Sunday, 21 December 2014

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the readers of this blog…




             Wither 2014....







                   Proceed 2015….

Monday, 15 December 2014

RIP Chris O’Loughlin


A dark cloud looms over this month, with the news that my internet pal Chris O’Loughlin, who also wrote under the pen name Jonny Sambuca, passed away on the 21st of November, after a battle with cancer. I guess you could say it was Timmy Lea who first caused Chris to enter into my orbit, when Chris contacted me with the idea of him writing a book about the Timmy Lea ‘Confessions of a’ film series. What initially struck me was that Chris was an Australian, born in Hobart, Tasmania, and while I’d been aware that Australia was something of a second home for British sex comedies –with even terrible ones like The Love Pill and Emmanuelle in Soho having been released there- Chris really opened my eyes to just how well loved Robin Askwith’s cinematic sexcapades were ‘down under’. Chris had amassed a huge collection of Confessions related memorabilia from around the world, Yugoslavian stills, Icelandic pressbooks, back issues of Titbits, and ads for cheapskate ‘Confessions’ tie-in competitions with prizes including an electric blanket and a deluxe pop-up toaster, good grief Columbia pictures and Greg Smith were really pushing the boat out with those glittering prizes.

Chris’ main reason for contacting me was due to my friendship with Suzy Mandel, who he’d hoped to interview for the book. A plan that eventually morphed into Suzy writing the ‘outro’ for the chapter about Confessions of a Driving Instructor. I encouraged Chris to seek out further former Confessions starlets for the book, not that he needed my encouragement there, Carol Hawkins initially showed an interest but never got back to him, Chris did however strike up a friendship with Nicola Blackman, ‘Blackbird’ in Confessions from a Holiday Camp. Nicola’s outro to the Holiday Camp chapter turned out to be a superb piece of writing in its own right, and satisfied my own curiosity as to what the actress made of a now rather contentious role thirty odd years on. Chris had hoped to round out the book with an interview with the great man himself, Robin Askwith, but in the event had to make do with archive interviews with Askwith and Greg Smith, originally conducted in the mid to late 2000s.

So much hostility exists towards the Confessions films on home turf, decades of put downs, snobbery and historical revisionism have taken its toll on the series, with much of the criticism predictably emanating from people detached from the working class culture these films were a product of. This was one of the reasons why I threw whatever support I could behind Chris’ book. Much like Su Tune’s Robin Askwith blog, I felt that having being born outside the land these films sprung from was actually their mutual strong point. The likes of Chris and Su never having been tainted by the negativity that haunts these films in the UK, or the fear of being branded ‘unhip’ for saying anything nice about the Confessions series. Sure enough, Chris’ book boasted a true fan’s enthusiasm for the series, with pages and pages of headshots of his favourite characters, the crème de la crème of their Christopher Wood dialogue, and bits and bobs of rarely heard trivia (Suzy was particularly tickled by the revelation that Confessions producer Greg Smith had been a pantomime dame early on in his career.) Chris wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few politically correct feathers either, and fully entered into the spirit of the films by phwoaring over their actresses. Olivia Munday earned his praise for her “great slutty performance”’ in Window Cleaner, whilst in Confessions of a Driving Instructor “Suzy Mandel looks real hands down the front of ya pants horn cracking, the best she has ever looked on film”. Everything about the book spoke of his gratitude for the fun and enjoyment the films had given him over the years “it was a great thrill to be amongst two hundred odd people laughing and hollering from the very first opening to the closing credits” he wrote of attending a 1981 cinema screening of Confessions of a Window Cleaner.

His take on the Confessions films wasn’t entirely in keeping with my own or popular opinion, he wasn’t a big fan of Confessions of a Pop Performer and thought the sequels director Norman Cohen was an notably inferior director to Window Cleaner’s Val Guest (I’ve never seen the join where one ends and the other’s work begins myself). However the book was Chris’ own personal journey to the heart of the Confessions films, and I couldn’t help but respect the time and effort he’d put into it.



Privately I was rather concerned that finding a publisher for such a book would be an uphill struggle, especially with it being a visually driven book, and one that only the expensive, coffee table treatment would have done justice to. Realistically, I have to admit that British sexploitation cinema is a very hard sell to people, harder than say British horror or American sexploitation cinema. I kept my fears to myself though, hoping they were unjustified, and passed onto him the names of just about every niche British publisher I could think of who might pick it up and run with the idea. Their responses were- I gather- a bit muted, with one publisher pretty much echoing my private fears when they turned him down- citing the fact that a similar themed book they’d published had been one of their lowest selling titles.

I didn’t hear back from Chris for a long while after that, and he seemed to disappear from the internet for a time. His silence I’d hoped would be entirely down to him being busy re-tuning the book and pitching it to various publishers, but when he eventually re-emerged ill-health sadly turned out to be the real reason for his absence. “I’m alright at the mo, but long-term unfortunately doesn’t look too positive” he told me back in June. It was around this time that he sent me a 185 page PDF copy of the book, and asked for my feedback. Under normal circumstances I might have chipped in the odd bit of constructive criticism and advice, but given the awfulness of his situation, I felt the need to offer nothing but praise and good will. I did make the suggestion that if all else failed then maybe the book could be published electronically, or self-distributed on data CDs, but I got the impression that he always wanted it to be a ‘real’ book, and besides I suspected his health needed to be his number one priority and that the book was being put on the back burner. In our last correspondence I brought up the subject of Guy N. Smith’s unofficial ‘Confessions’ books, which Chris had given a special visual mention to at the end of his book. Atrocious looking, even by the inglorious standards of Confessions rip-offs, these books were so creatively barren they came up with their names by merely adding the word ‘sexy’ to the titles of pre-existing Askwith films, hence ‘Sexy Confessions of a Window Cleaner’ and ‘Sexy Confessions of a Pop Performer’.



