Now Playing: David Bowie--"Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family"
Au Pair Girls (1972): The milieu of the sixties-seventies British "sex comedy" has probably become familiar to American viewers conversant with the subject via dark hints lying behind the bright surfaces of Benny Hill (which I've strangely never seen). A fellow British Horror Forum poster has dedicated much of his free time to chronicling these films--ranging from the dodgier of horror thrillers to outright porn--on imdb.com, and it was through reading these reviews (I think) that I found Au Pair Girls, which sounds pretty much like what it is. Four young women--Anita from Sweden (Astrid Frank), Randi from Denmark (Gabrielle Drake, a popular actress of the period and sister of tragic folkie hero Nick Drake), Nan from Hong Kong (Me Me Ly) and Christa from Germany (Nancy Wait), fly to London to take up their titular jobs with various families. The color TV-obsessed Anita unwittingly drives her suburban employer (poor Geoffrey Bayldon) insane with lust, goes out with a sleazy cabdiver (Coronation Street's Johnny Briggs, who's surprisingly dull in this) and ends up with a fabulously rich sheik (Ferdy Mayne) who wants her for his harem. Randie's picked up by her boss' son (Richard O'Sullivan, who looks like a hilariously grimy and unwashed James Blunt in a three-piece suit), who keeps having fantasies about naked women (uh... the horror?) and soon finds his dreams becoming reality through a series of ludicrous contrivances. Things take an unexpectedly serious detour as Nan arrives at a rural manor house (which I could swear was the same location for 1974's Vampyres) and finds herself taking care of Rupert (Julian Barnes), an aristocratic family's worryingly childish son in his twenties--if any part of Au Pair Girls was going to "turn horror," it would have bene that one, as Rupert, despite his initial charm, seems to regard the world as his own personal dollhouse. Christa, meanwhile, has to contend with her employers' daughter Carol (Lyn Yeldham), an aggressively hip and shapely character who gives her "new friend" a makeover and drags her to a ghastly pop concert that was probably three or four years out of date by the time the movie was made, featuring a hideous Jim Morrison-type "singer" (reminiscent of one of the guys on the sandwich line at work) and the great John Standing as an aging hipster who views the neverending parade of nubile disco popsies as notches on his belt. As one might imagine, Christa has her eyes brutally opened to the dark side of fame... or something. After things generally go tits up--sometimes literally--the plotlines tie back together in a "happy ending" whose actual loathsomeness somehow only adds to the fun. It's an absolute howl from start to finish, Nan's rather creepy story helping to cleanse the palate between filthy hijinks and vaguely moralistic soap opera. The movie's drenched throughout by a theme song and its variations that sound like dirty airline jingles, with frantically leering camera angles that peter out after the first few minutes, the audience well and duly hooked. I love it all, but the high points? Gabrielle Drake, a genuinely likable and talented performer who manages some decent light comedy in a couple of scenes with the distraction of not having any clothes on (part of the aformentioned contrivances), and Lyn Yeldham, who never did anything after this, so far as I know, but who ends up with some of the greatest lines in English-speaking cinema, which can be ably represented by "Ricky Strange is appearing at Groover's tonight, and I'm not missing the freakout of the month for any bloody au pair!" Au Pair Girls, directed by Val Guest, was made by Tigon Films, one of the many non-Hammer horror specialists of the sixties and seventies (and arguably better in many ways than its more famous rival)--apparently they'd given up on cracking horror, despite such classics as The Witchfinder General (1968) and The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), and underrated finds such as The Blood Beast Terror (1967), and decided to concentrate on the sex comedy stuff. It may not have turned out a very wise move financially, to my knowledge, but that productions like Au Pair Girls were left behind in the wake of their probable failure is cause for surprising thanks.
OSS 117--Cairo, Nest of Spies (2008): A French James Bond spoof set in the 1950s Middle East, based on the comic novels by Jean Bruce, sounds like it can't possibly miss, and yet OSS 117, despite being very funny, flags quite a bit and doesn't have the same comedic drive of a film like Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery.* Whether this is due to translation issues, the director's need to make some satirical political points that occasionally tend towards the strident, or the simple failure of some of the jokes, I can't quite figure out. Suffice it to say it isn't as funny as I thought it would be, but it was still worth it. Ace French secret agent "OSS 117" (Jean Dujardin) is sent by his superiors to Nasser's Egypt shortly before the Suez Crisis of 1956 to investigate the disappearance of his friend and comrade Jack. While there he deals with rival agents of various nationalities, angry nationalists of both the Islamic and secular variety, and his sexy Egyptian assistant Larmina (Berenice Bejo). Dujradin resembles a cross between Steve Coogan and Dwayne Johnson, and his manic arrogance offers a perfect hook on which to hang a spy parody, taking aim at both the conventions of postwar espionage thrillers and Western "Orientalist" assumptions concerning Middle Eastern culture. Examples of the former include visions of 117's dead partner Jack, remembered in hilariously homoerotic beach montage, 117's awful "casual"wardrobes, veiled threats between 117 and his enemies that take the form of zoological analogies (one thinks of Number One's "Siamese fighting fish" in From Russia With Love), jaunty macho laughter that goes on for way too long (in a joke used several times too often in the movie), and my favorite--as in Bond movies, people drink lots of liquor, and after a few at the Embassy, we see 117 leave the office and immediately run into a nearby door. Examples of the latter primarily concern 117's vast ignorance of Islam or Arabic and Egyptian culture, despite his alleged expertise in such matters (at the movies end, the powers that be decide to send him to Iran)--the specifics are too numerous to list. So, while not quite the brilliant satire it seems to think itself, OSS 117 definitely breaks new ground in the spy satire subgenre--considering the proloiferation of stupid, overblown action movies in this allegedly "serious" new age, a subgenre that could use a lot more films.