Monday, 16 January 2017

Carol, come home… Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969)

In which the Battersea Bardot finds her way to Hollywood and encounters an obsessive-possessive-psychotic Terry Stamp could have floored with one thump… It’s odd to see Carol White move from the improvised naturalism of Ken Loach to the more poised dynamics of this moderately-nasty thriller.

Hard to think of the situation in reverse say with John Cassavetes in an early Joanna Lumley film like The Breaking of Bumbo. JC and CW would have made for a good match, possibly in black and white but here it’s strange to see this actress so renowned for edgy improvisations in such a formulaic film and drenched in sunshine in a richly-coloured California.

Cathy begins to have doubts...
Then again, maybe that was always the director Mark Robson’s intention for his first film after Valley of the Dolls (1967): he wanted this mix of grot and glamour and Carol certainly could provide both and more convincingly than her co-star Scott Hylands – for me, at least, he never rings entirely true in spite of some good moments and the film’s suspense is lessened as a result. It’s no Play Misty for Me

Carol plays Cathy Palmer (see what they did?) a British commercial artist who has relocated to America and indeed the film opens with her arrival, all smiles until she has a lump of unexpected snow thrown at her from a sparky young man walking past the airport taxi rank. The two share an instant attraction and he, Kenneth Daly (Scott Hylands) seems a well-balanced and connected professional. He lines Cathy up with an interview with an ad agency and she starts work but soon he is shown to be shiftless and bored – a very part-time photographer.

Happier times
Cathy comes home (see what I did...?) to find Ken tormenting their pet budgie by building a stairway of books for their cat to climb… he really should get out more but is getting shadier by the minute. But things get especially intense when Cathy finds herself pregnant and with the work going well and her relationship unconvincing she decides to abort without telling Ken.

Scott Hylands is particularly unsettling when his character is informed of the abortion and something, literally, appears to snap inside: a believable breakdown for a persona on the edge who cannot differentiate between rights and wrongs. Here was something undeniably good that, for him, was ripped away but, upset though he may be, his response will be anything but proportionate.

Scott Hylands
The relationship over, Cathy meets and marries Jack Byrnes (Paul Burke) a likeable businessman with political ambitions who has the easy-going zest that Ken distinctly lacked. We wiz through courtship and house-buying and enter another pregnancy, one that Cathy intends to go full term.

Strange things start happening, Cathy can sense Ken around and glimpses him working as a Santa Claus at a department store and then following her to a garage. She leaves without getting her car fixed and comes to regret it weeks later when her labour starts… she leaves the car only to find Ken waiting, she tries to run but he follows… she faints.

Danger in the waiting room
Waking up in hospital Cathy has no idea that Ken has brought her there. Nor can she see him talking with Jack in the men’s’ waiting room. It’s starting to get very creepy and worse is to come when Ken turns up at home intent on photographing the baby. Cathy doesn’t feel able to tell her husband who Ken really is and… his disturbing involvement in their world continues.

All harmless weirdness up to this point but when Ken kills the doctor who performed Cathy’s abortion and leaves him with his feet in his own stirrups – a very creepy flourish – we know he’s more than just a nuisance.

Toys in the attic and out of the pram...
Things escalate with mysterious signs at Cathy and Jack’s home and when they return to find the living room full of photographs of their baby and the – no-longer extant – cat occupying the tot’s place it’s time for the FBI to get involved.

Ken is out to balance the books and wants Cathy to kill her baby to even things up with regard to the first one she had aborted (I don’t know; its psycho logic, why should it make any sense?!). He’s applying such pressure and even with the amount of protection Jack’s political position affords, can Cathy ignore the threats she knows are very real.

It’s a breathless dash to find the baby before Ken finally cracks (even more) …

Carol White
Dusty verdict: Daddy's Gone A-Hunting takes a long time to get where it’s going and doesn’t always hit home.  Carol White is very watchable and even out of her natural context she performs well even though we could do with some south London grit in place of the civilized sheen of San Francisco.

The music’s from a chap called John Williams who I believe went on to find some success later in the decade with a film about a space war and some fella who can fly.

