Saturday, 26 March 2016

Hi-de-hi… That'll be the Day (1973)

A film about the late fifties that feels very much like the early seventies mostly down to the presence of David Essex a pretty boy of David Cassidy proportions who could also act – and still does in Walford and beyond.

Genuine rock ‘n roll credentials are provided by Ringo Starr who in his youth worked at Butlins and on the pier in Llandudno before joining Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and other, more successful, Scouse beat bands along with a Mr Keith Moon who I believe slapped the drum skins for the High Numbers.

Billy Fury in the Wondrous Place...
Outshining them both is Billy Fury, Liverpool’s own Elvis, who maintains an authentic aura of cool whenever he’s on screen and is every inch the part-time rock star, full-time legend (thanks Pete Wylie!) you’d expect from the man who sang Wondrous Place. In his gold suit and with his blonde DA he’s the man Martin Fry hoped to be and even in the reduced circumstances of the film’s holiday camp, he looks like he should be somewhere better: the Empire, the Palladium, Cesar’s Palace!?

I had written off That'll Be the Day as a vehicle for Essex rather than an attempt to connect with the youthful truth of rock ‘n roll transition. My early teen self was put off by the popstar and, now having finally got round to watching it, I can see that was unfair. At times the film feels like an updated Alfie with Essex’s character, Jim Maclaine, going through a series of uncommitted relationships with some of the prettiest actresses of the time without finding himself or a direction.

The brilliant James Booth
Unlike Alfie, we see Jim’s origins, as the story begins with his Jack the Lad, Dad (James Booth) returning home from the War and never quite settling before heading off leaving wife (the excellent Rosemary Leach) and child with a wink and a far-away smile. It’s a grin that says, sorry son but I’ve no choice… a man pathologically driven to run, away.

Jim dreams in class
What effect does that have on the son? He drifts through school always dreaming of more and never committing to hard work or limited horizons – optimistically he assumes that there’s always something better around the corner and even as he moves from ingénue to adult he’s still always looking over his lovers’ shoulders….

Jim can’t concentrate on school and spends his time doodling while his best mate, Terry (Robert Lindsay) focuses on his studies. Both are bright lads set on university but Jim throws his books and his chances into the stream and resolves to leave home looking for who knows what.

On the beach
So Jim leaves his mother behind – abandoned by both father and now son, and becomes a deckchair attendant in an un-named seaside town (somewhere on the Isle of Wight) where he starts to notice the ladies. He’s still unsure of exactly what to do until he meets rocker Mike (Ringo Starr in one of his better roles).

Dave, Ringo, Brenda and Deborah
The two are working as bar men in a holiday camp and Mike helps to set Jim up with a young lass called Sandra (Deborah Watling) whilst he cops off with her mate Doreen (Brenda Bruce) as they dance along to Stormy Tempest (Billy Fury) and his band including Nashville Teen John Hawken as well as J.D. Clover played by Keith Moon.

Back to Jim’s chalet they go and – momentarily distracted by a crying baby: the sound of parental responsibility – his performance debut goes without a hitch and rather too quickly for the more-experienced-than-she-lets-on, Sandra.

Deborah Watling
The lads get jobs at a fairground managed by Jack (the ever dependable Johnny Shannon) and Mike explains the rules of this new game: “one for them and one for us” a split of the takings based on judicious over-charging and short-changing the punters on the dodgems. Mike’s rules are simple and they include a golden one: above all don’t pick on gang members.

Sadly he fails to heed his own council and ends up badly beaten by members of a gang whilst Jim just slinks away into the darkness leaving him to his fate. Bad deeds are rewarded as Jim gets Mike’s plum job on the merry-go-round and swiftly becomes the cock of the waltzer.

