Friday, October 28, 2022

The Secret Ways (1961)

The Secret Ways is a 1961 Cold War spy movie based on Alistair MacLean’s 1959 novel The Last Frontier (which also appeared under the title The Secret Ways). Richard Widmark stars and also produced the picture.

It has to be said that the novel and the movie have little in common. All the elements that made the novel such an interesting and surprising spy novel for its time have been removed. All the elements that made the hero such an interesting protagonist have been removed as well. What we’re left with is a grindingly conventional Cold War spy thriller.

It is however visually very impressive. It’s done in pure film noir style. The film noir style and the spy movie are of course perfectly compatible so this was by no means a bad idea.

A two bit American hoodlum and total loser named Michael Reynolds (Richard Widmark) is employed to get a man called Jansci out of Hungary. In the novel Reynolds is British and a professional spy and that dramatic change is an immediate signal to the viewer that this movie is going to bear no resemblance to the novel.

Reynolds first has to find a young woman named Julia. She’s Jansci’s daughter and she will be the bait to persuade Jansci to leave Hungary.

Reynolds travels to Hungary with Julia. He finds Jansci, he and Jansci are captured by the secret police and tortured. They all have various narrow escapes and we get a very conventional ending. There’s no need to say any more about the very dull plot.

Jean Hazlewood wrote the screenplay. She takes MacLean’s clever intelligent plot with its unexpected psychological twists and turns it into a totally predictable stock-standard spy plot. She eliminates one of the key characters (the scientist Jennings) but unfortunately without that character the plot not only becomes a lot less interesting, it becomes entirely pointless. There’s simply no reason for any of the characters to do any of the things they do.

She also eliminates all of the provocative intelligent aspects of the book - the moral ambiguity, the way the protagonists is forced to re-evaluate his whole life, the complicated conflicts of loyalty. In fact her screenplay eliminates all of the motivations of all of the characters.

We never find out who it is who wants to get Jansci out of Hungary or why.

Hazlewood really was a genius of sorts, because she also manages to eliminate most of the suspense. The suspense in the novel stems from our uncertainty as to exactly how the various characters will react. Their reactions depend on conflicted motivations and are therefore not perfectly predictable.

I can now see why MacLean started writing the screenplays for adaptations of his movies. He was clearly determined not to have any more of his books butchered by third-rate hacks like Jean Hazlewood. This was Hazlewood’s only screenwriting credit and I’m not surprised. Based on this movie I wouldn’t have hired her to write a shopping list. Hazlewood was at the time married to Richard Widmark which obviously explains how she got to write the script.

Richard Widmark could be effective in the right part but he was entirely incapable of subtlety. In this case it doesn’t matter because this is a movie totally lacking in subtlety.

The acting overall is rather flat and lifeless but that could be because the screenplay makes the characters so extraordinarily uninteresting.

On the plus side the movie looks terrific. It has the film noir look in spades. Director Phil Karlson knew how to do film noir and he knew how to shoot action. The movie benefits from the fine cinematography of Mutz Greenbaum. They are also obviously trying for some of the feel of Carol Reed’s spy/suspense movies such as The Third Man and The Man Between, and visually they do succeed to a considerable extent. They’re definitely going for a very European vibe.

Kino Lorber have released this movie on DVD and Blu-Ray. The transfer is excellent and there’s an audio commentary.

The Secret Ways looks good and it’s a beautifully crafted movie. The problem is that the story isn’t at all interesting and the characters are not at all interesting. The relationships between the characters are uninteresting. It had potential but the lacklustre script sinks it. It isn’t terrible but it’s just a very routine spy movie. Maybe worth seeing for the visuals.

I’ve reviewed the superb Alistair MacLean novel on which the film is based, The Last Frontier, on Vintage Pop Fictions.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Unguarded Moment (1956)

The Unguarded Moment is a 1956 crime melodrama.

The setting is a perfect American high school in a perfect American town. The school is full of clean-cut youngsters filled with all the exuberance of youth. But there is a shadow hanging over the town. A woman has been brutally murdered and the police fear that more murders may follow.

