Wonderwall (1968) **

While psychedelic forays were all the rage in the late 1960s it’s hard to see how that excuses a movie that appears to exalt a peeping tom. Or at the very least appear to give him a free pass because he’s a barmy scentist and, more likely, because he saves the object of his spying from suicide. And you have to wonder what prompted George Harrison (at the time still a Beatle) to volunteer to provide the soundtrack.

Of course, the title has been popularised by the catchy Oasis song and star Jane Birkin achieved notoriety also on the musical front when her single “Je T’Aime” was banned by the BBC the following year (censorship having the opposite effect and sending it to the top of the charts, as any good marketing analyst could have predicted).

But there’s not much going on here that purports to be narrative and the psychedelics and fantasy sequences fail to remove discomfort over the context.

Professor Collins ( a wild-haired Jack MacGowran) spends his days glued to a microscope studying amoebas and perhaps in a nod to other less than savoury literary characters (Lolita, 1962 and The Collector, 1965, in case you haven’t guessed) collects butterflies and spends the evening in a chaotic apartment stacked high with old magazines (their content, given his later behavior, not what you might expect).

Disturbed by the noise of a party upstairs, he throws something at the wall, knocks something loose and finds a hole-sized light streaming into the darkness of his apartment. With nothing else to keep himself occupied, he peers through and is entranced by the long legs of model Penny Lane (Jane Birkin). Soon, he is checking out a photo shoot, a party, Penny making love to boyfriend (Iain Quarrier), the model rejecting her lover’s suggestions of a threesome with another equally lithe model (Anita Pallenberg), and later discovering she is pregnant.

In between, Collins has various fantasies about challenging the boyfriend to a duel. Initially, this is in the formal manner, with duelling pistols or rapiers, but soon takes the form of giant fountain pens or giant cigarettes. Occasionally, there’s a butterfly motif. Once, he imagines Penny as a mermaid swimming among the amoebas. His dead mother appears in a puff of smoke to tell him off.

And he didn’t get to being a professor without showing some initiative. So when he realises that a tiny hole limits his viewing pleasure, he starts to knock the wall down and watch the woman in widescreen, though somehow the wall is made of glass, thus preventing him intruding, and equally somehow the neighbors never seem to notice.

Of course, you could take it all as fantasy, that a lonely old man just wants to befriend a young woman, as if there was anything less creepy about that.

Naturally, if you’re inclined to ignore the creepiness, you might be tempted to start to praise the psychedelic, but I’m not sure that’s a very good starting point. If you’re into sitar music or George Harrison you will probably enjoy the score.

Jack MacGowran (Age of Consent, 1969) didn’t seem to feel he needed to do any more with the character than dress him as an eccentric. There’s certainly no sense of shame. If anything, thanks to the ending, he is afforded redemption. Jane Birkin (Blow-Up, 1966) isn’t called upon to do anything except appear soulful, and, of course, from time to time, nude. British character actors like Irene Handl and Richard Wattis appear in stock roles.

Joe Massot (The Song Remains the Same, 1976) directed and Gerard Brach (Repulsion, 1965) and Guillermo Cain (Vanishing Point, 1971) wrote the screenplay. But while Massot was a debutant, Brach’s involvement would have indicated something perhaps creepier still but with a more relevant outcome. A case study on how this got the green light in the first place would be most appreciated.

The System / The Girl-Getters (1964) ***

Surprisingly subtle performance from Oliver Reed (Hannibal Brooks, 1968), eschewing the trademark quick inhalation of breath and steely glare, as leader of a gang seducing impressionable young girls during the summer season in an English seaside town.  Surprisingly artistic touches – swipes, montage, a meet-cute involved blowing bubbles – from the more usually heavy-handed director Michael Winner (Hannibal Brooks). Surprising amount of rising talent including cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now, 1971).

And unlike the previous The Damned / Those Are the Damned (1963), the impromptu gang headed by Tinker (Oliver Reed) is not hell-bent on violence and destruction, and the various seducers, thankfully, could hardly be described as sexual predators. Young girls away on their own for the first time, disappointed not to find the love of their lives,  are still happy to settle for a holiday affair.

