Saturday, 25 May 2019

Robbing hoods... Two-Way Stretch (1960)


When this blog was invented it’s stated aim was to allow me to watch and work my way through my boxes of old VHS recordings in order to decide which ones to keep, which ones to throw and which ones to replace with DVDs. The rule, so far, has been to cover films from 1960-1979 – although this rule has become more and more frustrating especially as I’d reckoned without the sudden appearance of a new supply of many, many films from this period and beyond courtesy of Talking Pictures TV… which has been transmitting and incredible volume of British film from the period of my childhood and earlier. In short, my problem has increased… only instead of boxes of videos, I now have a Virgin Box crammed full of films, A Family at War, Callan and so much more.

So it goes… but I must soldier on writing about these films – do I keep, burn or delete or, worse to I upgrade to Blu-ray?! So many of these films I hadn’t heard of and, in fairness I was either not even born or simply too young… toddlers don’t reckon crime capers much, not when there’s trains to play with.

It seems improbable that this film came before the Great Train Robbery (in 1963) but there must have been something in the air at the time; some essentially British post-war criminality that saw a big job as somehow justifiable but also funny… Was it class that drove this rebelliousness or something deeper after a decade or more of post-War austerity and a Conservative government rapidly losing its charm on a restless populous. The UK wasn’t just waiting to swing in the sixties but to elect a Labour government and to kick back, the generation that won the war wanting some credit and a good time to boot!!

Warren and Bernard
So it is that we find an entirely unrepentant group of prisoners living the life of Riley on her majesty’s pleasure; Dodger Lane (Peter Sellers, beginning to prove that he could do pretty much anything on screen), “Jelly” Knight (the redoubtable David Lodge) and Lennie (The Dip) Price (the legendary Bernard Cribbins who endures so magnificently in Doctor Who and other programmes). Dodger’s the leader with Jelly the muscle and Lennie the talent, if picking pockets is what you consider art.

The three are close to release and pretty much have the run of the prison with a naïve and overly optimistic Prison Governor Horatio Bennett (Maurice Denham) and a very easy-going Chief Prison Officer Jenkins (George Woodbridge) who only see the best in the men even as they steal the Gov’s ciggies and take liberties left right and centre.

The boys are visited by their relatives, Lennie’s Mum Mrs Price (Irene Handl) who encourages him to keep up the family honour by escaping and Dodger’s fiancé, the curvy Ethel (Liz Fraser who is, as always a wide-eyed wow!), who he uses to distract the entire room as various contraband is passed to the prisoners.

Irene and Liz
 A Vicar arrives and bless me if it isn’t Wilfrid Hyde-White as Soapy Stevens, a criminal mastermind whose last plan landed the lads inside. This time he’s got a sure-fire winner, the perfect crime to be committed while the boys are still in prison… all they have to do is escape for a few hours to do it.

Now, given the generally lax conditions this should be a doddle but Officer Jenkins is due to retire and his replacement is the ball and chain-breaking, Prison Officer 'Sour' Crout played with stiff-backed relish by Lionel Jeffries. A battle of wits ensues as Crout tries to crush the lad’s spirits and Dodger has to fix a way out past his steely-beady eyes…

Of course, the gang manage their escape and Soapy’s plan looks to have run like clockwork… can they really get away with it?

Dusty Verdict: Two Way Stretch was the fourth biggest film at the UK box office in 1962 and you can see why with this wealth of comic talent and a well-written script ably directed by Robert Day.

Jeffries and Sellars are superb as the impertinent force versus officious object – the sparks fly! There’s also a supporting cast including Arthur Mullard, Warren Mitchell, Thorley Walters and many more – such strength in depth and far from just a vehicle for the irresistible rise of the man formerly known as Bluebottle…

Sunday, 5 May 2019

But it was only… Corruption (1968)

In the same way as science fiction is really more about the present than the future, horror films have a lot to say about the time in which they were made. Here there are lots of heavy-handed nods to the swinging London of the year before, as well as deliberate referencing of Blow Up; photographers, models and a narrative that may or may not be the actuality. It’s a “psyche-sploitation” film which may or may not shoot itself in the foot with an improbably-powerful laser beam but, what they heck, it has some style.

