Saturday, 27 June 2015

In on the game… Games Lovers Play (1972)

Ah the Great British “sex comedy” a symbol of a time before when we were proud of our inhibitions and always keen to celebrate our kinks in the darkened communities of “private” Soho cinemas. There was a cinema club in Liverpool that used to advertise in the Echo; tantalising titles involving naughty night nurses and worldly window cleaners, Mary Millington, the alliterative British “niece” to America’s greatest sexual super power and a host of tightly-corseted, knowing beauties all smiling and “in on The Act…”

In reality, many of these films were little more than Carry ons with added nudity; relentlessly silly in order to off-set the slightest possibility of offense being taken but with enough pulchritude to ensure that the key demographic was satisfied and, on occasion, a plot worth following.

Well, on the first count, here we do have your actual Joanna Lumley (aged 24) revealing a not inconsiderable amount in pursuit of her no doubt considerate fee… As with another film covered on this blog, The Breaking of Bumbo, her agents seem to be on a drive to remove her youthful nudity yet the copy I made years ago on VHS seems to be the full Monty as it were which is apparently not the case with the current DVD release.

The full Lumley...
Is this important? You could argue that the sequences in question are key to both plots with Bumbo benefiting from the minute or so of cavorting that explains Bumbo’s devotion to Lumley’s character and there’s almost a naivety about the exposure. Here Joanna (I can’t really bring myself to call Ms L by her surname) is playing not only a sex worker, in modern terminology, but a character based on Fanny Hill no less. It’s a scarcely funny comedy with the sex but without it Games logical existence is pretty much negated…

Jeremy Lloyd and Joanna Lumley share a joke
What we have is a nostalgic 90 minutes that says as much about the watcher as it does about the almost quaint sensibilities which drove the creation of the film. I watched it because I was curious to see what the censors had denied my younger self and because I just like the period: call it comfort-watching… the equivalent of an arctic roll, a bag of Maltesers or a box set of On the Buses.

If nothing else, it gives the excellent Richard Wattis a chance to play against type… now that’s got your interest surely?

Lady Evelyn out talent spotting
Malcolm Leigh wrote and directed, so can take full responsibility, but he does a competent job. The story concerns the rivalry between two high-class madams, Mrs Hill (Diane Hart) and Lady Evelyn (Nan Munro).

The two ladies spend their time “talent spotting” young beauties from the idle rich, although it’s never explained what’s in it for the rich young things: surely not money which leaves open the possibility that the career in question is a vocational one (yeah… I know.).

The two madams clash
The two fall out over each other’s status and bet their best girls in a fair fight to seduce the most unlikely of males. Her ladyship choses her cross-dressing cousin, Jonathan Chatterley (Jeremy Lloyd) as the challenge for Fanny Hill (Joanna) to overcome whilst her competitor, Constance Chatterley (Penny Brahms) has to work with a Bishop (John Gatrell).

I’m less than clear why Lady Chatterley gets chosen as a prostitute – Fanny Hill’s profession is not misplaced though she was a victim of circumstance and not choice even in the Eighteenth Century.

The impressive Miss Brahms
Anyway, whilst Constance runs rings around the bishop, eventually winning him over with theological argument (really!), Fanny sets about her rather more difficult task by pretending to be a transsexual. This is the film’s best play with Lumley in her element as a kind of proto-Patsy with more balls (as it were) and Jeremy Lloyd playing it up for all his worth against a backdrop of some of the capital’s leading followers of the love that dare not dress down when there’s a party to attend.

Fanny charms the "girls"
Ultimately Cousin Jonathan is taken in and it’s all square after round one…

The stakes are raised as the girls are tasked with seducing the seemingly un-seducable Lothran (Richard Wattis) an antiques collector who seems more enamoured with people than objects. The girls move into his apartment block and begin to charm him.

Fanny shows Lothran around...
But, just as both get near to the game-winning breakthrough, Lothran runs away screaming “no, not alone, not alone…” You might have an idea where this is possibly heading but I couldn’t possibly reveal the denouement.

...and Contsnace gives him a lift.
Dusty verdict: You can decry the erotic sensibilities of the age but it also doesn’t do to measure them entirely against our current mind set – plus it’s not exactly clear how far the cause of sexual enlightenment has progressed in an era of equal opportunities commodification which still finds time to favour the male view.

The Lady ain't a tramp
As a period piece then Games Lovers Play is not without merits – a coherent narrative, well performed – and there are some funny sequences enhanced by a no-nonsense approach to the subject matter: it would be worse if the view was more “coy”.

Joanna Lumley is lovely as per usual and shows the comic instinct that eventually came to career fruition in Absolutely Fabulous. Penny Brahms is also good although she wasn’t to enjoy the same career longevity as her co-tart.

Ultimately the only way to evaluate films of this genre is to compare them with each other and you have to say that this film is perhaps less exploitative than the majority with its emphasis on the female leads and choice of the most unlikely male characters.

The DVD is now available from Amazon or Movie Mail but those who just want to see more of Joanna will have to look a bit harder or back to video!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Touch Me I’m Sick… Mudhoney (1965)

I’m one of the generation that knew of this film firstly as the name of a band, Seattle grunge pioneers Mudhoney famous for one of the greatest song titles of the period Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet no More and many more swinging sledgehammer hits.

