Thursday, 15 March 2018
Episode 2 of The Adventurer sees Gene mistaken for a friendly bear from deepest, darkest Peru who gets adopted by the Brown family and fed lots of marmalade… ok, maybe not, but Mr Barry is really rockin’ that ‘Paddington Bear’ look at the start of this episode. Return to Sender, shot under the title ‘Spy Man’s Holiday’, opens with Gene once again in grumpy git mode, this time because of the British weather. “Do you realise it’s been raining for weeks, do you know what that does for me, can’t wait to hit those beaches in France”.
Mr Parminter wants Gene to work a secret mission into his French holiday, but Gene has only one thing on his mind, indicated by a quick cut-away to a bikini-clad actress. It does tend to fly in the face of typical ITC series heroism, the message of the scene seems to be that the Gene Genie is after some tail, so leave the saving the world crap to some other guy. “There’s only one thing that interests me down there…and it’s something you wouldn’t know about” Gene bitches to Parminter…did my ears deceive me or did Gene just basically ‘out’ Mr Parminter there, and make Mr P the first, openly acknowledged to be gay character in an ITC series?. No time to ponder on that though, because Gene is goin’ where the sun keeps shinin’, through the pourin’ rain, goin’ where the weather suits his clothes, bankin’ off of the North East winds, sailin’ on summer breeze, and skippIn’ over the ocean like a stone…
Soon we are back in the French Rivera, just in time for a bit of Chevrolet pleasing product placement, as Gene drives his Chevy to a luxury hotel where he checks in for his regular ego massage. No soon as he has entered the lobby, then he is mobbed by women, all hungry for his John Hancock. Even the bad guys in this episode are in awe of the Gene Genie “hey isn’t that Gene Bradley, I’ve never been that close to a film star before…wait until I tell my Mum”.
Gene is soon back to being grumpy again though when a female corpse turns up in his bathroom “this is my bathroom you know” he moans on the blower to the long suffering Mr Parminter. In what will become a reoccurring theme in Adventurer episodes its left to Parminter to explain this week’s overly complicated plot to Gene over the phone. Michelle (Pamela Salem), a secret agent who works for Parminter, had been transporting a microchip across Europe alongside Gene’s male assistant, who used to be called Vince and be played by Stuart Damon, but is now called Gavin and played by Garrick Hagon. Unfortunately they were run off the road by two bad guys Fleming and Gorman (Patrick Mower and Donald Burton), Gavin was injured in the crash but Michelle escaped with the microchip. Unable to get in contact with Parminter, Michelle ended up at the hotel Gene is staying at, where she concealed the microchip behind a stamp then attached it to an envelope. In the midst of Gene’s impromptu autograph session in the lobby, Gene mistook Michelle for a fan and signed the envelope. Michelle then had the envelope sent up to Gene’s room, and managed to sneak into his room herself, only for the bad guys to show up as well and murder her in the bathroom. Good God, it’s only when you try to transcribe them do you realise just how convoluted and illogical Adventurer episodes are. Incredibly, the plot gets even more complicated when Gene realises that he has given away the signed envelope to a star stuck young girl called Debbie, and Fleming and Gorman show up again to kidnap this week’s love interest Valerie (Sharon Gurney).
An intended holiday trying to pull the birds in the French Rivera therefore transforms into a race against time to retrieve the microchip from Gene’s young fan Debbie, and rescue Valerie from Fleming and Gorman who have her held hostage on their yacht. The big set piece of this week’s episode though is Gene’s helicopter pursuit of Debbie’s family across the French Rivera, ending with him landing the chopper on a motorway and forcing their car to a standstill. As Gene can’t be seen to be a total bastard, who terrorises an innocent family and snatches his autograph off a little girl, he has thoughtfully brought along a signed photograph of himself for little Debbie to have instead…because let’s face it what little girl doesn’t dream of receiving a signed photograph of a 53 year old man. Lest we forget, “Gene Bradley is Everyone’s Pin-Up, and Nobody’s Fool”.
No look at ‘Return to Sender’ can ignore the fight scene that occurs midway through this episode. If it was intended as a legitimate action scene, it is quite tragic, if it was intended as the homage to old slapstick comedy that it comes across as, then it is simply fabulous. It plays something like this…girl throws a pillow at Patrick Mower which causes him to drop his gun… Gene wrestles with Patrick Mower for a while… girl hits Patrick Mower with a fake vase which makes no noise when it shatters…Gene suddenly has a handful of plant leaves which he proceeds to slap a man around the face with, to understandably no great affect…bad guy takes a swing at Gene, misses him by a mile but Gene reacts as if it had connected…Gene goes to swing on a curtain rail, but it collapses under his weight and the whole curtain falls on top of him…he then gets knocked out.
