Thursday, 7 February 2013

Au Pair Girls (1972)

Au Pair Girls is a strange one. Veteran director Val Guest's first hesitant foray into sex comedy (he would go on to score a much bigger hit with Confessions of a Window Cleaner) the film takes the fantasy view point of the all too real subject matter of foreign Au Pair Girls coming to the UK in the 60s and 70s. 

Initially Guest was not keen on the script and so, after watching some examples of sex cinema, he made some extensive re-writes, believing he could do better and that he could maybe even make art from the genre.

And he kind of does and he kind of doesn't, which makes for a very uneven, odd picture. Perhaps worst of all, he seems to forget the laughs or the light chirpy air that these films require.

Probably the best way to discuss the film is to look at each strand. The film concerns four Au Pair Girls;  Anita from Sweden (bubbly Astrid Frank) Randi from Denmark (Gabrielle Drake, sister of Nick who was christened 'Wotta Pair' on set for obvious gravitational reasons) Oriental Nan Lee (Me Me Lay, a double entendre name in itself!) and Christina from Germany (busty beauty Nancie Wait) who each arrive in London and head off to their prospective families/employers. 

Gabrielle Drake

Me Me Lay

Nancie Wait

Astrid Frank
With Corrie's Mike Baldwin making a tit of himself

Anita's story is in Guest's defence out and out comedy and probably the most successful here in terms of playing to the strengths of the genre. Anita is a bimbo obsessed with colour TV "I work all day and at night I play with myself watching TV yah?" after arriving and giving herself a good soaping in the shower (production values are so poor that when head of the house Geoffrey Bayldon comes home and slips on the wet bathroom floor, we see the studio lights above the set) she then has the dubious honour of being picked up first by Corrie's Mike Baldwin himself Johnny Briggs before chucking him over for creepy Arab Sheikh Ferdy Mayne, who wants her for his harem. She of course just wants the prospect of a colour TV and the chance of a bounce in his bed...trampoline style, not the kind of bounce he has in mind.

Randi (it was the 70s and it is that kind of film) is due to work for John Le Mesurier's businessman and his son and heir Richard O'Sullivan. After we get a dream sequence of O'Sullivan picturing his dad about to have it off with his secretary...

...Has anyone ever fancied seeing Dad's Army's Sgt Wilson cupping a boob? No, thought not.

The great Le Mes then tells him to 'piss off' (another first for the Dad's Army star) and collect Randi. The car breaks down and the two take refuge in a haybarn, but Randi falls into a water trough and strips off naked thus flaming O'Sullivan's passions further. Again, this entire episode is played for laughs. It largely works thanks to the familiar faces/names on display, but there's always something disquieting from a modern day perspective when seeing a female shout 'rape' in these films, as Drake does here.

The stranger more serious and seemingly tender episodes are in both Nan Lee and Christina's stories. Nan Lee arrives at a stately home to meet the musical prodigy son played by the ever wooden Julian Barnes (see Haunted House Of Horror) whose family enforce strict rules upon him. The two seem to fall in love and she takes him to bed, only to leave the following morning as if that's her good deed done for the day. Yes it's tender, clearly what Guest was hoping for, but it's also just downright bizarre. What was the motivation? Who is she the fucking sex fairy?! Clearly this is the stuff of a vapid male fantasy, which is of course where a lot of these sexploitation pictures fall down, and more than ever in this one.

But that's nothing compared to Christina's tale. Christina played by the very striking and talented Nancie Wait is a story played straight. The German arrives at her family to be taken under the wing of the eldest daughter, a poor actress saddled with truly dismal outdated alleged hip speak. She swiftly finds out that Christina is a virgin and makes it her mission to glam the girl up (ie get her to show off her impressive cleavage) take her down to Geezers, a hip nightclub where the rum and cokes flow like the Thames, and pop her cherry that night with the club's star turn, chart sensation Ricky Strange. If all this sounds irredeemably naff, that's because it is. Ricky Strange takes Christina to bed and, despite him clearly being a chauvinistic prick, she submits and another allegedly tender scene of him deflowering her plays out.  So far so so, except that the deed done, John Standing  (Ricky's raffish manager) pops in and may or may not rape the now loved up post coitally resting Christina. I say may because apart from him thrusting about and saying "Lets have none of that silly buggers"  whilst she cries and whimpers, he later apologises for not rising to the occasion. In fact Standing's character is so nice and warm to her after that she realises Strange would never love her (hardly surprising as he's bonking the other girl whilst they're talking) and that the life of a groupie is not for her. Resolved, she leaves as Standing gets down to it with Strange's now sloppy second.

So, a lesson learned for Christina? A sort of proper depiction of a woman who knows her own mind and refuses to be anyone's plaything? Um, no. This attempt at genuine drama is thrown aside a few minutes later in the film's climax when, reunited at the agency, all the girls hand in their notice as Anita promises them the good life with old Sheikh creepy, and off they go happily enough to a life essentially as daily sex objects at the beck and call of a rich old bloke. Hmmm. 

Cue infuriating jingly bossa nova theme tune that sounds like it could have advertised anything in the 70s from package holidays to frozen foods.

I normally don't mind the primitive angle most sex comedies start from but this one really irritated me, I think largely because clearly Guest's intentions were to produce something more serious and effective. He couldn't have failed more. Also it's very very poorly edited and simply not funny enough which is odd when one considers Guest's track record in British comedy.

No comments:

Post a Comment