The American title is more appropriate and only an overbearing parent would dream of marketing it – effectively from the male perspective – as girls entering perilous territory rather than with the lightness of tourist romance a la The Pleasure Seekers out the same year. The “system,” a misnomer if ever there was one, involves the guys finding various ways of getting tourists’ addresses – Tinker as a beach photographer has the advantage here – in order to seduce them.

Sometimes the plan goes wrong and a girl gets pregnant leaving Nidge (John Alderton) not only abandoning the frolics but doing the decent thing by proposing. Oddly, there’s no sense of the guys competing with each other for the biggest tally of notches on a bed-post; in fact they’re a democratic bunch, dividing up the potential prospects equally.  Equally oddly, I guess, none of the women come across as virgins, no first-timer angst.

Tinker, who spends most of his time avoiding telling compliant girls what they are desperate to hear, i.e that he is in love with them and that the holiday affair might turn into something more permanent, falls for posh model Nicola (Jane Merrow).

There is some, for the time, risqué material, a view in very long shot of a nude woman, a girl in bra and panties (getting dressed after sex, so perhaps where Roeg got the idea from for the famed montage in Don’t Look Now), a brutal fight between rival photographers, camera smashing on the stairs. But there’s also Tinker’s humiliation by the jet set as he tries to fit in, thumped at tennis, and dumped by the married lover he ignores during the season. There’s surprising inventiveness, a demonic parade where effigies of bride and groom are burned on a pyre, a soulful scene of a bubble salesman blowing bubbles on a deserted beach at night.

The twist is of course that some girls come to the seaside town to find boys from whom they want no commitment, instead just the enjoyment of a casual fling. Should a man like Tinker happy to fall in love, more fool he.

Naturally, with a film aimed at the young crowd, there are snatches of pop performers – the Rockin’ Berries the most prominent – and a rock arrangement of Khachaturyan’s Sabre Dance that would four years later become, for someone else, a hit single.

Oliver Reed proves very engaging, especially when in playful mode, benefitting from lengthy screen time rather than being forced into a supporting actor’s scene-stealing. Jane Merrow (The Lion in Winter, 1968), excellent as the self-aware boy-getter, heads a raft of rising talent that includes David Hemmings (Blow-Up, 1966), almost unrecognisable with a side parting rather than the trademark mop of hair, and really a bystander here. John Alderton (Hannibal Brooks) is also permitted more artistic leeway, and takes it, rather than the comedic gurning of later years.

Look out for Julia Foster (Half a Sixpence, 1967), Barbara Ferris (Interlude, 1968), and Ann Lynn (Baby Love, 1969). Even Harry Andrews (The Hill, 1965) tones down his usual screen persona.

Considerably more thoughtful and visually interesting – and occasionally playful, for goodness sake – than anything else Winner produced during the decade. A good script by Peter Draper on his screen debut makes its points without either being too clever or too forceful.   

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.  

Taste of Excitment (1969) **

Must-see for all the wrong reasons. An epic of confusion, appalling acting and dodgy accents make this thriller a prime contender for the “So-Bad-It’s-Good” Hall of Fame. Director Don Sharp (The Devil-Ship Pirates, 1964) jibed at star Eva Renzi (Funeral in Berlin, 1966) when he should have concentrated on a script that is over-plotted to within an inch of its life. A couple of kidnaps, casino visit, a sniper, and a vertiginous cliff-top maneuver are thrown in before a truth serum lights up the climax in spectacularly hilarious fashion.

Promising material goes badly awry. English tourist Jane Kerrell (Eva Renzi), floating around the South of France, is being targeted for unknown reasons. A white Mercedes has tried to drive her off the road, mysterious phone calls and visions make her believe she is going mad, that prognosis helped along by handy psychiatrist Dr Forla (George Pravda). And before you can say Surete, Scotland Yard and NATO she is the chief suspect in the murder of a man called Chalker on the ferry to France. Assistance comes in the form of handsome artist David Headley (David Buck) – preposterously famous “I’m David Headley” “The painter?” – who nearly does what’s she’s been complaining everyone else is trying to do, namely knock her down with his car. He specialises in painting nude women and for no reason at all, given he is identified immediately as a lothario, he resists her attempts to take her to bed.