I still shake my head and laugh whenever I recall this scene; it is as if the scene turned out so badly that they tried to salvage it by passing it off as pure comedy. Either that or, even at this early stage, the crew were creating their own amusement by trying to make Barry look as foolish as possible without him realising it. This episode does after all open with him dressed like Paddington Bear!! The fight scene makes Barry/Bradley look like an ineffectual joke, there is even a put down from Mower at the end of the scene about how big Hollywood stars always need stuntmen to look good onscreen. A line which feels extremely meta given Barry’s extensive use of a stuntman in this scene, something that either due to ineptitude or malice the director hasn’t even bothered to disguise.
Did Gene need others to make himself look silly though? he seems to have been his own worse enemy in that respect. Ironically in his prime, circa Burke’s Law/Secret Burke/G.B. Sings of Love and Things, he was a relatively conservative dresser, smart suits, tuxedos, maybe the odd polo neck jumper. However the older he got, the wilder and dare I say more ‘adventurous’ his fashion sense became, as he attempted to turn to clothes to make himself look younger. By the end of all 26 episodes of The Adventurer you’ll be convinced that, in terms of fashion, Gene Barry was the white Rudy Ray Moore, every costume change brings a new assault on the senses. Safari jackets, oversized sunglasses, tartan suits, shirts made from old curtains, mustard coloured underwear, all form a part of the Bradley dress sense, but none can hold a candle to Gene’s taste in trousers. A piece of apparel that burned itself so deep into my psyche that I once used to post on a certain message board under the username ‘Gene Bradley’s Trousers’, such was their impact.
Rumour has it that a low-regarded, shot on 16mm ITC series will soon be making its way onto Blu-Ray, remastered in all its high definition glory for the very first time. The Adventurer certainly fits the bill of being a low-regarded, shot on 16mm ITC series, although all the smart money seems to be on the series in question being Jason King… I don’t think the world is yet ready for the sight of Gene Bradley’s trousers in HD, even in SD they are a sight to behold.
BTW: a search of the internet reveals there was a tie-in novelisation of The Adventurer, released in early 1973. One Robert Miall, who seems to have quite the career novelising ITC series, was given the task of fleshing out Return to Sender into a paperback novel (back cover blurb: “in Nice two girls brought double trouble. One was warm and willing, the other cold and contorted- a corpse on his bathroom floor.”) I can’t help feeling my life will never be fully complete until I’ve seen how Miall managed to translate the sight of Gene bitch slapping a man with a handful of plant leaves into the printed word.
Monday, 12 March 2018
Quite where you begin with The Adventurer is a matter of some conjecture, the first episode on the DVD is ‘The Good Book’, which was also the first aired during the ITV4 repeats. However the IMDB identifies the first episode as being ‘Miss me once, Miss me twice, and Miss me once again’, which is episode six on the DVD. I’m inclined to think the series was shot so that it could be transmitted in any order that the broadcaster saw fit. So, confusingly for audiences there is no ‘origins’ episode to the series, no story arcs, and no two parters (the same I believe is also true of The Protectors). Therefore anyone who hadn’t bothered to catch the advanced publicity for the show or read a basic story outline in the TV guide was gonna have to play catch-up, because in its early days The Adventurer is a pretty pacy show. One that hasn’t got the time to stick around and explain any trivial matters, such as who the main characters are, or how they came to know each other, or form a crime fighting team. I would stick my neck out and say that The Good Book is the intended first episode. If only because it features a trick ‘surprise’ opening scene that only really works if this is the first episode you’re watching, and aren’t fully aware of what the main character does for a living. It sees Gene Bradley fleeing from gunmen, then seemingly being shot to death in a bullring. Only for the scene to then pan out to reveal a film crew and –surprise, surprise- it has all just been a scene in a movie that Gene is shooting. Beginning as he means to go on, Gene is rather grumpy after a day’s filming, and is having a moan at Mr. Parminter “pictures wrapped, I’m tired, I wanna go skiing” he whines.
Adventure beckons though, and soon we are off to the Cote D’Azur, where Gene seeks out ex-lover Nita (Adrienne Corri). Nita has fallen in with Armand (John Moffatt), a crime boss who possesses a code book that he is on the verge of selling to some unscrupulous general. Unbeknownst to Armand, his code book is actually a fake, and Gene and Mr. Parminter are there to undermine Nita’s credibility within Armand’s organization. This they attempt to do by staging a burglary of Armand’s safe and replacing his fake code book with the real code book, so that Armand will think the real code book is a fake code book, and that the stolen fake code book is the real code book… welcome one and all to the world of Adventurer logic.
