Thursday, 11 January 2018
Not Tonight Darling (1971)
It is a little known fact that I do occasionally watch films that have been made in the last thirty years, however true to form I saw out New Years Eve 2017 by watching a 54 year old Val Guest film called The Beauty Jungle, and Not Tonight Darling, a piece of old skool grot from the 1970s. Two films bonded by their ambiguous yet largely downbeat endings, and the fact that they were both being given an airing by Talking Pictures TV. A channel that shows old British films, of all shapes and sizes 24/7…and probably doesn’t need much of an introduction to anyone reading this…but for me personally it is a channel that has been the sole saving grace of broadcast TV during 2017, and one which will hopefully go from strength to strength in 2018.
Not Tonight Darling has been knocking around some rather obscure TV channels for a number of years now, as far as I can tell it first resurfaced on a short-lived TV channel called ‘Bad Movies’ back in 2005. I did catch it on that channel at the time, but New Years Eve 2017 was the first time I’ve watched this film in the company of others…who are necessarily film buffs. Something that can be a recipe for disaster, but then again it can be interesting to throw these films over to people who aren’t aware of what are considered sacred cows and what are held in low regard in cult film circles, and might be able to zone in on and find amusement in things that the more jaded pair of eyes might miss.
Not Tonight Darling was the second of two films directed by Anthony B. Sloman, the first being the 1970 sex and crime hybrid ‘Sweet and Sexy’. Not Tonight Darling was however the first of the two films to be publically shown, with delays to the release of Sweet and Sexy (for reasons that all the good sense in the world suggests I shouldn’t go into) meaning that film wouldn’t be seen until 1972. Sloman is only known for these two films as a director, and these days tends to be better known as a film critic and historian, he has also been kept busy for a few decades as a sound and dialogue editor, some of his credits in those capacities which may be of interest to cult film fans include The Vault of Horror, The Company of Wolves and Dario Argento’s Tenebrae.
The two films that Sloman directed do boast authentically sleazy sensibilities, make the absolute most of their exploitation movie potential and put forward a case that Sloman could have become quite the British sex film auteur had he so desired. I’m inclined to believe that I think more highly of Sloman’s two films than their director does, and while obscurity has all but buried Sweet and Sexy these days, the impression I’ve been given is that Sloman probably isn’t too happy that Not Tonight Darling has had this decade long, 2nd lease of life on late night TV.
Apparently titled ‘The Loving Game’ in the script stages, then floated around as ‘Sex in the Suburbs’ and ‘Frustrated Wives’, Sloman’s film finally settled on Not Tonight Darling as its title, probably at the insistence of its distributor Border Films. From a distributor point of view you can understand why they went with Not Tonight Darling, it does look good on the poster, not that Sex in the Suburbs and Frustrated Wives are shabby titles for the exploitation film market either. However, I do think the Not Tonight Darling title does lead you up the garden path of thinking this film is going to be a sex comedy or a filmed stage farce, its frequently mistook for the similarly titled Leslie Philips vehicle ‘Not Now Darling’.
Not Tonight Darling however dates from a period when British sex films weren’t really allowed to have much of a sense of humour about themselves, with the British censor preferring such films to adopt a moralizing, disapproving stance when it came to depicting sexual excess. It also dates from an era when many X-rated filmmakers had their cameras firmly pointed in the direction of swinging suburbia, home to frustrated housewives, jack the lad door to door salesman, wife swappers and swingers. Films that mirrored the tabloids of the day, which similarly kept the nations’ curtain twitchers entranced with exposes of sex in the suburbs.
Not Tonight Darling stars actress, singer and all round 1970s sex symbol Luan Peters, as Karen an unfulfilled 30-something drowning in the middle class, middle of the road existence of a suburban housewife. A husband, a young son and all the mod cons that the 1970s had to offer can’t compensate for the empty and tedious nature of her life. With her day in, day out routine consisting of making her husband’s breakfast, getting her son ready for school, taking the kid to school, shopping, getting her husband’s tea ready, etc etc, etc.
Luan’s husband is played by an actor called Jason Twelvetrees whose name caused considerable amusement in the Gavcrimson household, with one of the people I was watching this with wondering if, on account of his name, the actor in question might turn out to be native American. Whereas of course when you see Jason Twelvetrees in the film, he may be the least native American looking actor imaginable, with Twelvetrees being a weedy, well-educated sounding pail face…whose character epitomises the sexually repressed, stiff upper lipped city businessman.