Esther Williams is Lois Conway, a music teacher at the high school, and she has a problem of her own to deal with. It appears that one of the boys has a crush on her. That’s not that unusual. Dealing with schoolboy crushes is just one of the things a female teacher has to deal with, just as male teachers have to deal with schoolgirls getting crushes on them. But this boy seems very persistent. He keeps sending her notes.

It doesn’t occur to our young teacher that this could be anything other than just another harmless schoolboy infatuation.

The latest note suggests a date at the locker room at the gym at ten o’clock at night. Rather rashly the teacher decides to show up at the appointed time, to have it out with the love-struck teenager.

As a result she almost gets raped. She just manages to make her escape. The cops find her running down the street with her dress torn half off. They take her down to headquarters. Lieutenant Graham (George Nader) finds her story puzzling. Why would an apparently sensible woman go to a meeting such as that with an unknown man, in the middle of the night in a deserted locker room? He figures there’s more to her story than she’s telling.

After fruitless questioning by the lieutenant Lois returns home, to discover that there’s an intruder in her home. He gets away but she gets a look at him. Now she knows the identity of the mystery man. It’s Leonard, star of the school football team.

Of course the audience knows as well, and we know about his strange home life. He lives with his dad. Dad has always told the boy that his mother was a whore. Dad now hates women. We can surmise that the boy has a few issues with women as well.

Lois is definitely a bleeding heart. After narrowly escaping being raped she still wants to cling to the idea that she’s just dealing with a harmless love-sick schoolboy. She doesn’t want to get him into any trouble.

Lois doesn’t want to tell the police the identity of the boy who broke into her house.

Lous does report the matter to the high school principal but he doesn’t believe her. She’s only a teacher. Leonard is a football star. Naturally he believes Leonard.

Lieutenant Graham and Lois start to get quite friendly. Maybe Graham is just hoping to soften her up so she’ll tell him the truth. Or maybe he’s getting keen on her. And maybe she’s getting a bit keen on him.

Lieutenant Graham is frustrated because he knows he’s not dealing with a harmless teenager. A number of women have been assaulted and one was murdered. While the movie can’t come out and say it it’s obvious that the assaults were rapes and that the murder was a sex murder. Graham really does have good cause to fear that there will be further murders.

It seems like the solution to the case is clear from the start but it’s always possible that we’re jumping to conclusions. We have reason to suspect Leonard but neither we nor Lieutenant Graham have incontrovertible evidence.

Esther Williams was mostly known for lighthearted romances and musicals involving swimming. This is a rare straight dramatic rôle for her and she’s reasonably good. We feel extraordinarily frustrated at Lois’s stubbornness but Williams manages to make us understand where she’s coming from.

George Nader makes a fine cop hero. He’s not too hardboiled but we believe he’s tough enough to be a good cop. He’s a sympathetic character.

This was a very early rôle for John Saxon and he does well, displaying at least some of the larger-than-life quality we later came to expect from him.

There is certainly a crime plot here but The Unguarded Moment plays more like a melodrama. Which is not a criticism as far as I’m concerned. It’s also to some extent a Social Problem Movie but it’s much much less irritating than most movies of that type.

Umbrella’s Region 4 DVD is barebones and 16:9 enhanced but the transfer isn’t sensational. The colours are fairly bright but they come and go and the image is soft and lacks the razor-sharp clarity we’ve come to expect from quality DVD releases. On the other hand it’s cheap and this does seem to be a slightly difficult movie to get hold of.

The Unguarded Moment is melodrama and melodrama tends to be contrived but it’s reasonable entertainment. Worth a look.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Serpent of the Nile (1953)

Serpent of the Nile is a low-budget epic about Cleopatra, directed by William Castle and produced by Sam Katzman.

It opens with Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, defeated in battle by Mark Antony. Lucilius (William Lundigan) is a serious-minded political zealot who wants to restore democracy. He’s on the side of Brutus and Cassius but once they’re dead he rather reluctantly agrees to serve Mark Antony.

Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, is determined to achieve an alliance with the strongest man in Rome and Mark Antony seems to fit the bill. She can offer him the gold he needs to achieve supreme power. In return (she hopes) she will be permitted to rule the world with him. She intends that eventually her son by Julius Caesar will rule the world.

Egypt is full of conspiracies and there are assassins everywhere. This is very confusing for poor Lucilius. He sees everything in terms of good vs evil. He soon decides that Cleopatra is evil. He had apparently loved her once but now he loves only Rome.

Mark Antony enjoys himself with Cleopatra in Alexandria, much to Lucilius’s disapproval (Lucilius is a man who disapproves of anything other than a fanatical devotion to duty).

Lucilius finds Alexandria to be a dangerous place. Cleopatra still carries a torch for him but she has chosen Antony because he seems to offer Egypt a better chance of survival as independent nation. She doesn’t see that she has much choice.

While Antony tarries with Cleopatra Octavian is building up his armies.

Robert E. Kent’s screenplay doesn’t bother with subtleties. Cleopatra is a queen so she must be wicked. Lucilius is a democrat so he must be the hero. Kent has managed to take a fascinating story and turn it into the plot of a second-rate western.

The one thing that really matters more than anything else in a movie about Cleopatra is the actress who plays her. Rhonda Fleming is just not in the same league as Claudette Colbert or Elizabeth Taylor. She doesn’t have Colbert’s overwhelming sexual allure. But she’s not bad. She’s beautiful and glamorous and looks reasonably exotic.

Raymond Burr is great fun as Mark Antony. He plays him as the bad guy in a gangster movie. Given that Rome was pretty much a gangster society that’s not a bad choice. He at least manages to make Mark Antony seem charismatic and dangerous. He also makes Antony a man of flesh and blood. He’s a bit of a rogue but we like the guy.

The big problem is William Lundigan as Lucilius. He’s awful. For the plot of the movie to work we have to believe that Cleopatra would be seriously torn between Lucilius and Mark Antony but nobody is going to believe for one second that a woman like Cleopatra would look twice at a dumb, uninteresting, self-righteous prig and bore like Lucilius. He has all the animal magnetism of a piece of soggy cardboard.

Lucilius is the hero but I found him to be a loathsome human being, a man who puts politics before people and will willingly betray love and friendship for the sake of abstract principles. He’s dull, humourless and without a shred of warmth or compassion. And like so many political zealots he always finds a way to rationalise his betrayals.

There is zero chemistry between Lundigan and Fleming. There is chemistry between Fleming and Burr, but that just serves to emphasise the ludicrousness of the film’s attempt to make us see Lucilius as a romantic rival.

Look out for Julie Newmar as the girl in the gold bikini (a decade before Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger).

The low budget is definitely a problem. I have no objections to the use of matte paintings but in this movie they’re just not very good. It’s unfair to criticise the movie for this. When you have a limited budget you can’t make an epic that is going to rival spectacular big-budget productions. William Castle does a fairly good job considering those limitations.

This is not an easy movie to find. There’s a Spanish DVD which includes the original English language version but the transfer isn’t great and it seems to be weirdly cropped. This is a movie that really needs a restoration and a Blu-Ray release.

Serpent of the Nile doesn’t quite make it. Rhonda Fleming’s acting is fine but she’s just not sufficiently mysterious, exotic or dangerous. Given the way the script demonises Cleopatra she needed to play her as a full-blown femme fatale.

The reason to see this movie is Raymond Burr. He really is a delight. Aside from that it’s moderately decent entertainment.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

The Chalk Garden (1964)

The Chalk Garden is a 1964 British drama directed by Ronald Neame, based on a successful play by Enid Bagnold. It has a dream cast headed by Hayley Mills, John Mills, Edith Evans and Deborah Kerr.

Laurel (Hayley Mills) is a troublesome bratty teenager who lives with her grandmother Mrs St Maugham (Edith Evans) in the latter’s country house. Mrs St Maugham evidently has serious money and perhaps Laurel suffers from being just a bit too privileged.

