Over the course of three short years Indicator has become a label to be reckoned with, boasting a track record of quality restorations, beautifully packaged and loaded with niche extras rivalling the kind of stuff you’d expect to find on releases from the BFI (with whom Indicator seem to work in close cahoots). This latest batch of limited (to 3,000 units each) editions comprises telling snapshots of developing social and sexual mores in the UK (and Prague!) over some thirty odd years.
Alberto Cavalcanti’s They Made Me A Fugitive (1947) is part of what is now perceived as a Golden Age of British Cinema, though received in its day as residing very much on the seamy underside of that glittering era… not exactly St. John L. Clowes’ No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948) in terms of notoriety, but definitely not a very nice film. How could it be, when it deals with the morally distorting fallout of the Second World War (with similar forensic intensity to Carol Reed’s The Third Man, 1949)?
Trevor Howard is demobbed RAF man Clem Morgan, trying to make sense of “peacetime” in bleak ol’ Blighty. A sense of existential ennui drives him into common criminal cause with the psychotic Narcy (Griffith Jones). That’s “Narcy”, as in narcissistic, nasty, Nazi… and narcotics. When Clem refuses to get involved in the dope trade, Narcy frames him for the murder of a copper and he ends up breaking rocks on Dartmoor… only to escape and home in on his nemesis, embarking upon an odyssey through an ethically empty terrain where he encounters a seemingly respectable woman planning to murder her husband and hitches a lift from a sinister, sadistic lorry driver. These moral distortions run parallel with alarming visual outbreaks for which much credit must go to cinematographer Otto Heller but which also remind us that Cavalcanti directed the deeply unsettling “Ventriloquist’s Dummy” episode in 1945’s Horror portmanteau classic Dead Of Night. One of the problems contemporary critics had with TMMAF was its stylishly shot misogyny (gialloesque before its time?)… “What’s England Coming To?”
This UK Blu-ray premiere is a 2K restoration by the British Film Institute, whose Kieron Webb outlines all the work that went into that on one of the bonus featurettes. Film historian Neil Sinyard delivers an illuminating appreciation of TMMAF in another. Trevor Howard features in two bonus shorts, 1941’s Squaring The Circle (a dramatised Royal Air Force training film in which he makes his first screen appearance) and The Aircraft Rocket (1944), an extract from a multi-part RAF technical film. There are image galleries and an archival audio recording of the John Player Lecture with Cavalcanti from 1970, when nobody apparently had any qualms about sponsorship by tobacco companies. There’ll be an accompanying booklet stuffed with essays too, but (and this also goes for everything reviewed below), I haven’t seen that yet.
There’s more misogyny, albeit expressed (for the most part) via utterances and attitudes in The System (1964, U.S. title The Girl Getters), a drama of social and sexual manners whose guiding existential ennui is generated by ’60s Affluence rather than post-war Austerity. The eponymous “system” refers to the modus operandi of girl-hunting buckos on the make in Devon at the height of the holiday season rather than any crack at British class arrangements, though the film does kind of mutate into that as its story develops. Oliver Reed is the philosophical beach bum (taking sunbathers’ photos, unsolicited, then asking them for money? Try that now and see where it gets you) who, for all his macho front, finds himself getting hooked on upper crust model Nicola (Jane Merrow, a late replacement for Julie Christie).
The film which started getting attention for its director Michael Winner, The System contrasts very favourably with e.g. Ken Russell’s unwatchable (despite the presence of Marisa Mell in its cast) French Dressing, shot and released at virtually the same points in 1964. At that time your money would have been on Winner emerging as the more interesting director (a bet you’d obviously have lost). Then again, Winner is leaning heavily here on writer Peter Draper and his DP Nic Roeg. Why wouldn’t he? Roeg turns in some characteristically extraordinary shots in what is a fairly ordinary picture and there’s plenty of testimony in the supplementary interviews regarding how much Winner deferred to his judgement.