Turns out Jane is something of a boffin, as any self-respecting computer expert would be known in those days, and a millionaire businessman Beiber (Paul Hubschmid), one of Headley’s rich clients, enlists the painter to offer her a job. Of course, he has something else in mind. His company is being accused to shipping unnamed goods to the unnamed opposition, hence the involvement of NATO chap Breese (Francis Matthews).

But nobody is to be trusted, especially as the French police have dismissed her fears as nonsensical. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Malling (Peter Vaughan) throws flames on the fire by not coming to her rescue but planning to arrest her since she is the last person to see Chalker alive. Then it turns out Chalker must have given her a code or secret message before he died. The police take apart her red Mini Cooper in clinical French Connection style but find nothing. That just shows how dumb they are. It never occurred to them, as it does instantly to Headley, to check the carburretor.

By now you’ll have guessed consistency is not this movie’s strong point. You never even know who the sniper Gaudi (Peter Bowles) is targeting his aim is so appalling. There’s even a sinister secretary Miss Barrow (Kay Walsh) with a pronounced Scottish accent in the Jean Brodie class. Headley comes up with an idea to disguise her – by changing her hairstyle (that’ll fool them!! – and astonishingly, in keeping with the bizarre tone, it does).

For someone who is meant to be paranoid Jane is surprisingly trusting, toddling off with clearly-identified villains when fed a line.

Most of the advertising, including this spread in “Films and Filming” magazine, made play of the sight of Eva Renzi’s naked derriere but ignored the unusual gender equality when it came to the nudity since in this scene David Buck gets out of bed and stands as equally starkers by the window.

You won’t be surprised when Jane ends up trussed and gagged, in her bikini naturally, in a fabulous house with an electrified fence. I can’t resist telling you about the truth serum. Before the evil psychiatrist has the chance to question her he is bopped on the head, Headley having sneaking in before (the dolts!) Gaudi thought to switch on the electric fence. (The electric fence is nullified by the police who just switch off all the electricity in the area.) But when she escapes, still full of the truth drug, when Gaudi calls out to find out where she is hiding, the serum forces her to give the correct answer. In the midst of the danger, Headley takes the opportunity to get an honest answer to the question of whether she loves him. And that’s not the best bit. The final line, given there hasn’t been a decent line all the way through, is a cracker. “Never believe a woman when she is telling you the truth” certainly gives you something to ponder.

So much is held back from the audience that there is never a chance, unlike Charade (1963), of genuine tension. Even the one gripping moment, taking a shortcut along a perilous cliff road, which is well done, is undercut by their pursuer beating them to their destination. The whole thing has an air of being improvised or being devised by someone who thought that twists counted more than characterisation, plot development or relationships.

The acting is so uniformly bad that Eva Renzi actually looks good. David Buck (Deadfall, 1968) is miscast in the slick Cary Grant role. While it is entertaining to see Peter Bowles (The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1968) drop his plummy English accent, his Italian accent fails to pass muster. Peter Vaughan (Alfred the Great, 1969), saddled with the bulk of the murky exposition, does his best. In a bit part, veteran Kay Walsh (A Study in Terror, 1965), holds the acting aces but she doesn’t have much competition.

Director Don Sharp also had a hand in the screenplay so it’s difficult to know who must take most blame, him or colleagues Brian Carton and Ben Healey. This was the alpha and omega of this pair’s movie career.

If you want to see how not to handle a potentially classy thriller tune in.  Can’t make up my mind whether to give this two stars for being so bad or four stars for being so bad it’s good. You decide.

And you can do so for free on Flick Vault. Be warned that you have to get past some adverts first. And if you’re wondering what happened to the opening credits, there ain’t any.

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.