Karen’s need for love and attention is constantly meet with cold indifference by her hubby. In one especially hilarious scene, Karen disappears under the bed sheets to give her husband a blowjob which he reacts to with utmost horror and becomes hysterical…even refusing to come back to bed unless she promises to never do that again. A response sure to puzzle any red-blooded male viewer of this film…maybe such an act was an affront to Jason Twelvetrees’ native American heritage…although thinking about it the protagonist of Sloman’s other film Sweet and Sexy has an almost identical response to being blown by a woman in that film, so maybe it was a reoccurring theme. A thesis on the psychological aversion to fellatio within the cinema of Anthony B. Sloman surely beckons.
Karen’s husband might be dead from the neck down where she is concerned, but she hasn’t lost the ability to turn the heads of other men. In particular that of Eddie (Sean Barry-Weske), a shop assistant for whom Karen becomes a fantasy figure to, to the extent that he is soon playing peeping tom, and peeking in on her bathroom window at night. He is seemingly joined in this task by an army of frogs, judging from the amount of croaking heard on the soundtrack during this scene. Equally hilarious is that when Eddie returns for a 2nd peeping tom session, he brings with him a significantly larger pair of binoculars than before, ones more befitting the ogling of Luan Peters. To misquote Jaws “I think we’re gonna need a bigger pair of binoculars”.
Eddie inadvertently only adds to her problems by bringing her to the attention of Alex (Vincent Ball), a far more predatory male who bets Eddie five pounds that he can bed Karen within three days. With five whole pounds at sake it is not long before Alex is laying on the charm. When Karen asks him how many times he has seen her, he replies “every night in my dreams”. Alex also wows her with his music industry credentials, taking her to see the band Thunderclap Newman rehearse at the trendy La Valbonne nightclub.
I’d love to know the story of how Thunderclap Newman came to be in this film, it feels like someone involved with the production knew them and got their performance crow-barred into the film. I was watching this film with one of those people who loves to Google or Wikipedia the names of the people who are onscreen, to see what happened to them or what they are up to now…a rather depressing task when it comes to Thunderclap Newman. Although their musical numbers are intended as a rare upbeat moment in the film, when you’ve got someone to the left of you reading from Wikipedia about how the guitarist died at age 26 from a heroin induced cardiac arrest, and how the singer suffered from arthritis for several years before succumbing to heart failure…it does kind of bring the scene down to the level of the rest of the film.
Alex’s chat up lines and Thunderclap Newman connection eventually pays off and he successfully lures Karen back to his grotty flat, which features a pair of curtains that by all rights should be a passion killer in themselves. As tends to be the case with British sex films of this vintage however, there is a high price to pay for extra marital activities, and Karen soon finds herself being blackmailed even deeper into Alex’s sordid activities.
Not Tonight Darling does boast a pair of committed and engaging performances from Vincent Ball and Luan Peters. Luan in particular demonstrates she is worthy of leading lady status, and her acting is clearly of a much higher standard than the zombiefied one-note actresses that play out similar dramas in the films of Derek Ford. Although the knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss films of this genre as sexist and outdated, Karen registers as a sympathetic figure who is both the victim of male indifference and male deviousness. On the other hand there is very little about the male characters in this film, the cold husband, the sexually desperate peeping tom and the blackmailing would be Casanova, that makes you proud to share their gender.
Indeed Vincent Ball’s character Alex is such an all-time creep that someone I was watching this film with, who is female, resorted to hurling insults at the screen every time he appeared, as well as speculating whether Karen would have to murder him in order to put an end to his blackmailing. Karen might not have to resort to such measures, but she certainly ends up in hot water, with Alex forcing her to attend swingers’ parties, which he also has secretly filmed and sells the resulting celluloid to soho pornographers… in a very early example of revenge porn.
Incidentally keep your eyes peeled for a pre-fame appearance by Fiona Richmond as one of the swingers, here billed under the partial pseudonym ‘Amber Harrison’, Richmond’s real name being Julia Harrison. Now, I don’t know if this has ever been picked up on before, but as someone watching this film with me observed if you say the name ‘Amber Harrison’ quickly and as one word it actually sounds like you’re saying ‘embarrassing’. Now, granted this could just be a coincidence, but then again Fiona Richmond does strike you as someone with a sense of humour about herself, and someone you wouldn’t put it past to choose that name purely because it sounds like the word ‘embarrassing’. Either way Not Tonight Darling gives you a brief look at the woman who’d go on to be one of the queens of British sex cinema, back when she was simply ‘embarrassing’.