As all Adventurer plots are required to feed Barry’s ego, Bradley gets to gatecrash the party on Armand’s yacht, and is soon being mobbed by the star stuck jet set, thrilled that they are in the company of the world famous Gene Bradley. This crowd includes Diane who has been working undercover and trying to worm her way into Armand’s inner circle. In order to maintain her cover, she too has to pretend to be awestruck to be in Gene’s company. Good God, how Catherine Schell must have hated shooting these scenes, in which her character is required to act like a giggling schoolgirl and –tee, hee- ask Gene for his autograph. Behaving like his biggest fan, she attempts to impress him by telling him that she knows his star sign is a Leo, to which Gene corrects her with “you’re wrong, I’m a Gene”. Oh, what a witty, smooth talking so and so Gene is!!!
Of course the Bradley charm also proves handy when it comes to causing tension between Armand and Nita, with devilish Gene driving Armand crazy with the knowledge that he and Nita used to have a thing going on. After all aren’t all men jealous of Gene? As there is always enough of Gene to go round, he also finds time to romance party goer Gabrielle Drake, who gets the notable honour of being Gene’s first love interest on the show. Poor Gabrielle, all those years studying at RADA, only to end up with a role that requires her to do nothing but hang on to Gene’s arm and deliver such shockingly bad dialogue as “the last time I was in a library, this little boy he took me behind the back of one of the bookshelves and made love to me”. Still, never let it be said that appearing in The Adventurer didn’t lead on to greater things. Gabrielle would soon be appearing in Val Guest’s Au Pair Girls (the Adventurer/Au Pair Girls crossovers don’t stop there either) and incredibly this episode features a very early appearance from Ben Kingsley. Not that you’d ever recognize him here with a full beard and full head of hair, plus only two lines of dialogue as Armand’s henchman. Although given how bad Gabrielle Drake’s dialogue is in this episode, maybe he should be grateful his dialogue was kept to a minimum.
This episode also boasts an appearance from the lesser sighted Stuart Damon, who gets only one line of dialogue. In the first sign that things were already starting to go wrong with this show, Damon isn’t even mentioned in the end credits, while Garrick Hagon is mistakenly credited with playing a role in the opening titles. Almost every second Damon and Barry share together in this episode makes for uncomfortable viewing. In one scene Gene steps out of a party at Armand’s mansion, onto the balcony, and observes that Damon’s character has shown up in a car. By rights Gene should be pleased to see him, they are after all on the same side, yet Gene shoots him the meanest look imaginable, rolls his eyes, then steps back inside to the party. Even the placement of the two actors in this scene seems grotesquely symbolic of their positions on the show. Gene as the king of the castle looking down at the unwanted intruder, Damon the isolated outsider, kept at bay from the party and the fun by Gene.
Fortunately The Good Book also brings us a much needed shot of unintended hilarity, when Diane is required to perform a daring trapeze leap into Armand’s vault. At which point Catherine Schell is replaced by an extremely masculine stuntman with legs like a rugby player, who may well be the most unconvincing woman since Bernard Bresslaw in Carry on Girls.
Despite that howler, and the distasteful side-lining of Damon, The Good Book is overall an agreeable piece of lightweight escapism that offers up an idea of what the series could have been. The series opener may stick to the tried and tested ITC formula, still if it ain’t broke… don’t fix it. The Good Book’s combination of a once big time American star whose headlining of a British TV show was still a big deal, flash cars, bikini clad babes, punch ups and picturesque French Rivera locations couldn’t have been without its wish-fulfilment charm for a homegrown audience watching this on a small screen in rainy old England over a fish and chip supper. To give an idea of how the series would have originally been seen, it went out on ITV at 8:30pm on Friday nights after ‘The Comedians’ and ‘The Protectors’. A piece of alpha-male scheduling if ever there was one. I’d wager that The Good Book was one of the earliest episodes to be filmed. There is an energy and enthusiasm about the show at this point, and as they filmed away in the summery Cote D’Azur the crew must have thought they’d hit the career jackpot, Gene Barry induced malaise had yet to fully set it.
It must have been music to the ears of Gene Barry “you play this guy ‘the Adventurer’, his actual name is nearly identical to your own, and he is a playboy…a millionaire…a famous film star that everybody loves, and women want him, and men want to be him, the public regularly mobs him for his autograph, and get this Gene…this guy is also a secret agent, and week in, week out you save the world…and we’ll pay you a shed load of money, and you and your family will get to travel all over Europe filming this thing”. To any slightly faded movie star with the slightest bit of an ego, it must have been an offer you couldn’t refuse…and by all accounts Gene Barry had more than just the slightest bit of an ego.
Before he signed on the dotted line to play The Adventurer though, Barry had been A. Burke, or more precisely Amos Burke, the crime fighting chief of police (who also happened to be a millionaire) in the hit American TV series Burke’s Law (1963-1966). The origins of The Adventurer can be traced back to Burke’s Law, especially its third season where apropos of nothing Burke decided to hand in his police badge and become a globetrotting spy with an array of gadgets at his disposal. An audience baffling career change that also necessitated a series title change to ‘Amos Burke- Secret Agent’. Attempting to muscle in on James Bond territory couldn’t save Burke from the axe in 1966 though. Presumably Lew Grade caught an episode of ‘Amos Burke –Secret Agent’ in the re-runs, and had a light bulb above the head idea to add Barry to his collection of once big time movie stars turned small screen action heroes and revive Amos Burke –Secret Agent in all but name for his new ITC series.