Smith’s writing in these books appears to play second fiddle to softcore photos of lame Askwith and Olivia Munday clones going at it. Whereas in Smith’s horror paperbacks the characters were frequently in danger of being killed by crabs, the models in his Confessions books look more in peril of contracting the crabs. Needless to say, the sneak peek of the Smith knockoffs in Chris’ book makes you instantly want to go out and find one of these monstrosities for yourself. “They are what you would expect” Chris jokingly warned. So our relationship at least ended on a high, and a laugh, with both of us taking the piss out of Guy N. Smith.

In a perfect world, Chris would still be around, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you’d be holding a glossy, hardback, coffee table version of his book in your hands. I can only hope that the book surfaces in one form or another, and I’m heartbroken that he didn’t realize his dream of having it published. It deserves to be regarded as a treasure trove by Confessions fans, and Chris himself deserves to be remembered as a man who flew the flag high for all things Confessions.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Review: Double Exposure (1977, William Webb)



Double Exposure turns out to be that rare beast, an Anouska Hempel vehicle that is actually worth seeing. James Compton (David Baron) a middle-aged fashion photographer accepts a private commission from shipping tycoon Howard Townsend (Alan Brown) to photograph Townsend’s trophy girlfriend/mistress Simone (Hempel). A series of intimate photo-shoots soon unwisely transforms into a secret affair between photographer and subject. However romance gets nipped in the bud when Simone is kidnapped by three criminal former associates of Townsend, who use their knowledge of the affair to blackmail Compton into the dangerous position of acting as middle man between themselves and the crooked Townsend, whose shipping business is a front for arms dealing.

Double Exposure appears to have been independently produced then jointly distributed by two big American companies (Columbia and Warner Brothers), fittingly then it’s a low-budget film that is initially preoccupied with masquerading as a major studio production. Anything that indicates wealth and success, be it characters travelling by Rolls-Royce, private jet and steam train, or country estates and rows of antique cars is treated as visually holy here, and constantly captures the eye and camera of regular British exploitation director of photography Alan Pudney. It doesn’t really have the budget to stretch to A-List stars though, a factor that isn’t necessary a disadvantage. Since as a result, Double Exposure is filled with solid British character actors, all clearly relishing the opportunity to get their hands on larger-than-usual roles for them. David Baron makes for a laid back but efficient hero. With his lived in face and hangdog expressions, Baron is perfectly cast as the Bailey-esque swinging Sixties photographer disgracefully drifting into middle age and unapologetically still wearing jeans and suede jackets to work. You can just about buy into the idea that Simone would go for him, due to a combination of Compton’s own likeability and the despicability of Townsend, who isn’t above slapping Simone around as a way of relieving his frustrations.

Another standout performance comes courtesy of Robert Russell, a prolific TV and film actor, probably best remembered as John Stearne in Witchfinder General. Cast here as Bradley, the head kidnapper, at the outset it’s the type of sadistic goon role that Russell could have played in his sleep, but the character grows more compelling as the film progresses revealing Bradley to be a man who isn’t entirely without his own moral compass. Bradley acts as Simone’s savour at one point when his brutish underlings try to rape her, and attempts to justify his kidnapping of her by pointing out that Townsend himself has committed far worse acts in the pursuit of money. In the process stirring Simon’s long dormant consciousness over the murderous activities that have been funding her and Townsend’s privileged lifestyles.



Hempel is the cast member who has drawn the short straw when it comes to roles here, while male characters develop during the film, Hempel is stuck with a role that goes from beautiful but shallow fashion model to captured damsel in distress. Inevitably evoking unwanted memories of her role in the dreaded Tiffany Jones, and denying her any of the acting sparks that flew by the casting of her as a villainess in Russ Meyer’s Blacksnake. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair on the filmmakers and The Hemp there though, as there is evidence in the film to suggest we are deliberately deceived into thinking of Simone as weak, defenceless and one-dimensional in order to pull the rug from under us right at the very end (the UK and Canadian VHS covers are unfortunately hugely spoilerish in this respect, both drawing on a key image from the final scene in the film).

As double-dealings and plot twists are the name of the game in Double Exposure, we are definitely talking the type of film here where the less you know about the plot going into it, the better. Not that I had much of a choice myself, little having been written about Double Exposure over the years, and the film having an almost invisible presence on the internet. The only passing mention of it I could find on the net being during an overview of Hempel’s career contained within bloodypitofhorror blog’s review of Blacksnake, but even there the reviewer hadn’t managed to see the film and was uncertain whether Double Exposure should be regarded as a horror film or a crime thriller. Having had the benefit of tracking it down, I can confirm Double Exposure to be in the crime thriller camp, albeit with brief, but vicious moments of violence that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pete Walker film of the period. An opening face slashing and shooting to death of a minor character makes the preceding ‘AA’ BBFC certificate card seem quite lenient, but the one scene guaranteed to linger in the memory here finds two of Townsend’s heavies dressed up as cleaning ladies in order to sneak up on a “double crossing bastard” associate of his, who is summarily thrown off the top of a building!



A subplot that sees Compton enlist the help of Patterson, an ex-government boffin who has moved on into computer espionage, brings about the surprise casting of a pre-fame Hazel O’Connor, in one of her two film appearances prior to Breaking Glass (the other one being David Hamilton Grant’s Girls Come First). Briefly cast as the Moneypenny character to Patterson’s ‘M’, O’Connor first shows up as an ordinary office secretary before being given the gem of a request to “put on a mini-skirt and heavy make-up, we’ve got a special assignment for you”. Said assignment involving O’Connor strutting her stuff up Greek street and posing as a hooker in order to distract the thugs Townsend has had trailing Compton. For a laugh keep your eyes peeled for the pervy looks O’Connor gets from real life passers-by during this scene, who don’t appear to be aware they were being filmed.