It’s time once again to hire a new governess for Laurel. This is a regular occurrence. So far Laurel’s record is driving away three governesses in the space of a week. When Miss Madrigal (Deborah Kerr) arrives to be interviewed the first five applicants for the post have already fled in terror. Miss Madrigal has no qualifications and no references and does not care to reveal anything at all about her life and experiences. She obviously has no chance of getting the position except for one thing. She is not afraid of Laurel. Every other governess has been terrified by the child.

Laurel has been living with her grandmother since her mother Olivia remarried. Laurel reacted very very badly to her mother’s remarriage. Old Mrs St Maugham is determined to keep Laurel. She strongly disapproves of Olivia. Laurel claims to hate her mother but as Miss Madrigal soon realises it’s best not to take anything Laurel says too seriously or too literally.

Miss Madrigal may have an ally of sorts in the person of the butler Maitland (John Mills). Maitland is very keen for Laurel to have a governess because otherwise he will be stuck with looking after her. He doesn’t dislike Laurel but she’s quite a handful. Enough to give a butler nightmares.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Deborah Kerr but I have to admit that’s absolutely right for this rôle and she gives a fine nuanced performance as a woman with problems of her own trying to deal with a troubled teenager. John Mills is, as always, splendid. Edith Evans gives the sort of performance you expect her to give - outrageous but wonderful. The supporting cast includes one of my favourite British character actors, Felix Aylmer.

But this movie belongs to Hayley Mills. She gives a performance that is totally over-the-top but at the same time very finely judged. She knows just how far to go, and she makes Laurel obnoxious, spoilt, spiteful, vulnerable, confused, adorable and very sympathetic.

Hayley Mills had an intriguing early career, alternating between fluffy Disney movies and very serious very demanding dramatic rôles and giving some extraordinarily interesting, subtle and powerful performances in movies like Whistle Down the Wind and the superb Sky West and Crooked. In The Chalk Garden she’s like an acting tornado, which is exactly what was required of her.

This is a melodrama produced by Ross Hunter for Universal and it has a definite Ross Hunter vibe to it. Any movie produced by Ross Hunter ended up being a Ross Hunter movie, with his characteristic visual style and the Ross Hunter feel. He was an interesting example of the producer as auteur. Ronald Neame directed (and he was a talented director) but it doesn’t feel like a Ronald Neame movie. It feels like a Ross Hunter movie.

This is certainly melodrama. The plot contains the kinds of coincidences that would seem far-fetched in any other genre but in melodrama you just accept such things. It’s also a movie that positively wallows in emotional angst. But that’s what melodrama is all about. If you don’t love melodrama you’re not going to like this movie. If you do have a fondness for the genre you’ll be in movie heaven.

What saves it is the quality of the performances. Characters who would have been impossibly cloying and irritating and phoney in lesser hands come alive in the hands of Edith Evans, John Mills and especially Deborah Kerr and Hayley Mills. We end up caring about these people. The performers are even able to get away with some excruciatingly portentous dialogue.

What also saves it is the fact that Laurel is such an interesting character. This is a coming-of-age movie but it’s not a sexual or romantic coming-of-age movie. Laurel is sixteen but is in many ways still a little girl. As the story progresses she has to learn to deal with other people in an adult way and to take on a few adult responsibilities. She resists this. She wants to live in her own world, a world in which she makes the rules and the outside world, the grown-up world, is excluded. But eventually she will have to enter the adult world. It’s very unusual, and very interesting, to see a coming-of-age movie that sees the transition to adulthood as being about more than just sex and love.

We’re horrified when Laurel hurts other people but we understand that she simply isn’t aware that she is doing so. Other people are not quite real to her. But we don’t want Laurel to be hurt because, like Miss Madrigal, we can see that she behaves badly because she’s scared and confused rather than malicious.

There’s also a sub-plot which is a kind of mystery, but not in a conventional sense. It involves one of the characters who has a secret. The revelation of that secret is predictable in some ways, except that there’s a key piece of the puzzle that is tantalisingly never revealed.

The Imprint Blu-Ray looks great and includes an audio commentary by Kat Ellinger.