I first fell under the spell of The Adventurer in the early days of ITV4, a channel which in its infancy was deeply into airing all the old ITC shows. Now, I’m not usually one to subscribe to the ‘so bad, its good’ mentality, or riff on so-called bad movies or TV shows, but The Adventurer is one of those cases, like ‘Fire Maidens from Outer Space’ or ‘The Wife Swappers’, where I have to concede that this thing only works these days as an unintentional comedy. Trying to sell this to people as legitimately great television, will either result in me being driven deaf by the laugher of others, or beaten to a pulp by an angry mob. As an ITC series, it is decidedly below par, but as a source of unintentional comedy The Adventurer is the gift that keeps on giving, especially over how the show overfeeds Barry’s ego on an almost ‘La Grande Bouffe’ scale. Understand, I honesty…cross my heart and hope to die… do love The Adventurer, and yet I do love to mock the show as well, but it is an affectionate Eric Morecambe-Des O’Connor kind of mockery. Ideally the first thing you’d do after reading this is order the DVD release, The Adventurer is a disease this blog wants to infect you with, but be warned there is no known cure!!!
“He’s Everybody’s Pin-Up, Nobody’s Fool” claimed the ITC publicity department. Over the course of 26 episodes, Gene Barry plays Gene Bradley, star of such classic Hollywood movies as ‘The Man Who Could See Through Everything’, and not forgetting the 60s French art-house hit ‘La Vallee du Funnerre’. Beneath the showbiz veneer however, movie star Bradley leads a secret, double life as an international crime buster for the US government. A task he is aided in by Mr. Parminter (Barry Morse), a lovable, yet buffoonish British government official, as well as glamorous assistant Diane Marsh (Catherine Schell)…and briefly a younger, male assistant called Vince Elliot (Stuart Damon). The Adventurer seems to have been conceived along the lines of ITC’s other big show of 1972 ‘The Protectors’. A half hour time slot, some big business sponsorship (Brut had money in The Protectors, while Chevrolet sponsored The Adventurer) and the casting of a known American star alongside a supporting actress and actor who were comparatively unknown in the States.
Other than the fact that the character never visits Hong Kong, and isn't called Steve Mallen this is an entirely accurate advert for The Adventurer.
Even when watching The Adventurer on ITV4, at a time when this little remembered show had been the subject of almost no documentation, something did always strike you as being a little ‘off’ with the show, even if you couldn’t quite put your finger on what. Why were there several episodes were Gene Bradley is largely absent? Why did Diane keep disappearing and reappearing in the show? And why did the show struggle to keep hold of the actor playing the younger male assistant role…sometimes the character would be played by Stuart Damon…the next week he’d be played by Garrick Hagon…the next week he’d be played by Ed Bishop. Sure the name of character would change every time a different actor played him, but it is clear this was always intended to be the same character.
The reasons why The Adventurer turned into such a clusterfuck remained a mystery, that is until the 2006 DVD release, whose extras saw stars Barry Morse, Catherine Schell and Stuart Damon finally spill the beans on just what went wrong with the show. The Adventurer is one of those rare instances where I’d recommend watching the DVD extras before the actual series, it provides you with justifiable reasons why the show turned out such a malformation, and entirely absolves you of any guilt you might feel over turning Gene Barry into a subject of ridicule (an essential factor in enjoying The Adventurer these days). Barry, who was still in the land of the living at the time, declined to be interviewed for the DVD, and it is easy to see why, since the memories of his co-stars do portray him as quite the all-round douchebag. Whereas the onscreen Gene Bradley is on a mission to rid the world of evil doers, the off screen Gene Barry seemed equally driven to rid the show of his co-stars. Interviews with his co-stars paint Barry as a pampered, egomaniac with a peculiar fixation about his height, and appearing to be taller than he really was. No surprise then that 6’3’ Stuart Damon didn’t last long on the show, remaining in two episodes before his role was recast with a succession of increasingly shorter actors.
The predictably immodest sleeve notes of his 1964 album ‘Gene Barry Sings of Love and Things’ refers to him as “the tall and handsome actor” and indicate Gene’s height obsession had been going on for quite some time. Indeed once you become wise to the height ‘thing’ it becomes difficult to look at Barry’s acting appearances in the same light. Sure enough, scenes where Barry is standing and others are seated, scenes where Barry is in close-up and his co-stars are in the background, and an aversion to showing Barry in the same profile shots as certain, possibly taller actors are rife in The Adventurer, Amos Burke- Secret Agent, Burke’s Law and going right back to War of the Worlds. Heck, was the fact that even the Martians in that movie turn out to be shorter than Gene, at the actor’s own insistence? Picking up on this can be a pastime that is as insanely distracting as it is funny. Well, for us anyway, less so I suspect if you were there and the victim of a cranky, Hollywood legend who decided to make your life hell for the simple reason of being taller than him.