Apart from Hazel O’Connor, Patterson’s other trick up his sleeve is a (then) futuristic device that Patterson has created by hooking up a phone to a computer which allows him to connect to other people’s computers and steal information stored on them. In what could now be seen as an early example of the internet and computer hacking, showcased here a good few decades before either would become commonplace. “Computer espionage is the trend of the future” predicts Patterson with allot more spot on accuracy than the filmmakers could have ever dreamed of.

While Double Exposure doesn’t quite make it into the same league as say, Get Carter, Sitting Target and The Squeeze, it leaves a decent enough impression for you to question why the film isn’t better known. It’s certainly on a par with a better than average episode of The Sweeney or The Professionals, to which it shares a certain kinship, due to the presence of actors associated with TV shows of that nature and a shared passion for the funkier side of the era’s library music. Nobody gets to walk around or drive about in Double Exposure for very long before some lively piece of 70s library music starts to overpower the soundtrack.

By rights the film should have acted as a calling card for its director to go on and helm episodes of TV action series, much in the way that ‘Freelance’ did for Francis Megahy, but as far as I can tell the credited director/writer/producer William Webb doesn’t appear to have made anything else. Should that unfortunately be the case, Webb can at least take solace in the fact that the one film he did make fetches high prices these days. According to the bloodypitofhorror’s Blacksnake review a Canadian VHS release of Double Exposure recently sold for $250 on Ebay, an eye-opening amount given we’re not talking about a well-known or much sought after film here. In light of the rumours about Anouska Hempel having bought the rights to Tiffany Jones in order to suppress further screenings of said film, is it wicked of me to wonder out loud whether a person willing to pay that much for a VHS of Double Exposure might also be a person with a burning desire to perform a disappearing trick on their former acting career?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Review: A Couple of Beauties (1972, Francis Searle)

 

Coming across like a cash strapped Northern cousin of Dick Emery’s ‘Ooh… You Are Awful’ film, A Couple of Beauties offered a one-shot stab at film stardom to female impersonator Bunny Lewis, and is set right in the heart of the Mancunian club land and variety circuit that Lewis knew well. As with the Emery film, a crime thriller premise is what pushes its hero into a frock and high heels here. Lewis plays Bernie Lewisham, a barman who witnesses his boss being gunned down by gangsters in London, and as a result has to flee to his native Moss Side in Manchester with the bad guys in hot pursuit.

Rather than coming up with an effective way of doing a disappearing act, such as putting out a story that you’ve been garrotted by a contract killer then high-tailing it to a Greek island, Lewisham’s spivvy agent Tim Baxter has the idea that Lewisham should reinvent himself as a drag act under the name ‘Bunny Lewis’. An unorthodox scheme that would not only grant Lewisham much needed incognito but conveniently also keep him on Baxter’s books. Despite Lewisham’s protests “me in drag…no…cobblers…not bloody likely” a drag star is soon born, but while finding fame under a feminised version of his name might temporary keep him off the gangsters’ radar, Baxter’s plan has unforeseen consequences. For not only does Lewisham have to reign in his heterosexual urges around the female entertainers he rubs shoulders with in the clubs, he also finds himself the target of lechery and gets hit upon by a series of men played by the likes of James Beck, plus special guest stars Bernard Manning and Colin Crompton. Should Lewisham throw in the towel on the drag act and risk exposing himself to the gangsters, or keep up the pretence of being a woman and risk being exposed to Bernard Manning exposing himself. What is a boy to do?

Both director Francis Searle and co-producer Ronald C. Liles had form making B-level crime thrillers for the likes of Butchers Films in the 1950s and 1960s, and the early scenes in A Couple of Beauties tend to find them caught up in a time warp. The opening murder scene and its nightclub setting being especially ‘Butchers-esque’, a tone that spills on over into the subsequent run around London. Once the setting transfers to Manchester however, Searle and Liles get seduced away from their usual cinematic fare in favour of showcasing the type of variety acts that were doing the rounds in early 1970s Manchester. Namely a toothless toga wearing old goofball pretending to be Mark Antony in a Cleopatra themed turn (with Lewis dragged up as Cleo) and an all-girl pop band whose lack of rhythm and unemotional swaying about on stage is the film’s highpoint in terms of unintentional hilarity. All just evidentially an average night out on the town in Manchester back then, but a history lesson now in what people did for entertainment back in those pre-internet, pre-X Factor days.

As with Cliff Twemlow’s GBH (1983) which treaded similar Manchester nightlife territory, the settings and co-stars offer a window into the times and social circles its star moved in. Lewis’ showbiz connections being confirmed by the presence of James Beck and Pat Coombs –both reportedly close friends of Lewis- there to lend some much needed acting professionalism (Coombs’ take on a Northern accent is far superior to Becks). The songs performed by the girl group were co-written by none other than Kenny Lynch. Filling out the cast is ex-wrestler Tommy Mann, and Manning and Crompton. Mann is of the Milton Reid school of wrestlers turned movie heavies, only with a severe, scene stealing comb-over, and boy do Manning and Crompton look well pissed in this film.




Bunny Lewis: out of and in drag.


Lewis himself is the unlikeliest of leading man, and in truth as out of his depth as an actor as Mann, Crompton and Manning. Diminutive and baby-faced, as a man Lewis has a ‘cheeky cherub’ look to him akin to David Sullivan in the 1970s, but shatters that illusion every time he opens his mouth, revealing a voice that could only come from somebody ‘up North’. Given Lewis’ limited acting ability you get the impression the film can’t wait to get the opening crime flavoured scenes out of the way and push on towards getting Lewis into drag. Make no mistake, rubbish as he was as an actor, Lewis was obviously at the top of his game as a drag act. The ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ nervousness to his performance completely disappears when he gets into women’s clothes.