Karen’s double life unravels when a friend of her husband drags him to a London sex cinema which just so happens to be screening one of Alex’s secretly filmed orgies, with wifey as the star. I love the fact that a genuine porn cinema, the Queen’s cinema club, was happy to lend its name to a film that implies it is in bed with nefarious characters like Alex and screens hardcore movies that were made without their participants’ knowledge. I’m unsure of whether the interiors seen here are the actual interiors of the Queen’s cinema, but Not Tonight Darling does at least make the place look surprisingly luxurious, with big comfortable seats and a glass of wine for each customer.
I’m sure you’d have to pay a fortune for such a cinema going experience in London these days, and I doubt they’d throw in the pre-film specialty act that the film trots out ‘The Tiffany Sisters’ a pair of stripping siblings. Not Tonight Darling really does manage to squeeze the maximum amount of sleaze from its storyline. There is also a scene in a gym which seems to be a thinly veiled excuse to show women in leotards using exercise equipment, including one of those buttock shaking machines that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone use outside of sexploitation movies, demonstrated here by no less than the legendary June Palmer, one of the most famous nude models of the 20th century, and perversely one of the few cast members who gets to keep her clothes on.
I love IMDB reviews that are written by people who were involved in the actual films, especially if the people in question are embittered, indiscrete and reach out to the IMDB as a means to air decade long grievances with the finished product…such appears to be the case with Not Tonight Darling. Now, in the last few weeks we have seen people masquerade as Derek Griffiths and Jacki Piper on Twitter, so if they have impersonators, I suppose we should give credence to the idea that someone may also want to pretend to be a crew member of Not Tonight Darling on the IMDB. So I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide whether the following comments published on the IMDB are ‘bullshit or not’ and obviously ‘the following opinions are those of the individuals concerned and do not reflect those of gavcrimson or affiliated companies’…
“The original screenplay, working title 'The Loving Game', was an intelligently written 3 hander about a, impossible to live with love affair. Alright, it was not exactly 'Casablanca' but not bad for its genre.
The eventual financial backers and distributors of 'Not Tonight Darling' (for such it had been renamed), Border Films, were the very last to be approached in the quest to raise the production budget.
Situated at the time at the very end of Wardour Street, the script had been touted around the circuit and, having been rejected by all and sundry, was surprisingly picked up by Border.
The real reason was simply that they were short of a British produced film which qualified for the Eady levy, allowing the lucrative import by Border of more foreign rubbish......but cheap rubbish.
This small distributor specialised in a more racy film style and the 'quid pro quo' for putting up the cash was a total rewrite. Lots of sex, nudity and a leading lady chosen more for her relationship with a big-wig with responsibility for circuit booking of films than for any special acting skills.
This is not meant to denigrate the lady in question or her acting talent but applies accurately to this production.
As part of the deal, an additional 2 minutes of 'hard-core' shooting were needed close the territorial film rights' sale to the Far East.
And so production started, lurching from one disaster to the next with Border not transferring money into the production company account as agreed and crew and actors going unpaid for long periods.
Finally, the special 2 minutes of hard-core required several good men and true to step up to the mark. The first attempt at filming proved the old adage that 'the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak'. The poor lads just couldn't keep it up long enough to commit to film.
So a specialist troupe were flown in from New York for the scene and they proved well able to match the director's stringent requirements.
'Not Tonight Darling' was to be the first time that hard core material was sent to Humphries Labs for processing since the censorship laws had changed.
It was not until the rushes were delivered back to the production offices that the crew knew whether or not the scene had been junked. It hadn't and the 2 minutes were the best part of the film (never seen in the UK of course).
With money running out, tempers shortening, writers removing their name from the script and all of the normal problems of post-production, it is not surprising that all that came out was a turkey.”
Make of that what you will.
So that is Not Tonight Darling then …a film in which the lead actor sounds like a native American but isn’t, a film in which pretty much everyone takes their clothes off apart from the cast member who was a famous nude model, and a film which gives you the chance to hear two Thunderclap Newman songs that aren’t ‘Something in the Air’. All this lies in store for you on late night telly, unless you take the film’s titular advice of… ‘Not Tonight Darling’.