Even though the ‘making of’ documentary finds Damon looking back on incidents that are over thirty years old, and from the perspective of someone who has managed to have a successful career in spite of this experience, you can tell pain, anger and frustration still go hand in hand with this trip down memory lane. It’s amazing they talked Damon into being interviewed for the DVD, considering this must have been one of the worse moments of his career, if not his entire life. Maybe getting the Adventurer experience off his chest was cathartic for him, you certainly hope that was the case. The shit hit the fan the moment Barry laid eyes on Damon, in the DVD extras Damon recalls Barry staring up at him and asking “how the hell tall are you?”, when Damon’s jokey reply “6’3’ but I slouch allot on screen” failed to get a response from Barry he knew he was essentially finished on the show. Either due to embarrassment or cowardliness, none of the crew could bring themselves to tell Damon he’d been fired. Leading to the actor doing some detective work himself, spotting actors wearing costumes intended for his character, and discovering from the shows’ costume mistress that he’d been given the push, before confronting the show’s makers. While he left the show after two episodes, Damon’s contract tied him up in career limbo for a year “I almost went crazy that year”.
Co-star Catherine Schell fared slightly better, but a combination of being forced into ever smaller sized shoes by Barry, and pressure by Barry on the show’s producers to have her fired because of her height, meant her time on the show too would turn out to be limited. Unlike Damon however, the makers of the show obviously felt Schell wasn’t as disposable and at the behest of the moneymen, Schell was sneaked back onto the set to shoot several episodes while Barry was on holiday. It was all going so well, until a scriptwriter, unaware of the situation, wrote a scene with Schell and Barry together, forcing an unhappy reunion. “I remember when he was fluffing his lines, he shouted at me as if it was my fault, so I got my courage and shouted at him, I made him feel very small which he was anyway, regardless of what his publicity said”.
Plenty of drinks may be required to get through all 26 episodes of The Adventurer, but fear not Dennis Price will be along later in the series to keep us (and himself) topped up, so let the adventuring begin, and don’t forget to slouch allot, or else the ghost of Gene Barry might insist on you being replaced by a shorter audience.
Sunday, 18 February 2018
The Over Amorous Artist… Just One More Time … or maybe just call it ‘Alan Street Begins’ this being the first in a series of David Hamilton Grant produced British sex film shorts to be centered around the character of struggling artist Alan Street. In a then topical move this first instalment in the saga sees Street drop out of the 9 to 5 in order to concentrate on his fledgling art career and become a house husband, while his wife goes out to work and becomes the breadwinner.
Street is played by former bodybuilder John Hamill who back in the 1960s built up a sizeable gay following due to the beefcake modelling he did during that decade. As a result never run Hamill’s name through internet search engines if you are not prepared to see a thousand and one photos of his cock. Hamill’s acting career in the 1970s generally made sure to placate Hamill’s old fanbase, often in hilariously unsubtle ways. Check out the laughably gratuitous reason that 1970’s ‘Trog’ finds to have Hamill strip down to his underwear… like a man in uniform, ducky? then ‘The Beast in the Cellar’ gives you Hamill dressed up as a soldier, Hamill’s buttocks also became familiar to British horror film fans for their appearance in ‘Tower of Evil’. The Alan Street films serve up Hamill as easy going fresh meat there to be circled and pounced upon by a cross-section of British womanhood. In a ‘something for everyone’ manner the Street films appease British sex film fans with plenty of female T&A, pacify Hamill’s fanbase by featuring him in as much a state of undress as his female co-stars, and allow their star to bask in all his narcissistic glory. By all accounts Hamill was very much in love with himself, as tends to be the case with bodybuilders. So, Alan Street truly was all things to all men.
The Over Amorous Artist doesn’t waste much time in setting out its British sex film credentials, its opening titles featuring glamour model Bobby Sparrow dancing fully nude to the music of John Shakespeare, who once again provides a theme tune to a British sex film that will burrow into your head and replay there about a 100 times “one more time, that’s all I hear you say, one more time, every night and every day”. Does the fact that Bobby is dancing to John Shakespeare music in this movie qualify her as being a Shakespearian actress?...and why when she is full frontally nude throughout the sequence is she suddenly wearing panties in the final shot of the credits? In fairness, the Over Amorous Artist does make an effort to tie Bobby’s nude dancing into the plot of the film, since she appears to be a stripper hired to celebrate Street’s last day on the job. Don’t go expecting a party scene with extras though, this being an el cheapo David Grant production all we get to see is Street interacting with an off-screen gathering and waiving an empty wine glass about. A scene probably shot in Grant’s own office, multiple cigarettes stubbed out into a Schweppes ash tray suggesting a smoky late night game of backgammon may well have taken place there prior to filming.