If you’re a fan of Ross Hunter’s movies you’ll enjoy The Chalk Garden a great deal. If you’re a Hayley Mills fan it’s a must-see. I fall into both those categories so I liked this film. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Law and Order (1932)

Law and Order (later retitled Guns A'Blazin') is a 1932 Universal western based on W.R. Burnett’s novel Saint Johnson. It stars Walter Huston. One of the writers was John Huston. So that’s an impressive array of talent.

It’s around 1889. Frame Johnson (popularly known as Saint Johnson and played by Walter Huston), his brother Luther (Russell Hopton) and their buddies Brandt (Harry Carey) and Deadwood (Raymond Hatton) have a choice to make. They can take the road to the peaceful but dull town of Alkali or the other road that leads to Tombstone. Tombstone is a much more exciting town but it’s wild and dangerous. They leave the decision to the fall of the cards. They take the road to Tombstone. It’s a fateful decision. Later in the movie there will be another fateful decision decided by a bet.

Frame Johnson is a legendary lawman but he’s determined to hang up his shooting irons. Frame has killed thirty-five men but paradoxically he hates guns and he hates violence. He believes in law and order, but he dreams of a future in which law and order do not depend on the gun.

The last thing Frame wants is to wear a badge again. Tombstone is a lawless town run by the corrupt and vicious Northrup brothers and their cronies, assisted by the equally corrupt sheriff, Fin Elder. Judge Williams wants to appoint Frame a Deputy U.S. Marshal, to clean up the town. Frame wants no part of it. And then fate steps in, in the form of a bet. Frame is soon wearing a deputy marshal’s badge.

Frame and the town council decide to ban guns in Tombstone. Rather daringly, and perhaps rashly, Frame decides that he and his deputies (Luther, Brandt and Deadwood) will give up their guns as well. Law and order will be enforced in Tombstone without guns.

It doesn’t quite work out. There’s another gun killing and Frame has to pick up his shooting irons again. Events are leading inexorably to a showdown with the Northrups and it’s going to be an epic gunfight.

Those who think that westerns didn’t start to become grown-up until John Ford made Stagecoach in 1939 will be very surprised by this movie. Westerns don’t come much more grown-up than Law and Order. Those who think that it was Anthony Mann who first took the western into darker territory will also be in for a surprise. Westerns don’t come much darker than Law and Order.

The tone of the movie is just slightly reminiscent of another Walter Huston movie made in the same year, The Beast of the City. The resemblance is not accidental - The Beast of the City is also based on a W.R. Burnett novel. In that movie Huston is a cop battling gangsters but the thematic similarities are striking.

Walter Huston is superb. It’s a smouldering performance. Frame Johnson is a good man but a dangerous one. When that smouldering fire leaps into flames it would be wise to stand clear.

1932 was an extraordinary year for Huston. He also co-starred with Joan Crawford in Rain, giving a memorable performance as a preacher engaged in a battle of wills with a prostitute.

Among the supporting cast is Andy Devine, looking young and thin! He plays a man accused of murder who is about to be lynched. Frame Johnson intends to put a stop to lynching.

The supporting cast overall is very strong.

Director Edward L. Cahn had an interesting career, becoming best known for schlocky science fiction and juvenile delinquent movies in the 50s. Law and Order suggests that maybe he should have had a more prestigious career. He does a fine job and handles the action scenes well.

This is a very bleak and somewhat gruelling movie. Things are tense from the start and the tension builds steadily.

It has a complicated hero. Frame Johnson is a man with very strong notions but sometimes they’re wrong. Sometimes he’s too idealistic and sometimes he’s too cynical. He believes in law and order but he doesn’t believe that people in general want law and order. He yearns for a better world, a world without constant violence and corruption, a world of peace. But he has doubts as to whether such a world is possible.

Law and Order is an intelligent, provocative, very dark western. Highly recommended.

I picked up this movie in a French DVD release from Sidonis. It’s a pretty good transfer and it includes an unexpected bonus - the 1953 remake of Law and Order starring Ronald Reagan. And both movies are presented in English.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

The Partner (1963)

The Partner is a 1963 entry in the Merton Park cycle of Edgar Wallace thrillers.

