By golly, this one’s a bit odd. It’s more than a little conflicted: a film in search of the right tone with its twin titles telling you everything you need to know about the ragged line it walks between sexploitation and a lighter/darker drama: in the US it was called School for Unclaimed Girls.
Neither title is accurate with the first referring to a phrase used by the unfortunate father of the lead character, his daughter who, inadvertently, causes him to be crushed on a merry-go-round when just a child. She grows up fatherless and always blaming herself for her “smashing” Dad’s death whilst her mother – seemingly oblivious to her torment – seeks out a replacement.
The father was played by David Lodge, a mainstay of sixties cinema with many comedy roles, here he makes a prototypical father with his likability making us question how we feel about his accidental killer. His grown-up daughter Nicki is played by a little-known actress – at least now – called Madeleine Hinde who looks like she stopped performing to start a family in the late seventies. Here she gets to have Dennis Waterman for a boyfriend and Maureen Lipman as a would-be girlfriend (yes, I know…).
|Funfairs before health and safety...|
Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis, School for Unclaimed Smashing Birds (as it could be called…) also features a host of go-go bad girls including a fifteen-year old Lesley-Anne Down in her first screen role.
After a psychedelic nightmare flashing back to the death of her father, we join Nicki (Hind) as a rather mature-looking schoolgirl (she was 20 at the time) caught in the middle of that desperate relationship between her mother Anna (Asherson) and the viewable-from-space nastiness of Harry Spenton (Mower in second gear… you won’t cut much grass like that mate). Harry wants to use Nicki’s trust fund to invest in a beautiful laundrette and Anna agrees little realising that the Seventies’ revolution in white goods will soon turn their dreams to powder – Daz or Omo probably.
|Nicki waits for her mother and step-git|
Sadly, Harry is more than a one-dimensional bad guy and he also has designs on Nicki’s lovely slim figure, makes his move in their kitchen with all the subtlety of a period disc-jockey. In spite of her emotionally vulnerable state Nicki is no pushover and slaps her assailant before being forced to knife him in clear self-defence.
|Kitchen sink drama|
Naturally enough given we have women in prison there are a couple of lovers, Jane (Michele Cook) and the joint’s alpha female Sarah (Maureen Lipman, also the film’s alpha actress as it turns out). Sarah is maybe getting a little bored of her pretty friend and casts longing looks at the new arrival.
|Michele Cook and Maureen Lipman|
But at least Nicki begins to open up to Sarah although not to the extent the latter would like. Still it’s enough to drive her now-ex into a rage and she attacks Nicki provoking a massed pillow fight that may or may not be a reference to Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite… It’s more like a scene from a Leslie Nielsen comedy as suddenly a topless woman appears amidst the mayhem as if to show how "adult" the film is.
|Fight, fight, fight!|
Anyways, Nicki doesn’t blame Sarah and soon they’re cosying up and telling each other’s life stories. They agree to escape because… well because.
|The escape committee|
So, literally too sexy for the antiques store, Nicki must move one… she drives off with Peter in his cool Triumph and they talk about her making a clean breast of it all and starting afresh; the future beckons… No spoilers.
|Young Dennis at the wheel|
Typically, just before Geoffrey’s sexual assault, he’s discussing antiques with a young couple one of whom is played by the boundlessly-quirky Sheila Steafel. She’s great but it all contributes to that uneven tone.
|It's about freedom... probably|
|Lesley-Anne Down on the right...|