Thursday, September 10, 2020

Too Hot to Handle (1960)

Too Hot to Handle is a 1960 British sin and sensation potboiler about Soho strip clubs, with Jayne Mansfield as the main attraction. And you get Christopher Lee as a bonus.

Johnny Solo (Leo Genn) owns the Pink Flamingo, supposedly the premier strip club in London, with some help from his manager and master of ceremonies Novak (Christopher Lee) and his star attraction and girlfriend, Midnight Franklin (Mansfield).

Reporter Robert Jouvel (Karlheinz Böhm) is doing a story of Soho, focussing on the  Pink Flamingo. He’s supposed to be French but Karlheinz Böhm, perhaps wisely, decides not to worry too much about that and just plays it with his usual slight German accent.

Jouvel becomes a bit obsessed with one of the girls, Lilliane (Danik Patisson). She’s a strange girl, obviously very bitter about all sorts of things. She makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with him but he’s already decided that really she needs him. And perhaps she does.

Johnny Solo has bigger problems. His club is under threat from a protection racket and there may be more to it than meets the eye. It may have something to do with Diamonds Dielli who runs the rival Diamond Horseshoe Club. It’s also possible that he has enemies closer to home. Johnny is not easily frightened but he’s certainly worried and Midnight really is frightened. There are also possible problems looming with a sleazy but rich customer and one of the girls.

If you’re expecting mere cheap sleaze you maybe a little surprised. This is quite a well-crafted little movie, expertly directed by Terence Young. Young was about to achieve major success directing three of the first four Bond movies. Too Hot to Handle is a mixture of seedy glamour and hardboiled crime with a hint of film noir. While this is obviously a somewhat cleaned-up version of Soho in 1960 it still provides a fascinating glimpse of London nightlife at the beginning of the ’60s.

It’s also very well acted. Karlheinz Böhm plays Jouvel as a slightly brash rather over-confident reporter type who is actually a pretty decent guy. Christopher Lee just has to appear slightly sleazy and slightly sinister, which he manages with ease. Danik Patisson is solid as Lilliane. Leo Genn is excellent as Johnny, a quietly determined low-key tough guy. I particularly liked the way the relationship between Johnny and Midnight is handled. It’s an odd sort of love that they have, maybe it’s based on mutual need but it is love just the same and in their own way they’re touchingly devoted to each other. Look out for Barbara Windsor in a small rôle as one of the girls who likes to be known as Ponytail.

But this movie belongs to Jayne Mansfield. While she enjoyed her greatest success in comedies like The Girl Can’t Help It she was actually a decent serious actress when given the chance. Here she’s perfectly cast, she has a good script to work with (by Herbert Kretzmer) and a fine director and she really shines. She also handles her sexy stage routines with plenty of style. Midnight is a tough cookie in some ways but Mansfield makes her warm and vulnerable as well. In retrospect 1960 wasn’t a bad year for Miss Mansfield - she also made the underrated British film noir The Challenge (in which she played a lady gangster and did so surprisingly effectively).

Given the time the movie was made the striptease routines are very very tame. There was obviously no way they were going to get away with actual nudity so they had to rely on style and glamour to provide the sexiness and it works pretty well.

The movie was shot widescreen and in colour but the only available version as far as I know is the Alpha Video release which is fullframe and in black-and-white. Don’t worry too much about that. It’s a good transfer and the black-and-white print enhances the seediness and the slight noirness. This might well be a very different movie in colour.

This is a movie that doesn’t quite develop the way you might expect. It’s partly a crime thriller, partly a love story, partly a sex melodrama with a bit of exploitation and a touch of film noir. The ending is unexpected but it’s nicely set up and it’s effective.

Too Hot to Handle is a bit of an oddity but it’s an enjoyable one and it’s highly recommended.

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