Saturday, 24 September 2016

Deeley depraved… Diversions (1976)

Heather Deeley
This is a bloody strange film - a mid-seventies porno devised for the "export" market and ranging wildly in tone and content. The production values are pretty decent and it does feature the lovely Heather Deeley who could so easily have been a mainstream star.

Written and directed by Derek Ford the film is trying to make more of a statement than it’s “cinema club” origins and is a mix of vignettes aimed at disrupting the attention span of the average blue film aficionado with comedy, drama and sexual shock tactics. Is it to be taken seriously? Deeley didn’t think so and disliked its extremes, but it’s an interesting diversion… even if you occasionally have to hide behind the sofa..

Genuine 70's grainy film-stock!
It starts at a railway station as a convicted woman is escorted handcuffed to a WPC and accompanied by another office – Derek Martin (later of The Bill and Eastenders) – there’s a mix of professional actors and, er, the other performers.

Sat in the old-style six seat carriage, Deeley’s character, Imogene, stares blankly out of the train window before casting glances at her fellow travellers: a man reading a Vampirella comic – how promising those always looked on the higher shelves… and a student played by another pro actor, Jeffrey Morgan.

The student offers her an apple and she daydreams them both onto a farm where they play a grown-up version of hide and seek. In her dream he recites an ode to apples comparing them favourable to a woman and even constructing a replica woman from the fruit. It’s daft but creates at least an interesting diversion (see what I did…) from the expected business they are about to get down to.

Sure enough Heather comes down from her hide-away in the loft to kick her lover’s apples away. The two embrace and get down to bruising the bramleys until another, more-fleshy, and badly-lit couple, takes over the close-quarters work. It’s pretty jarring after the film’s carefully established atmospherics and feels totally unnecessary: animalistic and basic at every level and clearly not the two actors. We see enough of Heather D later on to know that this quota-filling bonk-double is not her.

Back to the carriage and Imogene begins another fantasy, less romantic and much darker… At first it seems she merely wants to be in control, arching her back impressively astride her well-heeled lover– the man with the horror mag (Timothy Blackstone). Yes, you can clearly see why Deeley was in so much demand for this kind of work, dimensionally very-pleasing with a lovely face and acting ability to lift her above most contemporaries: she could easily have had a mainstream career?

War torn
Things turn dark as Imogene, bored of her unimaginative partner, fantasizes about being a nurse in a war zone: a dream within a dream in which she is brutalised by enemy soldiers. Waking from this she stabs her man and then proceeds to bath herself in his blood before taking her knife to his still-functioning appendage. It is very shocking indeed and somewhere between art, absurdist humour and your worst nightmare. If anyone is turned on by this display, then not only was the filmmakers’ joke in vain but they probably ought to see someone… and quick.

Her ladyship goes cruising the streets of London for more victims only to encounter a vampire impervious to her golden blade… No doubt more analysis is possible but, she is on a train and she is really bored.

The power of advertising
Next we have a section closer to the Robin Asquith model of mistaken sexual-identity as Deeley moves into a flat previously owned by a sex worker and, after taking a number of nuisance calls from former customers, decides to accept the offer of a good-looking guy who comes calling (Tim Burr).

For once the intercourse is sensitively handled – especially when compared to the first gratuitous insert – and the punch line is genuinely likeable.

Let’s see, who else is left in the carriage?  Surely not the granite-faced cop, oh, yes, how about the other woman? Big box left to tick… and the film takes its time as Imogene is imagined back in Nazi Germany, tied up and abused by soldiers before their superior officer (Jacqui Rigby) takes over and does things properly.
Jacqui Rigby and Heather Deeley
But as with another naughty flick I've seen with Heather Deeley and Mary Millington Erotic Inferno,  this coupling between the women is far more tender than the other scenes, straight sex – at least in these films – is more aggressive and domineering. Then even this pretty scene is perverted when the two male guards join in for a blurred confusion of limbs and the final – inevitable – climax. that was the seventies... but it's not really entertainment.

Still time left on the journey for one last episode, this time involving a haunted camera and some Victorian high jinks in which a man with expressive whiskers and his chamber maid haunt a modern-day Heather in soft-porn, comedy-sex ways.
Then… we’re back in the train at the end of the journey as the police and their prisoner leave the train and the surprising truth of their relationship is finally revealed…

Curiosity shop
Dusty verdict: Diversions is an uneven film with some touching moments, good performances – acting! – and some actual erotica. The good is outweighed by the sexual violence of the bad and you wonder what more could have been achieved had a firmer line been held.
It’s pretty hard to find now but is worth seeking out for those lighter moments and for Deeley’s overall loveliness for which I make no apology. The rest… just fast-forward or close your eyes and think of the British Board of Film Classification!