So, 25 years after I last saw Mudhoney play (in the Kilburn Empire if memory serves, supporting Sonic Youth?) I’m finally getting round to finding out just what it was they named themselves after… and it all makes sense.

Hal Hopper and Lorna Maitland
Russ Meyer… what can you say about a man who is truly his own genre and, exploitation to one side, a film-maker of skill in terms of cinematography and narration. Sometimes his stories overwhelm themselves with too much confection… they become sickly-sweet cocktails of knowing soft-core, the odd bit of sublime and an overdose of the ridiculous. It’s as if Russ is trying to cover himself by casting a joke over proceedings: never mind the sexual violence, look at the serious messages about society and the miss-use of power (really).

Antoinette Christiani
Here the wife-beating, drunken antics from Sidney (Hal Hopper) drive much of the narrative tension and yet we’re expected to feel some pity when his own plans collapse in on him after he can’t help himself commit one more act of rape. Nothing in the film up to that point has prepared us to care a jot for his civil liberty and right to a fair trial.

Meyer is far more at home staging lingering shots of  the beautiful “mute” Eula (Rena Horten) standing naked washing her hair and bending over more than enough to highlight her impressive physical profile… there’s some action to the left but I honestly can’t remember what it was…

Important to the plot and understanding the film...not gratuitous at all...
That’s not to say the film is that flawed that it’s not enjoyable; it’s just more than a little uneven. Meyer gets the balance far better when he tries harder for full-on drama (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), swinging pop-sploitation (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) and, let’s be honest, comedy-porn (Vixen).

Sociopathic Sidney
Hopper gives a superbly disturbing performance as the sloshed and sociopathic Sidney and blows most of the cast off screen as a result. It’s 1933 and the depression is in full swing… a stranger arrives in a small mid-Western town of Spooner, Missouri, en route to California. His mother named him after his intended destination and he goes by the name of Calif McKinney (John Furlong). He sees a pair of lovely legs belonging to the childlike Eula and talks with her “employer” Maggie Marie (the scarcely-regal Princess Livingston) who runs a happy-go-lucky cat house which also features the curvaceous Clara Belle (Lorna Maitland).

Calif meets the locals
Maggie sends Calif off to find work at the farm of Lute Wade (Stuart Lancaster) and here he encounters Lute’s niece Hannah Brenshaw (Antoinette Christiani) who is inexplicably married to the much older and character-flawed Sidney. Hannah’s husband not only abuses her when he’s too drunk to afford one of Maggie’s girls he also takes a knife to Calif’s throat – a way of testing and establishing dominance but we suspect Calif may be made of sterner stuff.

Sidney welcomes Calif
So it proves as he begins to win the trust of Lute and Hannah whilst Sidney continues to drink himself into oblivion… Lute decides to leave his money to Calif so that he can protect it from Sidney and marry Hannah. It’s a good plan and it just might work.

Sidney continues to challenge all around him and hatches a plan with the local preacher (Frank Bolger, who was responsible for some of the Meyer over-blown voiceovers, most notably the “sex and vi-olence…” introduction to Faster, Pussycat…) and denounces Cailf and Hannah for starting a relationship even though she is still married.

Antoinette Christiani, Stuart Lancaster and John Furlong
This may well not be true but it’s seemingly enough for the townsfolk to take against them – who knew they’d be so puritanical?! This unexpected turn of events is less than convincing and it will get worse…

Meanwhile Lute dies and Sidney creates a scene at the funeral after discovering the old man’s plan to divert his inheritance. This time Sidney can’t cheat his way to an advantage and Calif knocks him all over the burial site, eventually sending him into the grave along with Lute.

The Reverend is compromised...
Sidney runs off determined on revenge but he’s on a course that will bring the town down on him like a ton of bricks… we can’t say he hasn’t got it coming but strange loyalties come into play in the closing minutes as blood runs hot...

Under pressure
Dusty verdict: The film has some good touches; Meyer lingers on his characters feet at the start of the film, creating a disassociation with some of the damage being done by the bodies above. The feet all seem to be better mannered than the arms, legs and heads attached… as one after another freak of nature is revealed.

Hannah and Calif
Hannah and Calif are the film’s sympathetic heart of course although sometimes it feels as if they’re just there to be brutalized by Sidney and then to eventually try and save him... He’s certainly a sad man especially once he’s seen that being bad doesn’t always work out… but he’s also a deeply unpleasant creation. Whilst Calif himself is finally rescued by the love of a good woman do the audience really feel compassion for Sidney as a wounded animal? Maybe that’s Meyer’s point although I’m not so sure it means much more than that and there is Meyer’s problem: he ducks and dives issues so much that you can’t tell what he really stands for.

Russ makes his point...
If you like his films then you’ll no doubt like Mudhoney although I’m not so sure you’d like the band although. as with Mr Meyer, they are altogether less concerned about what their audience thought of them.

Mudhoney is available on DVD from Amazon whilst details of the band and its current activities can be found here - they have a new album and are about to tour!