Sunday 31 July 2016

I might… I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967)

Oliver Reed is spotted right at the start with a sharp metal axe on his shoulder, walking purposefully through the West End towards what looks like the old Economist building off Piccadilly. As the titles roll he’s bounding through busy 1967 streets with hardly a second glance from the mass of pedestrians around him.

He enters the offices of Lute Advertising, makes his way up to his office and then wields the axe, destroying his desk, chair, filing cabinets in a few devastating movements… he has had this job and wants something more “honest”: “silly boy,” says his boss Mr Lute (Orson Welles), “There aren’t any…” as he aims a golf ball from the agency’s roof garden in eth direction of their competitors.

But Reed’s character, Andrew Quint, is not for turning so easily, he’s exceptionally good at his job but wants to escape and, despite Lute’s conviction that he’ll be back, he goes to work for his old friend Nicholas (Norman Rodway) who runs a worthy but barely profitable literary magazine. The pay is hardly worth mentioning but it’s honest work… what he wanted to do rather than what he ended up doing and being successful at…

Orson and Oliver
This may be a period piece but the central quandary has never dated. Michael Winner directs as he did for The Jokers, Reed’s earlier film in which mainstream values were questioned. Hard to think of the director of Death Wish as this challenging but Winner had been editor of Varsity magazine at Cambridge in the fifties and maybe there was some autobiography here? Quint even goes to Cambridge to meet one of the magazine’s contributors.

This film is not as slapstick as The Jokers and indeed is rather more serious as it progresses: there are no easy answers for Mr Quint nor Mr Winner…

Quint’s a man on the run, not just from his own success but also from his family and his wife, Louise (Wendy Craig) – the two still seem very connected but almost casually falling apart. She’s seeing other men more in retaliation to his constant search for a new sexual partner. Even when Quint meets someone he likes he’s still eyeing up the competition…   he cannot settle and is distracted by the “advertising” on view.

He goes to visit model Josie (Marianne Faithfull) sneaking peeks at her in the bath and then rendezvous with the married Susannah  (Lyn Ashley) at a disused signal box… oh Thomas Beaching, so much to answer for?

Carol White and Ollie
He’s detached form them all with the exception of his wife – who not only understands him but herself as well – watched a lot of Antonioni did you Mr Winner? Nothing at all wrong with that.

It’s too easy to overlook Reed’s acting chops given his later Brando-esque  reliance on his presence (Mr Welles also provides a fine example of the same…) and here he is very good with a far more nuanced and lonely character than in his two previous Winner films.

In this moment Quint wants to find himself through intellectual work, escaping the get-rich certainties his creative talent brings him in advertising. There’s a pretty young secretary, Georgina Elben (Carol White) who naturally attracts his attention but she’s wary of his love ‘em and leave ‘em baggage…

The two grow closer and – for some reason – Quint decides to invite her to his school reunion. It’s an all-male audience of course – and Georgina stands out like and attractive young woman amongst the dinner-jacketed old boys. It’s horrible… and the men revert to easily to type as their former teachers forget their names and jumble up anyone who had an ounce of individuality… no doubt all heartfelt stuff for Winner and his writer Peter Draper.

Carol White and Norman Rodway
Quint is still suffocated by his privileged background and still unable to make lasting human connections – gee, it sure is tough being a public schoolboy with an imagination.

There’s a nice turn from Michael Hordern as the bumbling headmaster – of course such a man would be in charge of a fee-paying school… he never forgets a face and a name only he can’t always remember the two together correctly: emblematic of an  indifferent establishment.

Some of the boys, led by the uber-obnoxious Charles Maccabee (Harvey Hall), spot on old victim and decide to renew their bullying. As they chase the poor fellow through the grounds, Quint steps in and fights back only to end up the worse for wear…

Georgina takes him back to her apartment where, in his delirious state, he has vivid dreams of his school life in which Frank Findlay as an inappropriate Chaplain fills his head full of poison… Waking with Georgina he allows genuine emotion to seep through…

Marianne Faithfull
The two travel to Cambridge together to meet recalcitrant author, Gerald Sater(Harry Andrews) who is late with his work but all too willing to deliver in return for a pay rise and the chance for a pervy flirt with Georgina as he shows her his collection of what the butler saw viewers…

The couple return to London to find that Nicholas, urged on by his long-suffering wife, Carla (Ann Lynn) has sold out to a mysterious third party. Of course it’s Lute just trying to get his man back and it may appear he has succeeded as Quint agrees to produce one last advert that will lay open the dishonesty of his profession once and for all.

He makes his statement, pulling in genuine statements and reactions from his lovers and ex-wife and yet he may not get the result he hopes for: in this world of sacrifice and “new clothes” who knows what anything will mean to anyone?

The films closes out in far darker tones than you’d expect and indeed is far more serious than Reed and Winner’s previous collaborations…both would have to step off in order to free themselves of the World defining their worth and their work…

Dusty verdict: The film has some very good moments and the performances from Black, Craig and Reed are especially impressive.

Maybe the central premise rings a bit hollow but then few of us ever really escape the trap of making money from jobs we’re quite good at: we can’t always chose how to make a living apart from the fact that most of us end up exactly where we’re meant to be in terms of our skill sets.

Not everyone can break free to find a plan B…

Then film is available on DVD from Amazon and other reputable suppliers.

1 comment:

  1. Sad to know that Carol White died in her 40's in a Miami motel where she was living, not having worked in nearly a decade and barely recognizable from the ravages of drink and drugs, a tragic end for the Battersea Bardot who had shown so much promise playing unmarried mothers and working class dolly birds in the new wave of kitchen sink realism.