Synanon (1965) ***

Pre-dating Hollywood’s love affair with drugs, before sub-culture transformed into counter culture, before smoking a joint marked a generational divide, before marijuana symbolized freedom and was, well, the epitome of cool, before all that heroin was still seen as a scourge.

Addiction had rarely been viewed as persuasive audience fodder with the odd exception of The Man with the Golden Arm (1953) or the less-starry Monkey on My Back (1957). And this was also before Synanon became a byword for cult excess and was eventually closed down for committing the cardinal sin of employing tax exemption to get stinking rich.

At the time it was a byword for something else – rehabilitation. Its methods might have been controversial given leader Chuck (Edmond O’Brien) had no psychiatric training and was simply an ex-addict looking to find a way back. The main weapon in the community’s arsenal was confrontation. What became known as attack therapy. Rather than being permitted to stew in self-pity, inmates, all voluntary, had their weaknesses spelled out by others until they were ready to acknowledge them for themselves. The key to recovery was talking. Anyone not talking was hiding from their problems. (I’m not so well up on addiction therapy to know whether Synanon invented that kind of counselling of talking out problems in groups that then became the norm.)  If patients took to the scheme they were soon addicted to smoking and coffee; sex being considered too dangerous to contemplate.

Anyways, heroin addict Zankie (Alex Cord) is a newcomer helped along an entrant’s path by Joaney (Stella Stevens), a single mum so out of kilter with responsibility she kidnaps her son, and confronted by hardass Ben (Chuck Connors), so consumed with guilt over the death of his dope-fiend wife that he spurns all women. There’s a sub-plot of sorts. Chuck is being charged with various minor violations, including permitting convicted criminals out on parole to enter the establishment. But Chuck’s main job is to be sarcastic, challenging anyone’s notions that they could be cured, but occasionally analytically correct. “You put yourself in a position where you could lose control,” he tells Ben.

It’s a hothouse of emotions for sure. Zankie and Ben come to blows over Joaney. Zankie sees little wrong in knocking back some cough medicine. Eventually, Zankie skips out, pursued by Joaney, who goes back to turning tricks to fund her habit. There’s a surprising scene – for the time (likely excised from the British version and possibly the original) – of Chuck going through the whole candle, spoon, injection routine.

Set up as a sanitised public relations package promoting Synanon ideals with overmuch detail on the establishment’s background and conflict with authority, nonetheless it touches far better than most addiction movies on the lack of self-awareness that afflicts users, their creation of fantasy worlds where whatever they do is deemed right. The tension that comes from an entire house of jumpy characters, their dependence on a higher power (Chuck in this case) is well-drawn. Even the incessant smoking and the constant reliance on coffee suggests those with an addictive personality are only too likely to switch to something else.

You might question the casting. Alex Cord (Stagecoach, 1966), Stella Stevens (Rage, 1966) and Chuck Connors (Move Over Darling, 1963) are far too well-groomed to pass for skanky addicts even if on the road to recovery. And Edmond O’Brien (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962) and his sidekick (Richard Conte, Lady in Cement, 1968)) come across like tougher versions of the tough priests tackling delinquency that used to be played by the likes of Spencer Tracy.

But Cord and Stevens do suggest the vulnerability of the delusional addict, Stevens little-girl-lost persona at odds with her glamor, actions devoid of the concept of consequence. Although boasting a six-pack, Cord’s portrayal of a man destroyed by weakness did not suggest he would segue from this screen debut into tough-guy leading roles. Better actors might have suggested a greater degree of internal conflict but externally, in the looks department, might have looked like this was always going to be their destination. So the casting works both ways, more surface, less depth, but a warning that even the prom king and queen are not immune from addiction.

Soberly directed by Richard Quine (How To Murder Your Wife, 1965) from a screenplay by Ian Bernard, in his debut, but feels it owes too much from input by the original Chuck Dederich.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968) **

Breaking the fourth wall has become a common conceit these days, especially in television, so you might be surprised to learn it was the key artistic element of this otherwise straightforward British coming of age drama.