Street’s wife is played by Sue Longhurst, always a great choice for playing bossy, ball busters who wear the trousers in her relationships. As if to deliberately blur the line between the actress and her British sex film persona, The Over Amorous Artist has Longhurst literally playing a character called ‘Sue’. The film’s idea of gender-reversal satire is to have Sue jump Alan in the bedroom and tell him “if I’m going to be the man of the house from now on, I’m going to start by raping you”. Various likeminded females have similar plans for him, and Street’s presence causes a sensation amongst his female neighbours during those long, boring, male-less afternoons in suburbia. Soon Street’s valiant attempts to do the housework and prove that men are good at multi-tasking comes under fire from a middle aged nymphomaniac, the prick teasing babysitter, the hippie chick next door, and the scantily clad neighbour who gets locked out of her house in a state of undress. Street is obliged to get his end away with all of them, with requests to draw their portraits enviably being a prelude to sexual demands.
Everything good, bad and ugly about the British sex comedy era can be found here, all compacted into a bite-sized 43 minute running time. The Over Amorous Artist makes a case for David Grant having virtually invented the British sex comedy genre, with the film laying the foundations for a genre that other filmmakers, with ambitions beyond Grant’s 43 minute Eady-money cash grabs like this, would soon use to build the Confessions and the Adventures series. As tends to be the case with the other long thought gone British sex films that recently resurfaced via the BFI player service and then through unauthorized DVDs, The Over Amorous Artist plays pretty much like you always imagined it to. In fact this may well be the quintessential British sex comedy. Dialogue is awash with double-entendres (“I can always get a man up…from the electricity board”), interiors are ‘The House that Dripped Kitsch’, although astonishingly no one appears to own a copy of Vladimir Tretchikoff’s The Green Lady, exteriors are staggering in their early 1970s new town blandness and conformity…the kids from Psychomania would have been in their element trashing this place. Old comedy actors wander through this landscape, there for a paycheque and maybe the chance to get an eyeful of tits and asses. Ticking that box here is Bob Todd, who shows up as a postman, a role so brief it could well have been filmed during a lunch break on The Benny Hill Show. The Over Amorous Artist is filled with so many genre clichés that you often have to remind yourself it is an actual product of that era, rather than a meticulously researched send-up of the genre, say like The Fast Show’s ‘Confessions’ series parody or the sex comedy era worshipping fan films of Jan Manthey.
As well as establishing John Hamill as a sex film ubiquity, The Over Amorous Artist ensured pretty much every female cast member here plenty more work in the genre, with Sue Longhurst and Hilary Pritchard being asked to repeat their roles here verbatim in other movies. Marianne Morris pop up in this too, playing Street’s feminist neighbour who blows her top when she discovers he has painted her in the nude, and calls him a “bastard”, allowing a brief glimpse of the claws she’d bare to far greater effect in Vampyres. The Over Amorous Artist also paved the way for Felicity Devonshire’s career as the genre’s favourite piece of pseudo-jailbait.
Now, I must admit I don’t like the Alan Street character in this film as much as I do in the 1975 sequel Girls Come First. Which sounds odd considering that it is the same character, played by the same actor in both movies. Street does come across as a bit of a jerk here, one who cheats on his wife while she is out working, gets a little rapey with one of his neighbours after he mistakes her actions as a sexual come-on, and keeps forgetting to pick up his young daughter from school because he gets preoccupied with painting and/or screwing his neighbours. Good god, only David Hamilton Grant would have dared turn child neglect into a running sight gag in a sex comedy. Street’s daughter Abigail is frequently seen sitting alone outside the school gates having seemingly been waiting there for hours for her absent father, who when he does turn up greets her with “sorry darling, don’t tell mummy will you”. One of these sequences opens with a huge close-up of a sign for ‘Burhill County First School’, whom I’m sure were just over the moon to receive a name check in a film like this.
The Over Amorous Artist is a film that continually breaks the rule of ‘never work with children or animals’ with not only a generous amount of screen time given over to little Abigail, but also ‘Rover the Dog’ who gets his own billing in the opening credits, and seems to be on a quest to steal scenes away from John Hamill. In a moment of clearly unplanned and unintended humour Rover the Dog becomes hysterical during Hamill’s big full frontal scene in the film, necessitating a jump cut. One minute Rover is curiously sticking his head into shot, one jump cut later he is gone. A scene so funny that watching it on an ipod caused me to laugh out loud in a public place, proof if ever it was needed that films like The Over Amorous Artist were never meant to be watched on ipods. The emphasis on a cute dog and a child in a film like this is striking in its inappropriateness and does make you wonder if this pair could have been Grant’s own daughter and pet? There is way too much doting over these two in the movie for them not to have had some kind of personal connection to the production.