The film is available on DVD from Amazon and elsewhere. Not essential but for fans of Carol a very decent watch.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A book at bedtime? Not Tonight, Darling (1971)

This slight tale rests entirely on the idea that any husband would rather read a law textbook at night than flick through the pages with a lovely wife played by Luan Peters. Any student of the period would find this difficult to comprehend and begin to wonder whether this guy had it coming all a long. One of the writers is listed as a “James Pillock” after all…. A clear sign of artistic endeavour thwarted by budgetary constraints and a production company more interested in their sexed up export possibilities and the generosity of the Edie Levy.

This feels like one of those shandy pornos in which proper actors cover the drama and experts are brought in for the sexual content (there are a number of “Speciality Guests”, allegedly from New York… although that sounds fanciful given the funding). If it is, most of the beer has been removed leaving only the frothy lemonade of the “story”. Still when one of those performers is the lovely Luan and there are extensive scenes in a grocery store – I love the brands of yesteryear! – there’s some benefit to be had.

Bedroom action
Luan plays Karen Williams, mother of Gary and long-suffering wife to John (the appropriately wooden Jason Twelvetrees). If Luan’s the one you’re looking for you’re rewarded with the sight of her stripping and climbing into the bath within the first few minutes.

This early success is soon undermined as the story hobbles forward and not just those parts indicative of the couple’s stolid home life which is expressed through bathroom optimism and bedroom pessimism and that awkward kitchen silence hanging between Mr and Mrs Williams… He’s happy with his books and work and assumes that she’s happy with their son and security.

But Karen wants more from him… at least initially. But John’s a cold public-school man who thinks he’s done his bit for family and can now concentrate on his self-serving career.

Vincent Ball and Sean Barry-Weske
Karen attracts attention on her regular trips to the supermarket – especially from a salesman Alex (Vincent Ball) and the local Peeping Tom, Eddie (Sean Barry-Weske) who have a bet on whether the silver-tongued charmer can get her to wander away from the marital bed. Eddie maintains a regular watch on Karen’s bathroom at night in the hope that she’ll show him a glimpse of something shocking but he’s normally only ever rewarded with her nightshirt-clad wandering – restless having failed to get John away from his tax research.

Karen goes for a drink with her mate Joan (Nicki Howorth) and spots Alex in the same pub… before you know it he’s whisked her off to go and watch Thunderclap Newman – yes them, “hey, look watch that sound…” – rehearse in a club. Maybe they we’re just free that day?

Catching the 'clap in rehearsal...
Anyway… all this thoughtfulness is winning Karen over, and before you can say “here Eddie, hand over that fiver” the couple find themselves in Alex’ travellers hotel: his bachelor pad-from-pad where he uses his modern jazz records to seduce the unfulfilled and the distracted.

The deed is done… and Karen feels nothing of it until signs begin to show that Alex is intent on leveraging the “situation for his further gain… sending her copies of photographs taken during their illicit meeting.

Joan and Karen at the swinger's do...
Things get worse when she is lured back to his flat and coerced into a swingers’ party which includes her pal Joan – crikey; they’re all at it!

Spoilers: Naturally events catch up with Karen when hubby is dragged to a gentlemen’s club by a client - a nice turn by Bill Shine as old duffer, Captain Harrison - where he is astonished to find his wife “acting” in a stag movie. Like all good public school-educated boy he is appalled at Karen’s infidelity and all stroppy-heck breaks lose.

Not the movie he was expecting
The closing moments see them casting glances across the bonfire at their son’s party: is there a reconciliation ahead or should Karen just head for the hills anyway? It’s nice and open in a mature way, a hint of what the film could have been.

Dusty Verdict: Not Tonight… is not a good film in many respects, darling, but it is worth watching for the period details and for a decent performance by Luan Peters who could easily have handled a better script and fuller characters around her.

It’s directed by Anthony Sloman who went on to become a noted film commentator and a fellow of the BFI.

Luan alone
There’s also a treat on the musical front as the jazzy, up-beat score was written by Denis King later to feature alongside John Junkin, Tim Brook-Taylor and Barry Cryer in classic radio comedy Hello Cheeky (which even made it to TV and provided two still-current panellists for I’m Sorry I haven’t Got a Clue…). Denis’ score is accomplished and likeable, adding some everyday warmth where plot and performance sometimes is lacking.

Availability-wise, the film seems to be quite deep undercover although it has been shown recently on Talking Pictures.

Trivia: Luan Peters apparently has a fine singing voice and she briefly replaced singer Tina Charles when she left the pop group 5000 Volts to go solo!

Hard to knock this for seventies supermarket fantasy