Oh look, a film by Michael Winner that is actually worth your while!
Granted the director who couldn't direct traffic hasn't exactly turned in an accomplished film with The System (later released in the US with the boringly descriptive title The Girl-Getters as you can see from the posters and lobby cards on display here) but it is deeply infectious fun and utterly commendable for both its strong sense of atmosphere, and for capturing a distinctive moment in time which saw the British kitchen sink drama intersect with the influence of the French New Wave.
The system of the title is a seduction method employed by a group of bored young men native to the seaside resort of Roxham. For a few brief months of the English summer season, tourists (or 'grockles' as the characters refer to them, writer Peter Draper originating a phrase that has passed into common parlance now) flock to the town, including young women in large numbers. And those young women with their desire for holiday romances are easy pickings for the local boys led by Oliver Reed's smudger Tinker, whose system makes sure each of them share the spoils as evenly as possible.
At the start of the film, Tinker seems pretty happy with his lot. His work as a beachside photographer means that he has a license to take photographs of the girls and obtain their temporary addresses in order to forward the snaps on to them and put the system in place for him and his cohorts. But when Jame Merrow's Nicola arrives and is picked up at the station in her father's new Buick Riviera, Tinker is immediately hooked. The Riviera is a status symbol that proves Nicola is way out of Tinker's league but that kind of wrinkle doesn't feature in Tinker's thoughts; he just sees her as the ultimate challenge, reckoning that plenty of well-to-do girls enjoy a holiday fling with a bit of rough. The problem is, once Tinker beds her, he realises his feelings run a little deeper than he first imagined. Forced to confront the notion that, whilst girls like Nicola may have flings with boys like Tinker, they certainly don't marry them - a sobering fact that makes him reconsider his whole outlook on life.
Watching The System it becomes immediately apparent that Winner was very lucky to have Oliver Reed as his star (and that luck continued in many subsequent productions, each with increasingly diminishing returns) Reed was a calibre of actor who could convey great, and often unexpected, depth and sympathy to characters who initially appear vulgar, glib or even brutish. As the film progresses, the complexity inherent in Tinker's character comes to the fore as he discovers his life hasn't been as rosy as he first imagined and that a little thing like feelings can impact upon his casual encounters.
What is also really refreshing and daring for the time is the fact that Nicola is just as sexually carefree as Tinker and the boys are depicted and that it is Tinker, not her, who falls so hard he is left to reevaluate his life. Jane Merrow wasn’t the first choice for the role of Nicola (originally it was to have been Julie Christie) but she’s actually perfect here. The rest of the cast is rounded bout by several familiar faces - many of whom were up and coming at the time - such as David Hemmings, John Alderton and Julia Foster, and the film boasts some fine black and white cinematography by future auteur Nic Roeg.