The ever inquisitive ‘Rover the Dog’
Speaking of inappropriate things…is it a bird? Is it a plane?...no its Super Racially Offensive Man, aka John Bluthal in brown face make-up playing a Pakistani door to door salesman who appears on Alan Street’s door and tries to sell him all manner of crap. Yammering gibberish in a put on Pakistani accent (“I got reference from Enoch”) Bluthal blows into this film like a politically incorrect hurricane. Much of a pro as Hamill was, he seems at a loss over just what to make of Bluthal’s minstrel show. Like Bob Todd before him, Bluthal is gone after one scene, but was recalled by Grant for further browned up antics in The Great McGonagall and Escape to Entebbe.
As they say on Talking Pictures TV “the following film contains scenes of outdated racial representation that some viewers may find offensive”.
Grant seems to have taken to racial humour like a duck to water, in the sequel Girls Come First pesky Pakistanis are supplanted by a penny pinching rabbi who haggles over the price of top-shelf magazines and Sashimi, the Japanese chauffeur who loves to eat dogs. Abandon all politically correctness ye who enter the cinematic universe of David Hamilton Grant. On the basis of The Over Amorous Artist, Grant delighted in making fun of feminists and Pakistanis, but in his defence he was obviously sweet on small dogs.
Incidentally there is a Canadian poster for Girls Come First which gives Hilary Pritchard prominent billing, and a British ‘Girls Come First’ poster which bills Bluthal, Bob Todd and Felicity Devonshire among its cast. Since all those people aren’t in Girls Come First, but do appear in The Over Amorous Artist are we then to assume that whoever designed those posters fucked up? Or more intriguingly could there have been a version of Girls Come First that incorporated footage from, if not the entirety of, The Over Amorous Artist into its running time?
Quite how that would have worked out remains to be seen though, considering that continuity between films is not a David Grant strong point. In the Over Amorous Artist, Sue and Alan are a married couple with a young daughter, whereas in Girls Come First they are an unmarried boyfriend and girlfriend, Abigail and Rover are nowhere to be seen, and Sue has a child by another man. So what the fuck happened to this couple inbetween films is anyone’s guess, maybe Abigail got farmed out to Uncle David and Rover got gobbled up by Sashimi. It actually makes more sense if you view Girls Come First as a prequel to The Over Amorous Artist rather than a sequel, but even then the continuity is still screwy with Street establishing a name for himself in the art world in Girls Come First and yet being an unknown at the start of The Over Amorous Artist, and what became of Sue’s illegitimate child?
Of course, in my mind the whole dysfunctional Street family is still out there, Alan, now 70, resides in a nursing home where he tries to dodge the advances of the over amorous OAPs, Sue probably lives as a man these days, and Abigail, now a traumatized middle aged woman, is still waiting outside the gates of Burhill county first school wondering when her father is going to pick her up. I think David Grant should stop pretending he is dead and make that movie.
Wednesday, 7 February 2018
The Uma Thurman/Quentin Tarantino revelations of last weekend jogged my memory of a rather disturbing article that first ran in Femme Fatales magazine in the 1990s, and concerned Pamela Green’s ill-treatment on the set of Peeping Tom (1960) by its director Michael Powell. (you can read the article online here )
Admittedly Green and Powell are both long dead, and not around to be the recipients of the public sympathy and contempt that are currently being dished out to Thurman and Tarantino respectively. Still Powell, like Tarantino, is one of those filmmakers whose admirers always insist on defending, even when their behaviour is to the average person at least, indefensible. Note the distasteful way in which the article linked to above insists that you should read a more flattering overview of Peeping Tom before you bother to hear her account. In a similar vein I recall mentioning several of Green’s allegations about Powell on a certain message board a few years ago, only to be shouted down by a Powell admirer, who came to their hero’s defence with something to the effect of “Mr. Powell treated his artists with the respect that their talent deserved” as if the fact that Green was a novice actress, and mainly a nude model, somehow entitled Powell to treat her like garbage...and smile while nearly blinding her on the set.
So, forgive me if I don’t tear up when the ol’ sob story that “critics’ initial reaction to Peeping Tom all but killed the career of this great filmmaker” gets trotted out for the umpteenth time. Boo-Hoo. It seems to be beyond the grasp of Powell’s admirers that a person can be both a cinematic genius and a sadistic creep, Mr. Powell it seems was both.
Green’s ill-treatment on the set of Peeping Tom only exists in the form of her own oral recollections, but over the weekend behind-the-scenes footage of the on-set incident during the filming of Kill Bill that left Uma Thurman with permanent damage to her neck, concussion and damage to her knees has come to light. The footage is as appalling as you’d expect, clearly no one but an experienced stunt person should have been behind the wheel of that car, and the fact that Tarantino pressured her into performing that scene (“Quentin came into my trailer and didn’t like to hear no. He was furious because i’d cost them a lot of time”) speaks volumes about his egomania and control freakery. Admittedly Thurman has subsequently back-tracked on a number of her initial claims, and now states that Tarantino helped her acquire this footage that others involved in the production (including, natch, Harvey Weinstein) have attempted to suppress for 15 years. Seemingly a direct contradiction of her claim in the original New York Times article that she and Tarantino “were shouting at each other because he wouldn’t let me see the footage and he told me that was what they had all decided”.