It is a pity then that A Couple of Beauties’ storyline and its purpose as a vehicle for Lewis’ talents do occasionally butt heads and leave us with a main character whose behaviour is ermm amusingly inconsistent. Early scenes portraying Lewis as a butch, completely straight guy who is intimidated and appalled by the idea of having to camp it up in order to stay alive, only for him to mysteriously lose all these characteristics the moment he hits the stage. His stage act taking in jokes that sell him as a honorary sister to female audience members (“never buy one of these dresses, it’s like trying to walk with two legs down one knicker”), launching into a song that isn’t shy of gay sexual innuendo (“I see that look when I count to ten, while I just measure them for size”) not to mention tarting it up in the costume department. Lewis’ appearance mid-way thought the film, squeezed into a tight dress and mini-skirt and wearing an oversized blonde wig can’t help but make you think that a career side-line as Diana Dors’ stunt double was a missed opportunity. An obvious opportunity for comedy here would have been to have Lewis initially make a dog’s dinner of impersonating a woman- along the lines of say Bernard Bresslaw in Carry On Girls- but as the raison d'etre here was to capture Lewis’ act in the best light possible, it is a route the film prevents itself from exploring.

Assuming the film presents a reasonably accurate reproduction of Lewis’ stage act, it is a notably outrageous one. Taking into account it would have been played out in the rough and tough, pre-politically correct atmosphere of the Northern clubs, where the mere indication of male homosexuality was likely to have been met with the furrowed brows of audience members. “I just want to be myself in every way, you do what the man says, okay” is the message of Lewis’ musical number, which also takes in Lewis swooning over the prospect that “this great big world is full of different types of men” and suggestively acknowledging the microphone after delivering that “I just measure them for size” line, just in case anyone missed what was being implied there. Kudos to Lewis it must have taken balls to pull off that routine back then, even if the balls in question had to be kept well concealed.


  


Manchester Plays Itself.


Exploitation angles were available here but are never fully pursued, the girl band members only strip down to their underwear at their digs and the blue comedians in the cast are on their best behaviour. “No blue gags, we’re very particular here, I wouldn’t allow any bad language from anyone, artists or customers” points out a club owner early on in the film. Spelling out what appears to be the film’s own restrictions upon itself, whilst admittedly setting up one of the best visual gags in the film, when no sooner has the club owner laid down those house rules then who should wander into shot than Bernard Manning, no stranger to blue gags and bad language. In retrospect the film might have been wiser to just have gone for an X certificate. Without the armour of tits n’ asses n’ expletives, A Couple of Beauties had to do battle against the likes of the Carry On series in the arena of risqué, but family friendly comedy and doesn’t really have the funds or material to adequately take on the Carry On goliath. The jokes in the Cleopatra routine (“the other snakes wouldn’t let him hiss in their pit”, “kiss my asp”) sounding suspiciously like they’ve been napped from the script of Carry on Cleo. Moments in the film that do embrace honest to goodness vulgarity (“have I got time to go for a slash” asks Lewis after leaving the stage) and regional specific jokes (“she used to think of herself as Oldham’s answer to Raquel Welch”) could to interpreted as the filmmakers’ admission that their little film was never going to win favour with the knobs and the toffs, and play directly to a Northern club mentality.

A Couple of Beauties also suffered the unfortunate fate of being released in the midst of an unexpected slew of films about female impersonators, including Emery’s Ooh you are Awful, Danny La Rue’s Our Miss Fred and Reg Varney’s comparatively sober take on a drag queen’s lot that is the film adaptation of The Best Pair of Legs in the Business. After A Couple of Beauties, Lewis was rarely troubled by film or television again, instead enjoying success outside of the two mediums by continuing his nightclub act, owning his own club in Manchester and appearing in adult pantomimes like ‘Cinder’s a Fella’ and ‘A Puff in Boots’. It wouldn’t be until the early 1990s that Cliff Twemlow tempted Lewis back to the screen with a small role –not featuring him in drag by the way- in GBH 2: Lethal Impact (1991).




At its heart A Couple of Beauties is a harmless, uncynical end of the pier romp, whose only crime appears to be wanting to entertain everyday people, and maybe sneak a bit of Eady money into its handbag when no one is looking. Not that this nor its utter obscurity –it was unknown to even the most die-hard British film and comedy aficionados till a few years ago- prevented it from being trashed in ‘Truly, Madly, Cheaply’. A 2008 BBC2 documentary on Britain’s B-Movie legacy which predictably became uncomfortable with its subject matter once its focus turned to the more exploitative 1970s. “As you watch this film you can see the life haemorrhaging out of the B-Movie form” sneered the narration as clips illustrating the film’s Northern setting, use of transvestite humour and use of Bernard Manning were waved in front of a BBC2 audience in an attempt to extract a mortified response and sense of cultural shame out of them. Follow on clips of the sexual assault scenes from ‘Take An Easy Ride’, and references to a pair of films called ‘Dreams of 13’ and ‘The Younger, The Better’ (conveniently ignoring the fact that those two aren’t even British films) reeks of a hatchet job designed to give the uninitiated the false impression that 1970s British exploitation cinema was all about titillating rape scenes, jailbait fixations and Bernard Manning. A combo likely to alienate and drive a BBC2 audience behind the sofa, rather than pique their curiosity for the decade’s cinematic underdogs.

Going after A Couple of Beauties in that manner seems such a mean-spirited, cheap shot- the phrase ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ comes to mind- that you find yourself being pushed towards the more difficult, but decent path of standing up for the past, and coming out metaphorically swinging in its defence. The measure of a man is –after all- how tall he walks. The irony is that since that documentary went out we’ve seen the British public hoist ‘Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie’ to the top of the UK film chart for two weeks. Demonstrating that the public’s love affair with men in drag and so-called ‘low-comedy’ is alive and well in 2014, and not exactly the forgotten footnote to British cinema that Truly, Madly, Cheaply would have you believe. So maybe A Couple of Beauties gets to have the last laugh here after all.



