Sunday 30 April 2023

Don’t go down to the woods today… Assault (1971), Network Blu-ray


Now, here’s a thing, I had no idea that the composer Eric Rogers was no relation to Peter Rogers despite their working together dozens of times mostly on Carry on films, all but two had Eric’s scoring. Born in Halifax, Eric’s real name was Eric Gaukroger although he later hyphenated his surname to Gauk-Roger. As with Peter though, Eric diversified and this thriller was one of a number of a number of more “adult” crime thrillers they worked on including Vengeance (1971) and the excellent All Coppers Are (1972), also available on Network Blu-ray and also directed by Sidney Hayers.

I've started off with the Rogers as I’m always slightly surprised to find them away from comedy and especially Eric as clearly, he’s more evident in the films than the Producer. His score here very effectively contributes to the brooding menace and the sense of threat that powers the narrative. In terms of visual subtlety, Hayers is more efficient than inventive but it still works as an unsettling watch albeit one reliant on the male gaze and sexualised threat to femininity. Is it exploitation, probably but it’s well acted and sincere entertainment of its time…

We start off at a posh all-girls school as an array of period cars arrives to collect the slightly mature looking young women. If you like classic British motors, then you will not be disappointed with the films deployment of Morris, Triumph and Jaguar cars; art-teacher Julie West (the divine Suzy Kendall) drives a Morris Minor estate, Det. Chief Supt. Velyan (Frank Finlay) has a Morse-type Jaguar and Freddie Jones’ nasty reporter has a sporty model I’m yet to identify, possibly and MGA Coupe? That plus all of the Morris Minor Panda cars…

Shouldn't you be studying for your A-levels Lesley-Anne?

But the real story starts with one of the girls, Tessa Hurst (a 17-year old Lesley-Anne Down in her first starring role) taking a short-cut home through the woods which leads to her being viciously assaulted under the shadow of an electric power station, it’s unsettling to watch, a bit too voyeuristic for me, but thankfully not overplayed. The result leaves Tessa catatonic with shock and unable to talk as she’s taken in to care at a mental hospital by Doctor Greg Lomax (James Laurenson) who along with specialist Mr. Bartell (Anthony Ainley, famously The Master in Doctor Who after Roger Delgado).

The police launch an investigation under the command of Chief Super Velyan and Det. Sgt. Beale (James Cosmo, evergreen as he is and still performing!) and from this point on we will be introduced to a series of characters who are all a bit suspicious to some extent, the game of cat and red herring is afoot!

Obviously, it’s not going to be the lovely Julie who is as down with the kids as anyone in this rather odd school. Headmistress Mrs. Sanford (Dilys Hamlett) is so strait-laced it’s rather unlikely that she’s married to Tony Beckley’s creepy Leslie Sanford but that’s the point. Whilst she looks after the girls’ spiritual well-being he keeps an unblinking eye on their more earthy qualities, greedily eying them up in the playground or touching them up in the library (Janet Lynn, definitely over 18 and who played Carol Thatcher – no, not that one - with Robin Askwith in Cool it Carol! the year before).

Under suspicion: Tony Beckley, James Cosmo and Frank Dinlay

Then the situation gets even worse as another girl, Susan Miller (Anabel Littledale, aged 19) ignoring instructions and common sense, takes the same short-cut and this time the crime escalates to murder, with accompanying fleshy details. Julie, driving four other girls home, spots the missing pupil and drives her Morris into the woods, only to arrive just too late as she glimpses the killer, face lit by her red break lights in a demonic glow…

She cannot escape the image she saw nor explain it to the police and is all but laughed from the inquest when she describes her vision. Luckily for her Doctor Greg is on hand to support the very beautiful young woman in her hour of need, he has ulterior motive alright but is there anything more…? Certainly, of ill-intent is reporter Freddie Jones, playing a blinder as the grubby tabloid hack pushing for an angle and any salacious detail right to the point of pestering Julie at home.

The police assign Sgt. Milton (Patrick Jordan) to protect Julie as she paints the image she remembers and, in collusion with the reporter, puts a story in the papers that she can draw the face of the killer she recalls… it’s a very high-risk strategy and one we know will bring her into danger. But who will it be, one of the good guys or one of the obviously bad ones?

James Laurenson and Suzy Kendall

Dusty Verdict: Assault is an entertaining thriller that gets the job done with the aid of some very good performances especially from Frank Findley, who’s always so nuanced he could be one of the suspects… maybe he is, and Suzy Kendall who made a career out of playing female febrility, a Derbyshire Julie Christie!

The set pieces are well executed and the villain is a genuine mystery for long enough… And, apart from the classy, classic cars, there’s some fab cameos including Mr David Essex as the leather-jacketed Man in Chemist Shop looking for help for his girlfriend’s nosebleed. It’s definitely not him…

You can order the Blu-ray direct from Network and at a great price, there’s so much on their website, you’ll probably come away with more than you budgeted for!


The Headmistress' Husband is unsuitable for educational work...

David Essex!

The car section...
Classic cars...
Really Sidney? Cars and short skirts...
Morris Minor Estate with wooden trim: classic!
Morris Pandas
Is that an MGA Coupe?

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