Film director Wayne Douglas (Guy Doleman) is involved in a complex tax avoidance scheme cooked up by his accountant Charles Briers. Three hundred thousand pounds is being shuffled about from one person’s name to another. The money belongs to Wayne Douglas but at the moment it’s in the name of Lin Siyan (Yôko Tani), a starlet he discovered.

Meanwhile his wife Helen (Helen Lindsay) is having him followed by private detective Richard Webb (Mark Eden). She suspects that her husband is having an affair with Lin.

The sudden death of Charles is going to cause problems with that three hundred thousand pounds. Nobody is quite where the money is. There’s another two thousand pounds that is missing as well. And a contract. A very important contract which Wayne now desperately needs.

The police are very concerned about the time factor in this case. The murdered man was seen doing things that he couldn’t possibly have done, owing to the fact that he was dead at the time. They’re certain they’re dealing with a murder but they don’t know the murderer’s identity because they lack vital pieces of evidence.

Helen’s brother Buddy (Anthony Booth) is an artist although mostly he seems to be a layabout. He and his pal Adrian (John Forgeham) are up to something and it probably involves money (you need money to have a nice lifestyle if you’re a layabout artist).

Everybody in this movie is up to something, usually involving money or sex. Or they have something to hide. We’re presented with several plausible suspects fo that murder.

And then there’s a shooting.

Guy Doleman is best remembered for his supporting role in the Harry Palmer movies (as Harry’s smooth slightly sinister boss). He didn’t get too many leading roles but the great thing about B-movies such as the Merton Park Edgar Wallace thrillers is that they gave interesting actors the chance to show what they could do in a leading role. Doleman does quite well here.

It’s also interesting to see young actors like Anthony Booth in their early careers. He was later to be well-known for his television work and for the notorious 1970s Confessions of… sex comedies but here he gets to play it straight and he rally is effectively creepy and sleazy.

French-born Japanese actress Yôko Tani made films in France, Britain and the United States with modest success but her career never really took off simply because there weren’t a great many good parts for Japanese actresses in those places.

Like so many of the writers and directed involved in this cycle of films director Gerard Glaister would achieve most of his success in television. As a director he was competent enough to judge by this film.

John Roddick (who also worked mostly in television) provides a solid enough screenplay although perhaps it needed to be just a bit more devious.

This movie forms part of Network’s Edgar Wallace Collection Volume 5. The transfer is 16:9 enhanced and it looks terrific. All these movies were shot widescreen in black-and-white.

This is a routine entry in the series. It’s a very straightforward murder mystery but the film industry setting adds interest (with film sets used as settings for murder) and like all these movies it’s well-crafted.

The Partner is an enjoyable enough way to spend a hour (in fact it runs just under the hour) and it’s recommended. Even the lesser movies in this series are pretty good.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968)

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is a lighthearted British coming-of-age movie directed by Clive Donner and scripted by Hunter Davies from his own novel. It’s the tale of the misadventures of a young man desperately trying to lose his virginity.

Jamie (Barry Evans) just doesn’t seem to have any success with girls. He tries really hard but something always goes wrong. We assume that he’s around eighteen (he’s still at school) and he’s as obsessed about sex as any other normal teenaged male.

It’s not that girls dislike him. It’s just that the girls he wants seem to be more attracted to other men, and the girls who do like him don’t appeal to him.

He could probably get Linda but she’s too scatterbrained for his tastes. The girl he really wants is Mary (Judy Geeson). Mary is gorgeous and she has class. Unfortunately she also has rich young men pursuing her and she’s a bit out of Jamie’s league.

In desperation he joins a church group where there’s a girl who seems to be quite attracted to him but it all ends in embarrassment rather than the passion he dreams of.

Then there’s Caroline. Caroline is rich but she seems rather keen on him and when she invites him to stay at her parents’ country house for the weekend he’s pretty sure that it’s finally going to happen. And it would have happened except that Caroline passes out dead drunk before it can happen. While Jamie is trying to bed Caroline her father (played be Denholm Elliott) and her brother are busily trying to bed the family’s German au pair Ingrid, and Caroline’s mother seems to have designs on Jamie. It’s all too much for poor Jamie.