David Essex and Sara Clee
There’s a poignant interlude as a pretty girl (Sara Clee – always excellent in everything I see and now a successful counsellor and therapist!) waits for him. There’s something deeper about this relationship and they make their way back to her house where Jim is appalled to find a baby sleeping in her room. It’s another reminder not only of family but also of the irresponsibility of his lifestyle and he runs away…

Sara Clee
Another reality check takes place when Terry comes to visit and after Jim shows him his new life, they agree to go to a dance at the former’s university. It’s a dose of what could have been for Jim as he tries and fails to establish contact with Terry’s female friends: he’s missed the beat and they’ve no common ground.

The likely lads... Robert Lindsay and David Essex
Jim returns home – perhaps it’s time to settle and stick to something. He rejuvenates his mother’s shop and even swaps his motorbike for a new van. He also starts seeing Terry’s Sister Jeanette (Rosalind Ayres of the lovely eyes who also never seems to disappoint) much to he and his mother’s concern.

Rosalind Ayres and makes eyes
Jim treats Jeanette with more respect than the women we’ve seen and he seems set on married life until celebrating his last night of bachelor-hood with Terry’s girlfriend…

There’s something reckless about Jim and it’s clear that history may be about to repeat itself…

Jimmy Dean?
Dusty verdict: That’ll be the Day falls short of the impact of classic kitchen sinks from the decade before even if it does have hard edges. Director Claude Whatham adapts Ray Connolly’s story well but there’s a light-heartedness that somehow undermines the impact.

Rosemary Leach and David Essex
There are some good performances from Rosemary Leach and Rosalind Ayres in particular and, for me, David Essex doesn’t quite have their chops. He’s perhaps too likeable to play Jim - a man driven by the spirit of rock and roll and the restlessness to seek another life.

There’s a follow-up – Stardust – that has a lesser reputation and which deals with Jim’s later music career. – maybe I should see that to put this in its full context.

Jim and his heroes
That’ll be the Day is available with Stardust on DVD from Amazon and all the usual places. In truth it’s worth the price of admission just for Billy Fury, Ringo and Moon. Rock On


Saturday, 12 March 2016

The quickies and the damned… Adam and Nicole (1975)

Mary Millington
The original title for this film is Erotic Inferno which has me wondering what level of hell the writers had in mind – on this evidence the holding area in which the damned are used to screen test beginners’ soft porn films. Phew, it must be all of 20 degrees Celsius in there: no wonder Dante forgot to include it!

The film’s genesis was partially captured by a BBC documentary – Man Alive: Xploitation – which would be something to see. The director - Trevor Wrenn – is apparently shown talking his performers through their scenes – dialogue would be added later – which, again, would be particularly informative during the frequent and very rushed sex scenes: “ a bit closer, c’mon love, lift your leg… no, not that one, that’s it arch your back love…” and so on.

Michael Watkins snarls
Of course, one of those who would need little instruction in these matters is Mary Millington arguably Britain’s sexual superpower of the seventies – here listed under her married name of Mary Maxted.  Actually, her scenes are only with Heather Deeley and prove to be the most subtle and respectful of all the film’s couplings – they’re just about the only ones in a proper relationship with the rest after only self-gratification at best.

The documentary showed the film’s writer, Jonathan Gershfield (as Jon York), putting the script together in the library of York University and that feels about the right level – probably he was a fresher imagining his way through the sex lives of liberated, go-getting adults.

Mary and Heather frolicking
The result leaves a film whose only charm is period – the house, haircuts and cars – with virtually no sympathetic characters except the two lovely stable girls (Mary and Heather).

So why watch it and why write about it? Got me there… although this is precisely the kind of film I’d liked to have seen as a teenager at around the time but I’m not sure it would have aided my education on adult matters. It’s seventies X-rated which means there’s a lot of female nudity, dirty talk and minimal foreplay (apart from the stable girls… who at least have manners).