Thursday, 2 October 2014

RIP Lynsey De Paul



Genuinely gutted to hear that my second favourite diminutive 1970s blonde with unfortunate political leanings has passed away (my no.1 being Mary Millington of course). Cassette tape versions of her albums ‘Love Bomb’ and ‘Taste Me, Don’t Waste Me’ take pride of place in the gavcrimson archive, and are no doubt due for a trip off the shelf in the next few days by way of a tribute.

‘Sugar Me’ is the super-sexy 1972 hit she is likely to be remembered for first and foremost, I defy anyone to watch her performance of the song on Musikladen without falling in love with her just a little bit. Follow up ‘Getting a Drag’ is despite its conservative and reactionary tendencies the female equivalent of The Kinks’ Lola, and its equal in terms of comedy value “I found that I had kissed a mister just as pretty as a sister and its getting a drag” complains De Paul. ‘Doctor,Doctor’- hard to dislike a mainstream pop song that finds a way of working references to ‘incurable disease’ and ‘instinctive copulation’ into its lyrics. ‘Sugar Shuffle’ and ‘Sleeping Blue Nights’ find LDP singing the soundtrack of those who spend their nights doing the zombie walk in search of true love. ‘Dancing on a Saturday Night’ was later murdered by Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker on their Band on the Trot album “what a shocking sight, dancing on a Saturday night” indeed.

For a journey to the kooky side of the De Paul repertoire, there is the fabulous ‘Just Visiting’ which sees LDP tackling the same themes of human evolution and space travel in 3:19 that it took Stanley Kubrick over two hours to come to grips with in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ending with De Paul powerfully proclaiming “I'm not your maker, an angel or a saint divine, not your creator, giving you a holy sign. I am a spaceman, and I'm just visiting the earth. You are an apeman, and I've been visiting you, ever since your birth.”

If you’re looking for people with unlikely career side-lines, fast forward to the early 1990s and check out her excursion into the world of the female self-defence video. Conceived to help women fight off muggers and rapists ‘Taking Control’ finds De Paul taking on a series of brutish men who look like they’ve stepped off the set of a Cliff Twemlow film, only to be kicked in the balls by Lynsey De Paul. ‘Taking Control’ proved De Paul to be quite the Cynthia Rothrock on the quiet, a career in straight to video action films was perhaps a missed opportunity. With her death, the magic of the 1970s now feels that just bit more farther away, sigh.

RIP Lynsey De Paul, never to be forgotten.


        

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Tigon’s Dirty Pick-Up: Wrong Way (1972, UK release 1981)



(In a rarity for this blog, this post looks at a title from across the pond, worthy of a mention here due to the Tigon connection and as an example of the kind of film our sexploitation seeking forefathers would have checked out alongside the home-grown tits and bums efforts)

“Do I have a very bad video copy here or does one of the actors in this film appear to have a green ass” is the infrequently asked question you may find yourself puzzling over during Ray Williams’ 1972 American sexploiter Wrong Way, worryingly the answer is actually the latter. I’m far from the first person to note similarities between Williams’ film and The Last House on the Left, which extends to beyond the casual. Not only do the two films centre around two teenage girls failing into the hands of a gang of sex criminals, but both serve up comic relief filler in the form of two knuckleheaded cops, both score graphic sexual assault scenes to downer folk music, and both cut between one of the girls’ parents expressing growing concern about her safety and the grim abuse being dished out to their offspring. It all feels more than just mere coincidence, but exactly who saw each other’s film first remains a question mark, keeping in mind both films were made in 1972.

Wrong Way does however increase your respect for the upsetting power of Last House on the Left, when you see the basically same material that in Wes Craven’s hands made for a thought provoking film with considerable shock value, here serve as fodder for a sweaty, droning softcore quickie.

 

Cast members are predictably unknowns, likely hiding out under comedy false names (Laurel Canyon, Candy Sweet, Forrest Lorne) and with few connections to other films. The exception to the rule being Ron Darby- who had quite a career in soft and hardcore films of the period, with a resume that included Flesh Gordon, Satan’s Lust, Terror at Orgy Cast and the faux-British sex film The Hand of Pleasure. A highly unattractive actor- pockmarked faced, suffering from some kind of skin condition and no great shakes in the size department- Darby is naturally at home here amongst Wrong Way’s cast of uglies. Onscreen Darby generally plays the carnal clown card, a sort of Californian Robin Askwith if you will, his very funny overacting in Satan’s Lust is a career highlight in that respect, but here Darby gets to play it straight for a change as the second in command of a hippie cult, who gets shot in the balls for his troubles.

Sleazy Rider –a 1973 film that is in a similar mode to this- had a notably anti-establishment, cop hating rhetoric to it, but Wrong Way’s mindset is in comparison muddled and reactionary. Plenty of good old boy humour is in evidence, jokes about getting crabs n’ drinking beer are calculated to get the fellas cracking up at the local drive-ins. Hippie put downs are present and correct with longhairs portrayed as itinerant rapists and drug dealers, even a lame Manson-esque figure turns up towards the end of the film. “The good news is our men had to shoot one of the hippie rats…he got it right in the balls” enthuses the knuckleheaded cops over Mr. Darby’s demise. Sentiments suggesting a greater allegiance to the forces of law and order here, and a film that spits a giant ball of mucus in the direction of hippies. Despite that Wrong Way gawps long, if not exactly hard, at the hippies’ foul sexual deeds. Gang rape scenes go on and on, and on in this, but badly mimed rape scenes and limp tallywhackers from all concerned –Mr. Green, Green Ass included- constantly give the game away that no real humping was going on here. Just to get back to the topic of he of the green ass for a moment, it does occur to me that as the main gang rape scene takes place on and up against a green van, its possible that performing outdoor, simulated rape under the hot Californian sun might have caused some of the van’s paintwork to come off on our man’s ass. A likely reason for this unfortunate onscreen ailment, the mark of Wrong Way, betya he had a hard time explaining that to his old lady when he got home.