There’s also Audrey, but he’s still pining for Mary.

Then he runs into Mary again. He figures he doesn’t have a chance but he might as well give it a try.

Does Jamie eventually get what he wants? Well, in a way, but maybe it wasn’t quite what he wanted after all.

Given the subject matter and the fact that this is a 1960s British movie you might be forgiven for expecting lots of misery and despair but this is not that type of movie. It remains lighthearted and cheerful. This is a comedy. We never believe that Jamie’s situation is hopeless. He’s good-looking, he’s amusing, he has boyish charm and he’s not creepy. We know that it’s just a matter of time before a girl will come along who will decider that he’s just what she’s been waiting for. For Jamie losing his virginity is a challenge but it’s obviously not going to be an insurmountable hurdle.

This is a very 1960s movie, in fact it’s very much a Swinging 60s movie. The Richard Lester influence is very clear. There’s pop music (provided by the Spencer Davis Group and Traffic, both pretty big bands at the time), there are fantasy sequences, everything is bright and colourful and there’s just a slight avant-garde vibe (and a definite Richard Lester influence). The fourth wall isn’t just broken occasionally, it’s never there at all. Jamie spends the entire film speaking directly to the audience.

This is a kind of precursor to the British sex comedies of the 70s (a much despised genre that is nowhere near as bad as pompous critics would lead you to believe). Had it been made just a few years later there would have been copious amounts of nudity but in 1968 British film censorship was still ludicrously draconian. And even a rather tame movie such as this ran into trouble with the censors (they were particular upset by Judy Geeson's nude scene which is possibly the sweetest most tasteful nude scene you'll ever see). This movie is tame, but the tone is definitely somewhat similar to that of those 70s sex comedies.

It’s also, like so many British movies of its era, about class as well as sex. Jamie is working-class (although his family is respectable and by no means poor and could perhaps even qualify for the lowest echelons of the lower middle-class). He could undoubtedly bed Linda but Linda is working class. Jamie is more attracted to middle-class girls with style and grace. Caroline’s family is upper middle class. They’re not exactly portrayed as decadent or degenerate but their morality is rather flexible. They consider that having all the male members of the family bedding the au pair is perfectly normal behaviour. And it has to be said that Ingrid seems totally at ease with the situation. But of course she’s European and doesn’t share the bizarre British attitudes towards sex. Unlike the British characters in the film she seems to think of sex as something that normal healthy girls should enjoy.

At 23 Barry Evans was, on paper, much too old to play Jamie but Evans always had that baby-faced look and he gets away with it. And he’s pretty good - he never makes Jamie seem obnoxious or overly self-pitying or pathetic. Jamie is a nice lad and he treats girls decently and we hope he succeeds in his quest to get laid.

Judy Geeson was 18 at the time, stunning and already an accomplished and experienced actress. She’s always worth watching and she handles her rôle with considerable aplomb. On the whole the acting is extremely good. Special mention must be made of Angela Scoular who is an absolute delight as the wildly eccentric Caroline.

The humour is quite sexual but never crude. This is a good-natured little movie and both the male and female characters are sympathetic. They all have their quirks but they’re all basically pretty nice people. The class element is there but it’s handled with a light touch. This is a movie that has no interest in bludgeoning the viewer with politics.

This movie is the absolute antithesis of the British New Wave with its emphasis on misery and hopelessness. The teenagers in Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush are not doomed. They’re looking forward to the future. They believe they have a good chance in life and they’re correct. Jamie will be going to university when he leaves school, as will many of his friends. The movie was shot in Stevenage, one of the notorious New Towns, and while it’s a bit soulless and antiseptic it’s also clean, bright and cheerful.

After its moderately successful theatrical release this movie simply vanished until the BFI released it as a Blu-Ray/DVD combo. It’s a lovely transfer. As usual the BFI has thrown in a couple of short films from the period as extras. The Blu-Ray includes both the uncut version and the version that was butchered by the puritanical British censors.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is a fascinating late 60s time capsule and it’s enjoyable in a totally innocuous way. I liked it. Recommended.