Our teenage guide Jamie (Barry Evans), a delivery boy, spends most of his time lusting after any women he meets. Like a junior version of 10 (1979) women are rated according to their physical attributes. Most, of course, are well out of his league, especially as he lacks for what counts as the smooth patter which his cocky pal Spike (Christopher Timothy) has in abundance.

Essentially a series of episodes with the opposite sex as Jamie tries to lose his virginity. But mostly, it’s just Jamie yakking on about how he’s not lost his virginity and what’s up with all those women that they can’t see what a great catch he is. He’s so determined to have sex he will even go out with the dumbest of dumb blondes, Linda (Adrienne Posta).

Naturally, since reality is too cruel, he succumbs to fantasy with a number of scenarios that seem, inexplicably, torn from silent movies, and nothing approaching the imagination of Hieronymus Merkin. For no particular reason, he strikes lucky with the adventurous Mary (Judy Geeson), whose boyfriends usually run to sports cars, but that liaison is nearly interrupted by a wet dog and Jamie’s inexperience.

Apart from the lusting, there’s little else going on, a couple of women in a fish-and-chip shop complain they are fed up with chicken and beef, his younger brother shows more spark, and his home life is pitifully dull. You can’t really blame the movie for lacking the rebelliousness that was potent at the time, there’s no political awareness and no sign Jamie is going to grow up into one of the Angry Young Man so familiar at the beginning of the decade. It’s a quaint version of American Pie.(1999).

But it’s just boring. While Barry Evans (Alfred the Great, 1969) is personable enough he doesn’t have enough in the wit department to keep you hooked for the duration, most of the humor teetering on the side of inuendo..

Unable to recognise the inherent weakness of the script, and assuming that breaking artistic boundaries with the fourth wall is enough, director Clive Donner (Alfred the Great) spends most of his time trying to visually brush everything up, with little success.

That this was a big British hit at the time might have been more to do with the soundtrack – performed and written by Steve Winwood and Traffic – and the fleeting sight of Judy Geeson (Two into Three Won’t Go, 1969) in the buff. The British censor didn’t take too kindly to the actress revealing all, so in fact audiences were treated to very little, but for teenagers at the time very little was more than usually came their way unless willing to sit through a turgid arthouse picture.

About the only thing to commend it is Geeson’s class, she stands head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of screen charisma, and that there’s a roll call of rising British stars. As well as Christopher Timothy who would achieve fame on television in the original All Creatures Great and Small, the supporting cast includes Vanessa Howard (Corruption, 1968), Angela Scoular (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969), Diane Keen (The Sex Thief, 1973) and Adrienne Posta (Some Girls Do, 1969) and, to show them all how to do it, Denholm Elliot (Maroc 7, 1967) briefly pops up.

Clive Donner (Alfred the Great) directs. Hunter Davies, making his screen debut, wrote the screenplay based on his bestseller. Generally, any film that scores two stars does so out of incompetence. This is well-enough made but never seems to shift into gear.

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.

A Rage To Live (1965) ***

There was one in every town: a woman, rich (Sanctuary, 1961) or poor (Claudelle Inglish, 1961) or in between (Butterfield 8, 1960), with a predilection for sex. There were several men in every town, queuing up to take advantage. The woman was inevitably a shameful creature, the men the envy of their peers. You don’t have to look further than Frank Sinatra’s tom-catting in Come Blow Your Horn (1963) or Omar Sharif as the romantic star of the decade with two women in tow in Doctor Zhivago (1965) for an idea of the double standards in play. Welcome to hypocritical Hollywood.

Grace (Suzanne Pleshette), father dead and stuck with a domineering mother, finds escape and fulfilment in sex, and just to give hypocrisy a final tug discovers that while boyfriends are keen to help her explore such physical needs, they take the hump when they discover they might not be the first – or the only. Parents, naturally, are appalled, and discovery of Grace’s antics – and she’s not particularly particular, a passing waiter will do – leads her mother to collapse.