 


Wrong Way never shies away from the fact that the verbal and physical abuse of women is meant as a constant source of amusement and arousal here. The occasionally inspired ugliness of the screenplay is best illustrated in a subplot that sees two white slave traders shooting up a woman with heroin and taking advantage of the merchandise before they sell her to a brothel across the border. “You mean you’d destroy a human being for a few lousy dollars” she protests, to which her captor cackles back “absolutely not, we’re nice guys, we’re gonna trade you for H”, and his equally mangy partner in crime contributes to the conversation “you’re a nympho, and you know it”. The subsequent threesome between these three lovebirds finds the woman –the person people had paid to see go nude- obscured under all the hairy, potbellied, male gooseflesh of her two co-stars, a reoccurring problem in Wrong Way’s gross sex scenes.

Although it has all the hallmarks of the kind of third rate, obscure as rocking horse shit film that never saw the light of day till video came along, Wrong Way did surprisingly have a British theatrical release as part of a porno triple bill package put together by Tigon in 1981. Eric Godwin, a kindly, well liked elderly gentleman had the job of buying the majority of Tigon’s American acquisitions at the time. Godwin was prone to voicing despair over the growing explicitness of the American product he was being offered during film buying trips to Los Angeles, not on account of any prudishness, but because of the inevitable problems it would give him with the British censor “they won’t leave us with anything left to show” he was known to complain.

Unlike many of Tigon’s porno acquisitions of the early 1980s, Wrong Way hadn’t started life as hardcore, but still proved Godwin’s worst fears correct when it came to the British censor who cut around 20 minutes out of it for the British theatrical release. Sure the later, uncut video release is the way any exploitation aficionado would therefore want to see this thing, but even with heavy cuts the sleaze impact of Wrong Way on the big screen must have made for a tremendous culture shock. Imagine Wrong Way blown up to the size of a bungalow, encountered in the intimidating atmosphere of a porno cinema, and at a time before video had yet to fully expose British audiences to the sub-amateur side of American exploitation cinema, with films like this hundreds of miles removed in terms of attitude and filmmaking skill to the Hollywood fare that a British audiences of 1981 would have been more accustomed to.

Video, bootleg DVDr, maybe laptops, are of course the only way we’ll get to see films like Wrong Way these days, but like the down and dirtiest examples of American sexploitation- Sleazy Rider, Sinner’s Blood, The Bad, Bad Gang, Golden Gate Pay-Off, et al- the deeply unerotic nature of the sex, the overwhelming hatred of women and the equally overwhelming sense that those behind the camera barely knew what they were doing, all succeed in holding the attention, overriding any impulse to turn away from the abyss.

  

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Lemon Scented Ladies


The welcome return of TOTP repeats on BBC4 this Thursday also means the return of the lemon scented Legs & Co….


 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Review: The Yes Girls (1971, Lindsay Shonteff)



The Yes Girls often feels like Lindsay Shonteff had decided to remake his previous film ‘Permissive’, what with both films telling similar cautionary tales of young women who journey to London and enter into a cycle of being exploited and exploiting others themselves. The main difference being that whereas Permissive took place in the longhaired music scene of the early 70s, The Yes Girls focuses on more familiar territory for Shonteff, the low budget film industry of the time.

Sarcastically subtitled ‘The Story of a High Class Film’, The Yes Girls centres around Maria Carter (Sue Bond) a juvenile delinquent stuck in a boring girls school for young offenders in Sunderland. A suggestive wink and a flash of her knickers at an elderly gardener is enough to convince the randy, green-fingered old sod to help Maria escape from the school. “I’d give anything to get out of his place” she tells him, music to the ears of the oldster who agrees to leave the school gates open that night and be on hand with a change of clothes for her. Maria’s great escape doesn’t go as planned however, as while she is changing into her new clothes the gardener gets an eyeful of her breasts, the sight of which causes him to have a fatal heart attack and keel over.

Maria goes on the run anyway, only to get collared for shoplifting in a clothes shop the moment she arrives in London. The bald, menacing shop owner threatens to call the police, causing Maria to panic and pull off the clothes she had been stealing, leaving her topless and cowering in his office. The sight of her breasts doesn’t manage to kill this old geezer off, but it does convince him that a grope and a fumble about with Maria in his office would be preferable to making that phone call to the cops. Afterwards the shop owner reveals what a mean piece of work he is when he refuses to let her keep the stolen clothes, dismissing her claims that her sexual favours should count for something; “I paid for them, didn’t I” she protests.

Maria’s luck appears to improve when she hooks up with Angela (Sally Muggeridge) and Caron (Felicity Oliver), two snooty, constantly out of work actresses. The pair allow the penniless Maria to crash at their flat, an act of kindness that belies an ulterior motive, since both girls are heavily behind with their rent and their landlord Philpott (Fred Hugh) is bothering them for sex. Angela and Caron’s plan is to offer up Maria to him in exchange for not paying that month’s rent, a plan that nearly works since Maria is willing, if not exactly eager, to have sex with the repulsive, dirty mac wearing Philpott (who introduces himself to Maria with “come on luv, I’ve got real hot pants for you”) as an alternative way of paying the rent. Unfortunately Philpott is so taken by the idea of having a busty blonde at his disposal that he moves into the flat himself and kicks Angela and Caron out.

Feeling guilty at having cost Angela and Caron a roof over their heads, Maria accompanies Angela to an audition for moral support. An outing that takes them to the offices of Ritzy Film Productions, a company headed by sweary, obnoxious film producer Jack Shulton (Ray Chiarella). Shulton enters the film shouting his philosophy towards filmmaking at an underling “who the hell gives a shit about art, all we want are tits and asses, bare flesh” he rants “and if the broads are stupid, then so much the better”. Shulton’s partner in crime is King Reiter (Jack May) a miserabilist, third rate Ken Russell who dreams of directing historical epics but is always being brought down by his association with Shulton, and of course his own total lack of talent.