By the time he penned his unreliable memoir, 2004’s Winner Takes All (relevant fragments of which, I’m reliably informed, will appear in the booklet accompanying this release) the director had become altogether less modest and suggested that The System (specifically the scenes of larking around on a train) preceded A Hard Day’s Night (a quick glmpse at IMDB confirms that the opposite is true) and that Epstein wanted him to direct the Beatles’ flick… sure thing, Mike. No Fabs here, so Winner makes do with The Marauders, The Rocking Berries and the Searchers, who contribute an annoying ear worm of a title song (co-written by by Bobby Richards and Mike “Jeff Randall” Pratt). He did benefit from the services of a strong cast of up’n’comers… John Alderton… Julia Foster… a curiously underused David Hemmings, just two years away from Antonioni’s Blow Up. The bonus interviews on this HD remastered BD world premiere include predictable tales of Reed Rowdysim, though by all accounts Ollie was very reluctant to strike Merrow for real and ultimately bullied into it by Winner, whose non-fan club will no doubt receive a posthumous boost in membership on account of that and other anecdotes on this disc… What’s England coming to? Cast members Merrow, John Porter-Davison and Jeremy Burnham reminisce to good effect, there’s an audio commentary from film historians Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams, plus image gallery. Haunted England is Winner’s woefully unfunny 1961 travelogue about British stately homes and their ghostly inhabitants, hosted by an embarrassed looking David Jacobs, which you might find yourself wishing had remained interred.
What was Czechoslovakia coming to in 1965? Jiří Weiss’s 90º In The Shade portrays a Prague not overly troubled with the problems of Affluence but still seething with troublesome social and sexual politics. Anne Heywood (from The Killer Is On The Phone, et al) is convenience store worker Alena, who’s having an unsatisfying clandestine affair with her married manager Vorell (James Booth from Zulu), a jack the lad who’s drinking / appropriating his way through the store’s non-selling stock of expensive spirits. Enter the auditor Rudolf Kurka (Lucio Fulci lookalike Rudolf Hrusinsky from Juraj Herz’s Cremator, 1969) and the jig might well be up. Cue a mad night for Vorrell and Alena, scrambling all over the city in an attempt to drum up replacement booze and the money to buy it. Their efforts are in vain and I’ll give you three guesses as to who ends up carrying the, er, can. Meanwhile the stuffy auditor, himself trapped in an unhappy family situation, goes through a humanising experience due to his involvement with Alena. Not exactly a happy ending, though. Is it all an allegory of the build up to the coming Dubcek thaw? It would take a greater expert in Czech politics and culture than me to tell you…
… which is why it’s a good reason that Michael Brooke supplies the audio commentary to this Blu-ray world premiere. One of the fascinating things about this English / Czech co-production is that the English and Czech language versions, quite aside from there significantly different running times (the English language version, at 91 minutes, running longer than the Třicet Jedna Ve Stínu cut by a full 8 minutes) frequently feature alternative shots and takes. Both versions appear (as 2K and HD restorations, respectively) here and Brooke details their differences in one of the disc’s bonus featurettes. Other bonus goodies include an archival audio review with director Jiří Weiss and three of his WWII propaganda shorts, supporting Czech and Norwegian resistance to the invading Nazis and bigging up the Soviet airforce. Stirring stuff.
After all those Angry Young Men, it’s time to turn the spotlight onto a Tart With A Heart… Mathew Chapman’s Hussy (1980) stars Helen Mirren as Beaty, an escort / single mum seeking a better life for her and her son. Can she find it with American drifter Emory (John Shea) or will compromising past entanglements (in which Emory himself becomes increasingly entangled) frustrate their developing love story and her longed for escape from seedy pick up joints?
Neither as raunchy as Caligula (1979) nor as gritty as The Long Good Friday (1980), between which it sits equidistantly poised on Mirren’s illustrious resumé, Hussy is a romantic melodrama involving people who make their living in the down market smut milieu, rather than a piece of down market smut. Inevitably, the latter is how it was presented in the UK media, as regretfully conceded in the supplementary featurettes by producer Don Boyd, among others. Maybe that’s why Mirren couldn’t be persuaded to associate herself with this release. John Shea, the ever fascinating Jenny Runacre (below with Dame HM) and OST composer George Fenton do get to have their say… sad that the ill-fated Sandy Ratcliff is no longer around to do so.
Very much of its time (there are some casual references to sex tourism that wouldn’t go down very well today) Hussy is a beautifully vivid evocation of life in late ’70s London, more properly (after all, how would I know?) of London life as it was lived on the likes of The Sweeney and Minder… I’m surprised it hasn’t turned up on ITV 4 recently. Then again, now that we have this HD remastered UK BD premiere, there’s no need for that. After all the misogyny soaked up by the female leads of the other three films in this batch, Hussy’s upbeat conclusion comes as a welcome relief.
The real hidden gem here is an archival audio micro interview (all 4 minutes of it) with Hussy’s poster artist Sam Peff (1921-2014), whose distinguished career illustrating pulp paperback covers, quad posters and video boxes (Peff’s iconic / notorious work on Go Video’s release of Cannibal Holocaust is just one of his contributions to this field) deserve a more expansive featurette… Severin, I’m looking at you!