Thursday, 7 April 2016

Come Play With Me

Carry On Up The Millington

Come Play With Me
UK 1977 Directed by George Harrison Marks
Odeon DVD Region 2

Oh dear.

Come Play With Me is one of those almost legendary films which people my age kinda grew up with in the background without ever actually having seen them at the time. I remember walking past the posters to this and other British soft porn movies such as The Playbirds and Rosie Dixon, Night Nurse when I used to go to school, passing by the cinema as I went my merry way. I also read a fair amount recently about this production in the excellent book Come Play With Me: The Life And Films Of Mary Millington by Simon Sheridan, who also does the liner notes on this sparkly Odeon restoration of the movie (Sheridan’s excellent book is reviewed by me here).

However, it has to be said that, although I knew a little bit about the nature of the movie... British softcore, comedy, a few small appearances by Mary Millington, some famous names etc... nothing could prepare me for the absolute joy/horror of watching this thing. It’s unbelievable and, I suspect, very hard to attempt to describe here. It’s hard to believe that this highly successful film still holds the record for the longest non-stop engagement ever in British cinema history... although I can see a little of its appeal, to be sure, and there were other factors playing a part in that final statistic.

The film starts off with an absolutely terrible title song that, in itself, would probably want to make most people switch off whatever device they are playing this thing on and run for the hills... and I say that being an absolute lover of terrible songs in movies. However, as soon as the credits song is done with, the film does something very interesting which immediately caught my attention. That is to say, one of the most unusual pair of establishing shots I’ve seen presented on film. Two simple shots of London are shown in rapid succession, one cutting straight into another but... they’re both at dutch angles (maybe as much as 45 degree angles) and both the opposite orientation of each other. Doesn’t really do it any favours as a lead in to the next scene but it’s certainly eye catching, that’s for sure.

Then, after that, we get a scene where we get the Deputy Prime Minister, played by TV stalwart Henry McGee, briefing his people on a mission in search of a load of forged £20 bank notes. The government are not the only ones looking for the printers of these bank notes, however. So are the local mob, who the two main protagonists of this movie, the note forgers Cornelius Clapworthy and Maurice Kelly, were working for... until they decided to run off with the plates. The mob is headed by Ronald Fraser, who makes his home in a Soho night club. So of course the very next scene is a lovely lady doing a reverse strip on stage and it’s pretty much the closest thing this film comes to eroticism in its entire running time... that is to say, the only time any sexual content is taken with the remotest bit of seriousness. His left hand man, played by Tommy Godfrey (yeah, you’d know him, for sure, if you saw him) reports back that the pair have ‘scarpered’ and he’s ordered to pursue.

Our two heroes, who are in so much trouble with both their own people and with ‘the law’, are played by the director, George Harrison Marks (as Clapworthy) and comedian Alfie Bass (as Kelly). They decide to lay low in a ‘down on its luck’ Health Farm for a couple of weeks while they print enough money to get them someplace else. The Health Farm is run by Irene Handle, who plays Lady Bovington, and her assistant McIvar, played by Cardew Robinson (who I was convinced throughout the whole movie was being played by Rod Hull... he’s a dead spit for him in this in both looks and action).

Meanwhile, a government official meets with a low life contact who is trying to get a handle on where the two are and it’s a sign of the changing times when, at a cafe, the contact buys two cups of tea and a big iced bun and it costs him... 17 pence. Oh yes. I remember the 1970s. The days when we weren’t being completely ripped off left, right and centre. I wish I was still back there. This sub plot of the government official is picked up again later in the story, although it has absolutely no purpose within the plot at all other than to pad out the running time of the movie... it never catches up to the rest of the main cast and I suspect that’s because it was maybe shot later and thrown in after. The two agree to meet later and they meet, of course, at the same ‘Burlesque’ night club owned  by Ronald Fraser’s character... well, I guess you’ve got to keep finding ways to get the naked girlies in somehow.

Talking about girls... it’s not long before we meet a bus load of strippers, including Mary Millington, brought home by the rich, playboy son of the owner of the Health Farm. They are introduced by a song ‘Pretty Girls’ on the soundtrack and... well... just when you thought you’d heard possibly the worst song ever written for a movie on the credits sequence, here comes this song to prove you wrong. When the son hears the sad state of affairs at his mother’s Health Farm, he comes up with the bright and successful idea of employing the young ladies to be sexy Health Farm attendants and... the plot pretty much finishes there and the rest of the film descends into a kind of English farce.

It’s a movie filled with absolutely gazillions of well known comedians and character actors of the time... people who were not normally expected to be in this type of movie... or at least the perception of what this type of movie is from members of the British public who hadn’t actually seen it. The sex scenes are softcore and really not up to much. Mary Millington’s ‘massage and irrigation’ scene is quite funny but that’s mostly due to the absolutely outrageous exclamations from her male victim... err.. patient. She does have an exuberance about her that’s hard to pin down and I’m kinda glad I’ve got her next feature, The Playbirds, to watch sometime soon.

The film is full of silly sped up romps with naked ladies and gentleman who are either naked themselves or in good old, British style, stripy pyjamas. The closest thing I can liken it to would be a Carry On film (not a series of movies I like, to be honest) but with loads of nudity added into the mix. The director, George Harrison Marks, is even more of a British eccentric playing Clapworthy than many of his co-stars here, with his big eyebrows and wig (at least... I really hope that was a wig) and one of the absolute ‘OMG’ highlights of the film is where he and Alfie Bass are trying to escape the less than tender ministrations of the girls and suddenly break out into a musical song and dance routine, with the sexy nurses of the Health Farm providing some inappropriate smiles and trying their best to keep up with the choreography.

There are some real curiosities about the movie, above and beyond all the other unbelievable shenanigans that are worth mentioning here. For instance, some of the scenes contain some bizarre rapid cuts in the middle of conversations and one wonders if these are because somebody just flubbed their lines in certain scenes and the editor is less than successfully trying to cut around it. And another thing which I can only assume is another post-production error is when the government agent is looking at a man singing on Brighton pier accompanied by a pianist. Although the piano player is plonking away heavily at the keys, all you can hear on the soundtrack is the sound of the guy singing. What? I can only presume the pianist was playing a deliberately silent piano and that some accompanying music was supposed to have been dubbed on at a later date... but they just never got around to it and used the ‘wild sound’ instead.

Come Play With Me is, it has to be said, a pretty terrible movie... but it’s also an immensely enjoyable one. It does, for me, fall into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category and in addition to the ‘how did this thing ever get released’ vibe to it, it’s also nice to see the famous Mary Millington in action. Also nice to see the streets of Soho more or less as I remember them as a kid, when I was a child model working in London back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It’s not a film I could say is particularly a masterpiece of cinema but... well, look. I watched three movies the day I saw this and this one was head and shoulders above the more serious stuff I saw in terms of entertainment value. I am going to show this one to most of my friends at some point because it’s almost impossible to describe and needs to be seen to be believed. And that’s about as good a recommendation as this one’s going to get from me I think. An enjoyable romp which probably shouldn’t be as much fun as it actually is. Looking forward to The Playbirds, now, for sure.

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