Slipping one past the goalie

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Marsh and Pertwee of the Yard. Needless to say, there are no “tableaux” being enacted at this juncture.

I have to take my woolly hat off to Val Guest, who devoted a long, long lifetime to slipping sex and nudity into British movies. Of course, when it suddenly became easy to do so in the seventies, the practice became redundant and Guest gave us the charmless, gormless CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER and the very weird THE AU-PAIR GIRLS. (I’ve long held that the seventies British sex comedy was a government conspiracy to wipe out the working class by putting them off sex forever. Operation Prole-Wipe failed only because Robin Askwith is slightly too talented and not quite memorable enough, so that plebeian copulators did not have his gurning countenance superimposed over their vision as they went at it by night.) Guest claimed that WINDOW CLEANER would have been hailed as an art film if it had been foreign — I suppose in a sense it resembles Paul Verhoeven’s TURKISH DELIGHT as made by a nice old man. That niceness of course removes the closest thing to a point the Verhoeven movie could be claimed to have. AU-PAIR is creepy and peculiar and doesn’t even try to be funny most of the time. Some lovely girls, including Nick Drake’s sister Gabrielle, are served up in a lumpen, unerotic way, which typifies this genre, the only variation being when older, less shapely character actresses are also induced to submit the camera’s cold, unflattering gaze.

But the early, naughty years see Guest pulling off some surprising coups de cinema. For 80,000 SUSPECTS, Claire “most beautiful woman in the world” Bloom hand-picked her body double, then decided she had nice breasts and did it herself, in  blink-and-you-miss-it-and-regret-it-forever nip slip moment that is so fleeting it feels genuinely accidental. Guest fills the screen with basically topless dancing girls in highland (un)dress in ESPRESSO BONGO, and showcases an unclad and very shiny Janet Munro in THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE. And it’s a good job most 11-year-olds don’t have heart conditions or my schoolfriends and I wouldn’t have survived our visit to see WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH.

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MURDER AT THE WINDMILL is a fairly duff comic whodunnit, enlivened by solid comic playing by Garry Marsh and a young Jon Pertwee, and its setting at the Windmill Theatre in London, celebrated in MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS. “We never closed,” reads a sign, referring to the fact that the nude revue managed to stay open during the Blitz. The Lord Chamberlain, the theatre censor at the time (if you picture a dusty, cobwebbed octogenarian with an ear trumpet you are probably bang on) for some reason ruled that nude girls were artistic if they stood very still in tableaux vivant, but would become pornographic rape triggers if they trotted about. Oddly, he may have had some kind of a point: I finally figured out that Jesus Franco films don’t strike me as sexy because of the odd passivity of his female characters — they generally either stay still, or move about emotionlessly, so as to seem not quite human. And I am only attracted to humans.

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So cockneys were able to see naked girls behaving like naked statues. But this only applied to the stage. In British movies, nobody (except maybe the occasional baby) was nude, right? Not quite so — Patricia Roc goes skinny-dipping in the freezing North Sea in THE BROTHERS, invoking the seldom-cited “only in extreme longshot” ruling (see also Claudette Colbert in FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE). But most of MURDER AT THE WINDMILL is as full-clothed as any bluenose could wish. There’s one fan dance, which would never have been allowed at the Windmill — she’s MOVING, for God’s sake! The girl’s obscene!

But in the opening number, Guest decorates the stage with a couple of naked female statues who look surprisingly lifelike. Later, when the police reconstruct the boring crime (audience member shot from somewhere on stage), the statues’ places are occupied by identical girls in dressing gowns. Surprising! The old fox actually seems to have featured full-frontally nude adult women in a 1949 commercially-released movie.

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They seem to have managed to find naked girls without generative organs, like Linnea Quigley. I always assumed that nudes of the Pamela Green era of British smut had been airbrushed into featurelessness, but the movies did not possess airbrushing technology in those days — unless you could THIS shot in UN CHIEN ANDALOU —

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But Guest is moving the camera, so  dab of vaseline in the appropriate place wouldn’t do it on this occasion. We are forced to the conclusion that the girls must be wearing some form of fleshings, a conclusion I have resisted until this last sentence because I don’t like the word fleshings.

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2 Responses to “Slipping one past the goalie”

  1. Guest directed most of the utterly insane 1967 Casino Royale that Charles K. Feldman slapped together in the wake of his success with What’s New Pussycat?. John Huston, Joe McGrath and Richard Talmadge are also credited with this auteur-theory-defying monstrosity that has always had a warm place in my heart.

    Jackie Bissett tells he her scene with Sellers was done largely with Guest, for while Sellers was present for the Master Shot he refused to do the medium shots with anyone but the director present. So Guest fed Jackie her lines while she worked alone.

    Weird.

  2. Guest writes in his autobio (which is fun, but way too short to deal adequately with his life) that Huston handed the film over to him with the tacit admission that it was going to be an utter dog. “I don’t see how you’re going to fix this one.”

    Both Sellers and Welles liked filming their scenes alone, and Welles claimed they both changed their lines, leaving dialogue scenes that made no sense: two men delivering punchlines, with no set-ups at all. Sadly, the movie isn’t quite THAT incoherent. But damned close.

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