But there’s also a story too…

Jenny Westbrook
After the opening credits have revealed Adam (Michael Watkins) enjoying an afternoon liaison with a young woman (Monika Ringwald) in the Tower Hotel – St Catherine’s dock full of posh yachts even in 1975 – we discover that his boss is missing presumed drowned. Old Mr. Barnard (Anthony Kenyon) was a multi-millionaire of no fixed morality who also happens to be Adam’s father although he was born out of wedlock (which is a bad thing even when so much of the activity required to produce such an outcome is apparently a good thing…).

Adam works as the Old Man’s land manager and shares a bed with the housekeeper Nicole (Jenny Westbrook) who is a nice enough sort with an insatiable interest in Adam’s two half-brothers both of whom stand to properly inherit their father’s riches.

Jeannie Collings and Chris Chittell
All parties converge on the Old Man’s Tudor mansion, Adam driving his Rolls Royce back, the more business-like Paul (Karl Lanchbury) and Martin (Chris Chittell - later a star of Emmerdale) in a yellow Triumph Stag. Martin’s a chip off the old block and takes his time in between sessions with his girlfriend Brenda (Jeannie Collings). No one’s exactly grieving…

Adam is angry, Paul is creepily-cold and Martin’s an over-baring (geddit) bully. None of this cuts any ice with the family lawyer, Eric Gold (Michael Sheard, yes Mr Bronson from Grange Hill – a fine actor who also featured in Star Wars and no less than six times in Doctor Who) who insists that the main house remain locked until the will is read.

Jenny Westbrook and Karl Lanchbury
What to do to pass the time…? Well, Nicole reveals her fondness for both of the brothers, first with the uptight Paul and then the border-line charming Martin on a number of occasions. These couplings seem passionless and rushed for old time’s sake. Martin’s neglecting his fiancée though and she starts to form an arrangement with Paul which is borderline touching: they appear to have nothing in common but seem to be rushing to love as quickly as Martin and Nicole rush to… well, you know…

Meanwhile Adam is still angry and shares a brief tangle in the fields with the pretty stable girl Gayle (Heather D) a rare tender moment for him but she still rushes back to Jane (Mary M) for some proper affection.

Michael Watkins and Heather Deeley
It is hard to keep up (fnar!) and very uneven… but the mood of barely contained aggression is well maintained between the males and the females are mostly more than willing to take it on the chin…

Adam has Nicole hide the key to the house on a chain round her waist and naturally Paul and Martin are keen to get their hands on it and the body attached… Paul sneaks in to find the key but ends up hiding under the bed as his brother conducts a full body search on the mattress above.

Meanwhile Martin’s fiancée is naturally unconvinced of her lover’s sincerity and becomes increasingly drawn to Paul… who knows this could be the real thing although it’s more convincing in word not deed as there’s little chemistry between the actors.

Adam, as is his wont, gets even more angry and tries his luck with Gayle again in the stables but this time she won’t be turned: he’s too rough – too much and he’s clearly not Jane. At last, some fidelity!!

Slight spoilers: Then, late one night, the moment arrives as the solicitor arrives to deliver the last will and testament of the man who begat three such winning examples of the male sex… There’s some big surprises in store but... why spoil the plot?

A Triumph!
Dusty verdict: The film was tagged “a luscious story of naked greed!” and it is indeed a story of greed and naked but by and large the women should be excluded from the unpleasant behaviour of the  four male protagonists by the end and even Paul may have transferred his interest to actual love.

In terms of performance, the women generally have more to play with than the men (ooer) with Jenny Westbrook managing to come across convincingly (oh, stop it!) whilst Adam’s start to finish black mood must have taken some skill to maintain.

Heather Deeley
In soft porn terms Deeley and Millington take the Oscars and are almost in a film of their own. Deeley’s character almost saves Adam as well as they share a few bucolic moments amongst horses and trees but he can’t help being nasty to even her in the end.

The film doesn’t appear to be available commercially which is surprising. I’m sure someone will find the wherewithal to liberate it from obscurity if only for the obvious reasons: nakedness and ambition.