Percy 1971 ***

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1970 saw two movies in competition; not competing submarine dramas, not even competing competing magician dramas, but competing ‘search for a penis’ comedies. David Niven’s The Statue has already been covered in this blog; this entry deals with the rather more successful Percy, which was eighth in Britain’s top ten box office attractions. A quick cross-check with 2018’s top ten suggests that, in like for like terms, a cool £35 million would be the kind of sum earned. This Ralph Thomas film makes some fuss about being the first to deal with the presumably hot topic of penis transplants; the eternally put-upon Hywel Bennett plays Percy, an antique dealer who receives another man’s member after an accident and sets out on a quest to find out who it belonged to; a ‘genital mystery tour’ as Percy wryly suggests. This quest involves meeting a number of comely women, including Britt Ekland, Elke Sommer, Adrianna Posta and Sheila Steafel, and a surprising amount of introspective soul-searching, accompanied by a soundtrack by Ray Davies and The Kinks. Despite a couple of brief lewd moments, including a striptease to a xylophone instrumental of Lola, this isn’t a typical British sex-comedy, but seems to be leaning into some kind of existential angst. Things get a bit lost in the second half, but the cameos keep things moving, with Denholm Elliot on top for as Percy’s doctor, Are You Being Served? star Arthur English doing a comic routine in a pub, and Patrick Mower makes a personable playboy. Percy is best seen as a repository of dated fashions and dialogue; Percy’s Mini-Moke is something to behold, as are his garish outfits. Meanwhile various actresses  try their best to set pulses racing with such unwieldy chat-up lines as ‘If I want to discuss dogs, I call a vet’ and ‘What do you think of my reproduction Welsh dresser?’

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To The Devil, A Daughter 1976 ***

 

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In the 1970’s, Dennis Wheatley was a literary phenomenon, with a slew of bestsellers; he was pretty much the biggest brand-name for horror in the UK. Wheatley has been a friend of Ian Fleming, and an advisor to Winston Churchill during World War II, and knew his way around all manner of government secrets., He wrote spy novels too, but the notion of having access to hidden information seemed to inform his most popular work; They Used Dark Forces is a typical title. Hammer’s The Devil Rides Out was pretty good, special effects aside, but not particularly scary, and when Hammer was looking to take on The Exorcist, The Omen and the devil worship cycle of the mid 1970’s, it turned to Wheatley’s To The Devil A Daughter. With genre favourite Christopher Lee as a villain, imported star Richard Widmark as the occult writer tracking him down, and Natasha Kinski as the nubile Bravian nun set to be sacrificed to Old Nick himself, what could go wrong? Throw in Rising Damp’s Francis De La Tour as a Salvation Army singer, Bond girl Honor Blackman, saturnine Anthony Valentine and of course the always welcome Denholm Elliot, and there’s nothing boring about Peter Sykes’s film. There’s nothing very scary about it otherwise, but that’s to do with the source material. Wheatley was an adventure writer who used black magic themes; To The Devil A Daughter was the wrong selection of weapon, club or instrument by the Hammer executives, but shorn of expectations of the next big thing in horror, it’s a fun ride for specialists.

https://www.amazon.com/Devil-Daughter-Richard-Widmark/dp/B01K8I8UKA/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=to+the+devil&qid=1565011208&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Saint Jack 1979 *****