One look at Maria and Shulton is hankering to cast her as the lead in his latest sex film, ignoring the small matter that she isn’t even an actress. A turn of events that dismays proper thesps Angela and Caron who are only able to secure bit parts in it. Of course with a crook like Shulton at the helm, the film isn’t exactly the big budget extravaganza that he’d promised. Instead the three girls find themselves acting in a film called ‘The Flesh in the Fields’, a less than glorious experience which mainly involves them running around naked in the middle of a cow field.

Ostensibly a comedy The Yes Girls exhibits little of the zaniness of Shonteff’s Big Zapper films or the various James Bond spoofs he’d make over the years, and finds its director still clinging to the bleak, cynical world view of his previous films Night, After Night, After Night and Permissive. An outlook that fitted those two films like a glove, but needless to say works against The Yes Girls’ purpose as a comedy.

The Yes Girls is though very in keeping with the comedown mood of the early 1970s, when the optimism of the previous decade had begun to sour and counter culture lifestyles had begun to look less appealing. Angela and Caron are like female versions of the lead characters in Withnail and I, jobbing thespians destined for a life of crummy digs, forever dreaming of big acting breaks that will never come, and involving themselves in loser schemes that only succeed in getting them deeper into trouble. Maria herself is depicted as a virtually feral character, dressed in rags, hitchhiking rides and munching on sugar cubes in cafes because she doesn’t have the money for real food.

Actress Sue Bond undoubtedly had the life experiences to relate to a character like Maria, with her own humble career beginnings including stints modelling for top shelf magazines in the late Sixties (sometimes under the porn de plume ‘Heidi Kessler’) and starring in bizarre 8mm sex films like ‘Hot Teddy’ which required her to simulate sex with a giant teddy bear. At the time she appeared in The Yes Girls Sue was in the middle of a three year stint appearing on The Benny Hill Show and would go on to achieve mainstream success as a regular fixture in TV sitcoms, albeit forever typecast as comedy blondes and tart girlfriends. The Yes Girls then deserves credit for recognising Sue’s potential as leading lady material and letting her play a realistic, streetwise character for a change, one whose tough cookie persona is- by all accounts- something else Sue Bond could relate to in real life.

Not entirely the bimbo she first appears to be, Maria displays an awareness throughout the film that her body gives her a degree of power over men, especially of the wrinkly variety, and that there is no tricky situation she can’t get herself out of by flashing her boobs in a guy’s direction. Maria reacts to the death of the gardener with all the icy detachment that the heroine of Permissive did to seeing a friend expire at the end of that film. Then again the world of The Yes Girls is so black hearted that it is understandable why Maria needs to have a thick skin and be a bit mercenary minded just to get by. The only time characters aren’t being unpleasant or nasty towards Maria is when they are perving after her, or using her in some other way. A subplot about Maria hiring a private detective (Jack Smethurst) to find her long lost mother reeks of screenplay padding, but the payoff perfectly illustrates just how misanthropic this thing can get. Predictably there are no smiles or warm welcome awaiting Maria when she catches up with her mom, just a fleeting encounter with a woman who can barely be bothered to give Maria the time of day, casually tells Maria she has had five other children that she has managed to ditch along the way, and that “if I’d known you were coming, I’d have moved”.



Sue Bond: the early years
 


As with other low budget British films that write the very film industry they sprung from into their plots, from Cover Girl Killer (1959) to Cliff Twemlow’s The Ibiza Connection (1984) and Michael J Murphy’s Bloodstream (1985), The Yes Girls plays a guessing game with its audience over just how much the filmmaking shenanigans seen onscreen mirrored real life. Dialogue and characters here do have a horribly believable ring of truth to them, witness a meek scriptwriter being told his work is worthless (“you couldn’t write to your own mother” Shulman barks at him) or Angela complaining that sex film work is beneath her “I’m not used to running around naked in front of a load of men, I spent two years in drama school”.

Shonteff appears especially appalled and fixated by the Jack Shulman character, who comes across as the ultimate nightmare figure of any ethical and/or artistically inclined filmmaker. Whole scenes are dedicated to this monster bullying and yelling at others, complaining about paying for crew members’ transport and referring to actresses as ‘dogs’. Shulman is a real storm of shit that blows into, and dominates, the later half of the film. The running gag in all his scenes being that he is exploiting and bullshitting all around him, the girls promise of a trip to the south of France to shoot the film coming to nothing (“the air in Broadstairs is better” they are told), ditto his hints at a glitzy world première for the film, which actually takes place at a scuzzy sex cinema in Brighton. While in Eskimo Nell, Roy Kinnear had played a similar character as a lovable rogue, Shulman and King Reiter are simply hateful characters rather the source of any amusement. The only time The Yes Girls really pulls itself together as a comedy is the grand unveiling of ‘The Flesh in the Fields’ itself. Shot on the cheap in black and white and without sound, the film within a film turns out to be a pretentious piece of garbage involving the girls prancing about a field and beckoning to a man on horseback, complete with idiotic attempts at symbolism such as the sight of him loading his shotgun being juxtaposed with out of focus shots of Maria’s cleavage. “Black and White, it’s like watching a classic at the BFT” proclaims Angela. Maria on the other hand can’t make heads or tails of it and is patronisingly told by Caron that the reason for that is “you’re not a member of the BFT, I go there three times a week.” The digs at art-house cinema, its elitist followers and what sounds suspiciously like a thinly veiled attack on the BFI, proves that Shonteff had enough scorn here to pour over high culture as well as low. A move likely to guarantee that The Yes Girls will never be released on DVD and Blu-Ray by the BFI Flipside, as well as making The Yes Girls a hard sell to the type of film snobs who have predictably embraced Eskimo Nell and use that film as a means to look down on this genre. For The Yes Girls doesn’t let the intelligentsia off the hook when it comes to dishing out the venom.