Having confessed to potential husband Sidney (Bradford Dillman) that he will not be marrying a virgin and almost bursting with gratitude that he is willing to overlook her behavior, Grace becomes a farmer’s wife and then a happy mother, until construction owner Roger (Ben Gazzara) comes on strong. She might well have been able to have her cake and eat it but Roger, having fallen in love,  reacts badly to being dumped and it’s only a matter of time before her world implodes.

Made a couple of years later, when the independent woman was being exalted, this would have been a different kettle of fish. Here, the boot on the other foot, the woman who picks and chooses her lovers seemed a step too far for that generation.

Before the big trouble begins, the movie does explore, though somewhat discreetly, the almost taboo notion that a woman might just enjoy sex for the sake of it. Sure, Grace likes being wanted and likes being held, but if she was around today, nobody would bat an eyelid if she just came out and expressed her preference.

Less discreetly, the subject of consensual sex comes up, but not as a question of debate, more as a matter of fact, that when Grace says no she actually means yes. There’s a very uncomfortable moment at the beginning when in a Straw Dogs-scene, though nothing like as violent, Grace appears to welcome a rape. Whether this is as bad as it sounds, or is just Hollywood hiding the blush that a woman would not seek out sex but could only discover its pleasures when forced upon her, is hard to say.

Nor is Grace a walking sex machine. She knows enough about men that she only has to put out feelers and any susceptible male will take the bait. And given the restrained times, she’s got no female pal with whom she can discuss her unseemly desires.

Of course, if this was a man, nobody would be batting an eyelid. Sure, once caught, he’d come up with all sorts of excuses, denials, begging for forgiveness, but an audience would give him a free pass. It’s only because this is a woman that it causes ructions. The movie just about gets close to what does make Grace happy and why she needs the thrill of extra marital sex but by that point the melodrama has taken over and there’s little time left for discussion, what with Roger intent on revenge and another lovelorn wife, mistakenly imagining her husband has fallen victim to Grace’s charms, also on the warpath.

Small town constraints play their part, too. Washing your dirty linen in public the worst of all offences. Author John O’Hara, on whose bestseller this is based – and whose other works Butterfield 8, Ten North Frederick (1958) and From the Terrace (1960) explored similar worlds  – knows only too well that while wealth brings freedom and privilege it comes with chains attached.

And there’s some interesting role reversal, an illicit lover falling in love with a married person normally a starting point for a movie to explore happiness and its opposite rather than being the one act Grace will not tolerate in a lover, she wants strings-free sex, not anything with encumbrance. While Grace would like to act like a man, and has the wealth to shield herself from the worst of the fall-out, as a mother she is extremely vulnerable, and in this particular era could risk losing her child if seen as maternally unfit.

While lacking the sexual combustibility of Elizabeth Taylor or Lana Turner or other Hollywood heartbreakers, Suzanne Pleshette (Nevada Smith, 1966) gives a decent enough performance especially when it comes to her straightforward attitude to sex, aware she might be causing upheaval, but finding it impossible to ignore desire, or imagine a life in which that does not play an impulsive part.

Bradford Dillman (Sanctuary) has less room for character maneuver and is mostly called upon to suck it up. He comes into his own in the movie’s latter stages when bewilderment at betrayal and public humiliation clashes with continued love for his wife. Ben Gazzara (The Bridge at Remagen, 1969), trademark leer and smug face kept in check, has a showier role especially when the violent aspects of his character explode.

Director Walter Grauman, while better known for war picture 633 Squadron (1963), had just come off another picture dealing with female trauma (Lady in a Cage, 1964) and does quite a decent job here, the camera intensely focusing on the leading actress and then as the tragic outcome unfolds drawing away from her. There’s one great piece of composition. He had used tree branches and the countryside to frame Grace and Sidney at the height of their love. And he does the same again when Grace is abandoned.

Asks some difficult questions without quite getting to grip with the real subject of female sexuality. There was a sense that Hollywood was just on the cusp of accepting the independence of women, but didn’t want to go the whole hog just yet, because, apart from anything else, where would it leave the guys?

Discover WordPress

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The Atavist Magazine

by Brian Hannan

WordPress.com News

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.