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There’s been a couple of flickers of interest from people about the ‘why can’t I see this film?’ category; this tag gets added if a film isn’t on any of the main streaming services, and occasionally a link is provided if the film is on You Tube or Daily Motion. This is tough on film-makers, who presumably are losing out financially by not having their film behind a pay-wall, but the thinking is that the exposure, temporary as it might be, might at least engender enough interest for a re-release or even a restoration. Both would be desirable for Peter Bogdanovich’s best film, 1979’s adaption of the novel Saint Jack. Reputedly, Orson Welles gave the book to Cybill Shepherd, who got the rights as part of a legal win over Playboy magazine; Hugh M. Hefner produces. In the late seventies, an adult-themed film like Saint Jack was still deemed to have potential at the box-office, although poor distribution kept Paul Theroux’s adaptation of his own book out of mainstream theatres. Ben Gazzara gives a huge performance as Jack Flowers, an ex-pat who runs a Singapore brothel, and turns to an auditor (the great Denholm Elliot) for help, only to find himself out of his depth when the CIA get involved. Saint Jack is a brilliant character study of a reprehensible man who is also a decent human being; this is a story where the moral messages are not cut and dried. George Lazenby, Rodney Bewes and Joss Ackland round out the cast as ex-pats; Saint Jack dares to point the finger at American and British behaviour abroad, and comes to unsavoury conclusions about human nature. The gap between the public perception of this film and it’s quality is remarkable; a portrait of a hustler’s hustle, it’s every bit as good as Mean Streets or Taxi Driver, but the lack of violent catharsis seems to have relegated it to the dustiest drawer in film history. See it while you can.

Madame Sin 1972 ***

sinProduced by Robert Wagner, this nutty spy caper takes place largely on the rather lovely and certainly picturesque Scottish island of Mull, and the tiny town of Tobermory, recognisable from the children’s tv show Balamory. Released in 1972, David Greene’s feature reflects a growing problem in Scotland; the creation of Thought Factories by criminal geniuses like Madame Sin (Bette Davis), where sound waves can be used to cleave the unwitting into two like apples, and thoughts can be implanted into unwary Polaris submarine commanders like the one played by Gordon Jackson here. For a tv movie, released to cinemas when no execs bought into the daftness on show, Madame Sin is pretty lavish stuff, with classy support from Dudley Sutton, Denholm Elliot and Space 1999’s shape-shifter Catherine Schell, and the story, while on the brisk side, is reasonably fresh, But Davis is the highlight here, clearly having fun as a Fu Manchu-style super-villainess and spitting out truly outlandish dialogue like “How would you like your submarine, gentlemen, gift wrapped?’

https://www.amazon.com/Madame-Sin-Bette-Davis/dp/B07JMM8888/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=madame+sin&qid=1562234022&s=gateway&sr=8-1

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Bad Timing 1980 ***

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For seekers of extreme cinema, Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing is a deeply unlovable but technically astute examination of sexual dependency. In Vienna, Milena (Theresa Russell) takes a fatal overdose, and Roeg’s film flashes back and forward to the painful relationship she has with an ex-pat US professor (Art Garfunkel). Harvey Keitel is a policeman attempting to unravel the truth behind their relationship, while Denholm Elliot and Daniel Massey add some class from the sidelines. Bad Timing is an exhausting film to watch, but deserves plaudits for capturing areas of human relationships that most film-makers shy away from.

Quest For Love 1970 ***

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Director Ralph Thomas is better known for his carry On films, but took a diversion in 1972 to direct this time-travelling romance based on a book by John Wyndham (The Midwich Cuckoos). Tom Bell plays Colin Trafford, a scientist who slips through a portal to a parallel universe where Kennedy lived, Everest has never been conquered and he’s a playwright unhappily married to Otille (Joan Collins).  Overpowered by her allure, he falls in love, only to see her die from a rare heart condition. Returning to his own reality, Trafford goes on a quest for love, finding Collin’s doppleganger in an alternate universe before the same condition strikes her. With superbly dry support from Denholm Elliott, Quest For Love is a sci-fi romance with a twist, and a welcome departure from the effects-driven science fiction that soon because the norm.

The Man Who Haunted Himself 1970 ***

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Roger Moore rarely made great claims for himself as an actor, but he managed to show some considerable skill in the quaintly creepy The Man Who Haunted Himself. Basil Dreaden directs from a short story by Anthony Armstrong, and mild mannered Harold Pelham (Moore) becomes aware of another version of himself after a near fatal car accident. Moore is such a confident player that’s its genuinely unsettling to see Pelham’s sense of reality troubled by the existence of a dopple-ganger, and the lack of a pat explanation only makes the film more haunting. Anton Rogers and Thorley Waters are amongst the support.