Call me a cynic, but all of this reeks of a reputation saving exercise by a powerful Hollywood figure, i.e. Tarantino, who is perfectly happy to throw former associates under the pussy wagon in order to save his own career. Former associates whose main villainy here seems to have been to conceal evidence of HIS on-set wrongdoing. I seem to recall in ‘Not Quite Hollywood’, the 2008 documentary about the Australian exploitation film genre, Tarantino having a particularly excitable recollection of seeing actor George Lazenby being set on fire at the end of ozzploitation movie The Man From Hong Kong (1975), which in retrospective seems evidence of Tarantino’s preference for seeing actors perform dangerous stunts over experienced stunt persons.
The sycophancy and blind, hero worship that surrounds Tarantino, especially on the internet, has been a particular source of irritation for a number of years. People who like his films, or simply share his taste in films, seem to form an imaginary friendship with him, and believing that he is their ‘buddy’ can always be relied upon to defend him online, or shield him from criticism when those around him come under fire. Remember when the Lianne Spiderbaby story broke and all the Tarantino sycophants were quick to flood the internet with self-assurances that “Quentin couldn’t have known what she was up to” ditto when it came out about Weinstein and it was all “Quentin couldn’t have known what he was up to”. Thurman’s partial retraction of her story has somewhat muted criticism of Tarantino for now, but maybe small cracks are starting to show in his shining armour, maybe people will now think twice about jumping to his defence, maybe they’ll even feel a bit guilty for doing so in the past...maybe. Who knows though, Tarantino’s fanbase often seems as sociopathic as the man himself, what other conclusion can you reach when you see twitter responses to Thurman’s story like “she needs to STFU with these sob stories” and “Quintin (sic) is more than just a man. He’s an artist of great caliber (sic)”. Ditto when people read about a film director causing an actress permanent damage and their only response is to take to an internet message board expressing panicked concern, not of course about her future career but how this might jeopardize HIS involvement in the latest Star Trek film.
People don’t always make fools of themselves when their idols’ behaviour comes under scrutiny though. A thread over at the Classic Horror Film Board site has recently shed light on the exceptionally dark side of the late Forrest J Ackerman, the legendary editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and a massively important figure in the world of Sci-Fi and Horror film fandom in the states. I’ve no particular history with Ackerman myself, he was before my time and his fame largely contained to the USA. Therefore I can’t begin to imagine the disillusionment of waking up, going on the internet and seeing your childhood idol being accused of groping and sexually harassing a female horror genre writer, of writing and faxing her obscene letters detailing his sexual fantasies for nearly two decades, or of sending others unsolicited, and unwanted pornography through the mail, many of which is said of have been of a sickening nature and involve children. It would be easy for Ackerman’s fanbase to go into denial mode, to dismiss it all out of hand, and to lash out at their hero’s detractors. To their credit though the users of the Classic Horror Film board took the allegations seriously, and given the strength of the allegations and the credibility of Ackerman’s accusers, were quick to express revulsion at Ackerman and shower Ackerman’s main accuser, Lucy Chase Williams (author of ‘The Films of Vincent Price’) with praise at her bravery in coming forward with these claims.
It can be difficult to turn against your icons, you have to sever what relationship or connection you felt you had with them, you have to throw away decades of love and respect, you have to accept that these people aren’t worthy of your admiration, hardest of all you have to admit that you were wrong about someone. It can be difficult… embarrassing… painful even, but it is necessary, better that than be yourself remembered as the person who futilely tried to keep the reputation clean of very bad men. The classic horror film board shows the correct way to handle this troubling situation, groupies of Powell and Tarantino would be wise to learn by example.
Tuesday, 6 February 2018
On this day on the 7th February 1971 Emmanuelle went to Birmingham when the Birmingham Cinephone screened the very first Emmanuelle adaptation Cesare Canevari’s ‘A Man for Emmanuelle’ (1969) featuring Erika Blanc in the role made more famous a few years later by Sylvia Kristel, the second feature was one of Dawn Brakes’ early breaks ‘Its a Bare, Bare World’ a British nudist movie starring Margaret Nolan and a film already seven years old by this point.
Meanwhile in Walthamstow the members of a club cinema were getting one last look at Audrey Campbell dishing it out in (Olga’s) House of Shame, the last of her appearances as the S&M anti-heroine Madame Olga, later that month the same cinema would show the now lost Andy Milligan sexploitation picture The Filthy Five.