As hell-bent as The Yes Girls is on unflatteringly portraying the Jack Shulmans and King Reiters of this world, the film does sail close to being a textbook example of Shulman’s “all we want are tits and asses, bare flesh” approach to filmmaking itself at times. The opening scene plays like a very post watershed version of one of Sue’s old Benny Hill sketches, right down to the casting of a bald, elderly man as the gardener who closely resembles regular Hill stooge Jackie Wright. Had the sight of Maria’s breasts not given him the fatal heart attack you suspect the scene that follows his death, in which Maria jogs around topless, her breasts bouncing around ten to the dozen in slow-motion, would have surely finished the old fart off. In fact the entire casting in The Yes Girls appears calculated to appeal to its target audience. Just about all of Maria’s creepy admirers in the film, the gardener, the shop owner, the landlord, the private eye, tend to fit the mental image of the type of person who’d be lured into a cinema by a film called The Yes Girls (poster tag line ‘they never said no’). No doubt many a paunchy, balding, middle aged cinemagoer could closely identify with these characters, with the film simultaneously feeding their daydreams that a Sue Bond type might one day need to throw some sex in their direction in order to pay that month’s rent or for them to turn a blind eye to a spot of shoplifting.

 

The Yes Girls might be a little too much of a cinematic Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for many, one minute heroically exposing the ugly side of the X-rated film biz, the next drooling over Sue Bond’s breasts and ungallantly obsessing over why her character never wears a bra. You’re never quite sure of where you are up to with The Yes Girls, but its many contradictions aren’t without interest. After all it is a film that gives Sue her lengthiest acting role but has her playing a woman who can’t act, it is a film that titillates but constantly reminds you of the misery and bad time experience that the film industry can be, and it is a film whose attractive lead spends a third of it dressed in baggy trousers and a tatty shirt belonging to a dead, old gardener.

As bumpy a ride as the film is, The Yes Girls was still a big hit, distributors retitled the film (junking Shonteff’s original, shooting title ‘Take Some Girls’) and it played in cinemas for over two years. A run that would see a billboard for the film- complete with giant sized photo of Sue Bond- loom over Leicester Square at one point and one sex cinema get so much play out of The Yes Girls that -according to legend- it wore out three 35mm prints of the film in the process. Sally Muggeridge’s appearance in the film also generated a fair amount of tabloid interest on account of the young actress being the real life niece of the author Malcolm Muggeridge, who just happened to be a leading figure in the vehemently anti-porn Festival of Light movement of the time. The Sunday Mirror quickly picked up on the family connection, and gave The Yes Girls some free publicity by running an ‘expose’ on her involvement in it and publishing a topless photo of her from the film. An incident which so tickled the British sex film community that it lead to Sally Muggeridge herself being parodied in Eskimo Nell, ‘Hermione Longhorn’, the character played by Katy Manning in that film, being loosely based on Sally. The Yes Girls does inadvertently make you appreciate Manning’s performance in Eskimo Nell all the more, being able to view the blueprint for her character here, reveals just how spot on Manning was in her impersonation of Muggeridge.

Ironically the aftermath of The Yes Girls’ release would have perfectly slotted into the plot of the film itself. Indeed the idea of Maria having her face plastered around Leicester Square, a sex cinema wearing out three prints of The Flesh in the Fields, and Angela turning out to be related to a famous anti-smut campaigner would have arguably made for a more satisfying conclusion to the film than the one Shonteff dreamt up. In the case of this Lindsay Shonteff film real life truly was stranger than any British sex film fiction.




 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Cinema Xs


Some more cinema marquees from the good old, bad old days of the 'X' and 'AA' certificates, photos originally posed by Dusasshenka and Klaus Hiltscher/Affendaddy at Flickr and LenGazzard at Cinematreasures.



“the ABC in Harrogate is full of married men, with wives who never understand”


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Mini-Review: Happy Birthday Harry (1980, Marius Mattei)

Terry-Thomas ending his career in an Italian made, London set, sex comedy? Afraid so. Only obscurity (I can find no record of a UK release or even an English dubbed version existing) appears to have prevented Happy Birthday Harry from acquiring the kind of notoriety afforded to inglorious last films, or ones which find formerly dignified stars in close proximity to T&A material.

The titular Harry (John Richardson) is a David Sullivan-esque Men’s magazine publisher whose wealth and bestselling mags means that he is regularly mobbed by gangs of wannabe starlets on the streets of London. His upcoming 40th birthday brings him into close contact with such groupies, as well as ex-lovers, his magazine’s staff and a crazy doctor (Terry-Thomas). Evidence of brief UK filming manifests itself in the form of lots of shots of Big Ben, footage of Richardson walking along Westminster Bridge, around Piccadilly Circus and Soho (showing nothing of historical interest), before its back to interior scenes shot in Rome.
 



Terry-Thomas looks in even poorer shape than he did in Side by Side and Hound of the Baskervilles, but is in good company. Richardson, once handsome star of One Million Years BC, here resembles Jack from On The Buses, former peplum star Gordon Mitchell takes his shirt off to show some tired flesh, Marisa Mell fares a tiny bit better but shows signs of relying on heavy make-up, maybe even plastic surgery, to hold on to her youthful looks. The aged cast, bad comedy and unappealing nudity all conspire to make this the Italian equivalent of Carry on Emmannuelle, you have been warned.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Come Play With More4


My friend Suzy Mandel was one of the people interviewed for the documentary that is on More4 this Saturday at 10pm http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-golden-rules-of-porn

Aside from the press release I don’t know that much else about it, apart from the fact that David McGillivray is also in it, oh… and I sold the production company a copy of ‘Sexy Secrets of the Kissogram Girls’ so there is the possibility of archive footage of Pauline Hickey being in there.