It also has some good actors, notably Peter Cushing, as Sir John Rowan, a plastic surgeon finding himself in the unlikeliest of happenings thanks to his young model fiancée named Lynn played by Sue Lloyd who always manages to carry across the complex emotion with just a tinge of irritation. Here she encourages her husband to be to make the effort to attend a party at her photographer’s fab flat.

Sue Lloyd
The snapper is Mike Orme, “randy Scouse git” Anthony Booth, yes future father-in-law to Labour’s most-successful PM… here he’s a shallower/shabbier version of David Hemmings’ character in Antonioni’s classic and clearly here to show the gap in age, style and attitude to Sir John. While Mike makes like Bailey with Lynn, Sir John tries to make small talk with a wide-eyed young woman called Kate (Vanessa Howard) who’s already so far gone with the spirit of the evening that she’s far too high above the light fandango to trip over it.

Kate is just a passing character… or is she? Anyway, events take an unpleasant turn for the worse when Sir John, trying to pull Lynn away from the attentions from Mike only succeeds in starting a fight during which a huge, hot lamp falls onto Lynn’s face, scarring her for life.

Vanessa Howard
It’s a tragic accident and one caused entirely by Sir John’s jealousy and as Lynn struggles bitterly with her disfigurement with the help of her rather striking sister Val (Kate O'Mara, who does have a lucky face…), the surgeon focuses all his energy on devising a cure.  There is no known cure of course but you know he’ll find one and, when Sir John is caught hanging around the morgue with his bag and some sharp knives you know he’s up to no good. His colleague, Noel Trevarthen (Steve Harris), overlooks the mild infraction of stealing a small body part form a dead person… but that’s his last warning (probably).

Cushing, Booth and Lloyd... before things blow up!
Soon after Lynn appears and her face is restored to its former beauty; it’s astonishing and Noel cannot believe it fast enough… But, of course, it’s only a temporary fix and soon Lynn requires more treatment and, John being barred from the dead has only one choice, to take what he needs from the living. He heads off to old Soho to find someone morally less deserving of life… it’s gruesome and the next day whilst the papers are full of stories on the new “Ripper”, medically trained and everything, whilst Lynn reappears ready to resume her modelling career.

The more she’s cured the more she wants to be cured and you know that this life will only lead the couple to more and more desperate straits. Sir John pursues a young woman onto a train (Valerie Van Ost), the type with carriages and no walk-way, he traps her and their struggle is genuinely quite unpleasant to watch.

Wendy Varnals runs for her life
Worse is to come as the couple hide away from the febrile world of metropolitan suspicion in a seaside cottage but even there, they find the temptation of young flesh as they spot a lone girl on the beach, Terry (Wendy Varnals). They invite her in just as your screaming at the screen for Terry to run for her life, but there’ll be time for that later as there’s more to the youngster than meets the eye. During the night she invites her boyfriend in through her bedroom window, it’s Rik (future Bill star Billy Murray) and they too are not alone as events start to spin faster and faster towards a devastating conclusion that earned the film its alternate title of “Carnage”!

There’s another horrific scene in which Terry runs for her life pursued by both John and Lynn on the beach; Wendy Varnals acts her socks off here and it is again genuinely unsettling, trapped on a Sussex beach with little chance of escape, the basest of animal pursuits. And, far worse is to come…

Dusty Verdict: Corruption is fast-paced, uneasy and a super vehicle for Peter Cushing to mix it with The Youth. Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis it is, of course, of its time and features many familiar tropes all mashed or rather mangled together.  By the end and a twist so massive you could see it from space… you’re left with less certainty than you’d expect… exploitative yes but amusing none-the-less.

Cushing’s great as is Sue Lloyd and Kate O'Mara and the whole is improbably just about greater than the sum of the parts. I also like the marketing which claims the film shouldn’t be watched by women on their own… or men for that matter: we all need to hold hands on this one!