eight years, is subjected to some racial abuse and later given a beating. That’s given more prominence than the miscegenation that would the following year (in 100 Rifles) attract so much controversy.

Lacking a strong narrative – mostly it’s people sitting around talking or getting into bed with each other – the film mostly hangs on a series of fantasies. Any time a new character appears, Joanna has the habit of spiriting them into a fantasy. Gordon’s sister is transformed into a maid in an English country house, Gordon becomes a Regency hero, the minute someone says sex can get you anything you desired even an elephant, lo and behold there’s Joanna sitting atop an elephant.

There’s a self-consciousness that this film can’t quite shake, the idea that somehow Sarne is holding a pillar up to society when in reality it is more a reflection of his own fantasies. The best scene comes at the end when the entire cast sings the theme song along a railway platform. The song, with no sense of irony, rhymes “top banana” with “Joanna.” And, of course, would you believe, this was all a film, director and cameras appearing at the end.

Whimsy is piled upon whimsy and that’s not enough to sustain the film. Waite offers very little except bounce, Donald Sutherland (The Split, 1968) – now coming up on 200 screen and television roles – is sorely miscast. Calvin Lockhart (The High Commissioner, 1968) brings more to the table, a polished performance that avoids the temptation to go too American. Sarne wrote the screenplay.

It’s not as bad as most films that get two stars from me but for the life of me I can’t see how it honestly earns three stars. You can sample it for free – or watch it all the way through – on Youtube.

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