There's an interesting post on Gav Crimson's blog about  Heather's short career and what little is known about her life afterwards. She was only 19 when this film was made and you hope she made it free to a settled life outside of skin flicks: naughty nostalgia for some of us but exploitative and dangerous for the participants.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Chilling… Johnny Cool (1963)

If you’re expecting a tongue-in-cheek caper movie with a modern jazz score from the Rat Pack Extended Universe… Johnny Cool will take you places you didn’t mean to be. Sure Sammy’s in it as is Henry Silva and Joey Bishop whilst Peter Lawford produced but this Johnny turns out more chilled than cool… and the film leaves you far more anxious than you expected.

Directed by William Asher and based on John McPartland’s novel The Kingdom of Johnny Cool the film transcends its – now un-cool – title to deliver a gripping late noire that features many shades of grey and an ending that you won’t see coming.

Elizabeth Montgomery
It’s fairly violent too, at least in terms of body count and mostly-unseen assassinations: it portrays a life lived in death and by men who have no choice but to kill or be killed. Does it glamorise the mob? I don’t really think so… their lives are nasty, brutal and short and the only chance of an honourable discharge for our hero is lost once the devastating reality of his life is revealed.

We begin in 1943 Sicily as Nazi soldiers brutalise a young woman and her son. Rescue comes too late and the boy picks up a gun that must now become his “family”.

Henry Silva looking cool
Two decades later the boy with the machine gun has become Salvatore Giordano (Henry Silva) the benevolent warlord protecting his province with benign good favour. He’s at a big local wedding, passing his blessing on the young couple – his right is might and is in favour with everyone but the government.

The wedding is raided by soldiers – no other way of trapping this man – and he is pursued over the hills via helicopter until finally being downed by a shot from on high. But, Mother of Mercy, this is not the end as a couple of men substitute another man who proceeds to suffer the summary fate planned for him.

Salvatore is dead but long live Johnny Cool. Awakening in Rome in the plush apartments of Johnny Colini (Marc Lawrence) – a Mafioso in exile – he is persuaded to become Johnny’s avenging angel in the United States. Once this surrogate Johnny “Cool” has taken care of business, he will inherit Colini’s empire all to the benefit of his people and himself…

Johnny plays the game
To America to infiltrate and annihilate Johnny soon shows how cool he is by breaking into a card game in Vegas where a man name of Educated (Sammy Davis, Jr.) is running the game… Johnny puts them all straight and his arrival is announced.

Meanwhile Johnny’s eyes alight on one of the most beautiful pair of eyes in all of the West Coast: Elizabeth Montgomery is Darien "Dare" Guinness and it’s a pleasure to see her act in something other than one of the most successful sitcoms of all time.

Guinness is good for you
Dare is a civilian and perhaps bored with the sterility of privilege. Johnny represents something real and has a charm that belies his day job: he’s a leader and a man of drive who sees himself as a fighter for freedom in his own way. Dare knows nothing of this but she likes the integrity and honesty of the man she sees.

Telly Savalas is introduced as Vincenzo 'Vince' Santangelo, the leader of the local mob and a man who sits secure in the apparent superiority of his numbers. But Johnny goes to work and gradually chips away at his sponsor’s enemies, gradually earning their respect and fear as he goes.

Elizabeth and Henry
Dare gets dragged into the picture as the mob try to use her to get to Johnny but he rescues her and the two go on the run – of run and hit – as Johnny keeps on picking off the enemy.

The two fall into a relationship but it can only be a matter of time before his past, present and future catch up with both of them.

Johnny leaves the scene
Along the way there are cameos from Jim Backus – a mob employee despatched not before he can run off a couple of patented Mr Magoo snickers - Joey Bishop as a used car salesman and versatile character actor John McGiver and mob-film veteran Elisha Cook Jr.

Not all of them make the end of the film…

Dusty Verdict: Johnny Cool is not quite as cool as it once was but it’s still s surprisingly amoral experience now with Johnny’s code of honour barely separating him from the men he is out to destroy. All of this was born in the second world war when his mother was killed… was that the Rat Pack’s rationalisation of their friends’ occupation?

Magic Montgomery
There’s a superb performance from Henry Silva at the heart and he’s matched by the sublime Miss Montgomery – who acts so well you soon forget to anticipate the wrinkling of the nose… she is magic enough just as she is.

Johnny Cool is available on DVD from Amazon: well worth watching how even in 1963 the gangster wasn’t always viewed as a pure Robin Hood… even in The Pack’s sanitised view.

Cool score from Billy May by the way.