Sunday, 5 May 2019

Au Pair Girls (1972)

There are countless film genres that were once reviled but have over the years amassed substantial cult followings. Sci-fi monster films of the 50s, the juvenile delinquent movies of the 50s, American sexploitation of the 60s, even eurosleaze movies of the 70s have their aficionados. Mainstream critics might still sneer at them but there are at least a handful of critics prepared to admit grudgingly, that they have a certain appeal. Books have been written about Russ Meyer, Doris Wishman and Jess Franco. It almost seems that any genre will eventually acquire a cult audience.

There is however one exception - the British sex comedies of the 70s. These films were loathed by critics at the time (party because they committed the unforgivable sin of being extremely popular with audiences) and they remain despised. Which is enough to pique my interest. Can any genre truly be that bad? We’re about to find out since I’m about to review a representative example, Au Pair Girls (AKA The Young Playmates), released in 1972 which makes it an early entry in the genre.

The first thing to note is that while this is not exactly a big-budget epic it’s also not a low-budget cheapie. And it was directed (and co-written) by Val Guest. Guest had a long and interesting career He’s best remembered for the Quatermass sci-fi/horror films (The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II) he made for Hammer in the mid-50s. In fact he was a respectable claim to being the man who put Hammer Films on the map. He was always a competent director. By the 70s the British film industry was in dire straits and sex comedies were among the few British movies actually making money at the box office. If you wanted to work you took what you could get so Val Guest made sex comedies.

The first thing you have to consider when judging any movie is - does it succeed on its own terms? The formula for Au Pair Girls is very simple. Combine lots of corny jokes with lots of naked women. Don’t bother looking for hidden political subtexts or philosophical musings on the human condition. Corny jokes and nude women are what Au Pair Girls promises and that’s what it delivers.

The humour is pretty much in the style of the Carry On movies. The cast includes some pretty formidable comic talents, people like Richard O’Sullivan (one of the biggest stars of British television in the 70s) and John le Mesurier.

The formula is actually quite similar to that of the American nudie-cuties of the very early 60s. A wafer-thin plot that is just sufficient to explain why there are lots of nude girls wandering about and plenty of unsophisticated humour. And, like the nudie-cuties, Au Pair Girls features lots of female nudity but nothing even approaching graphic sex. There’s a certain odd innocence about it.

It’s also rather good-natured. The girls are ditzy but the male characters are not much better. Nobody in the film is truly evil. Some are weak, some are self-indulgent, some are foolish. Most are trying their best despite being ill-equipped to deal with the real grown-up world.

This was a time when Swinging London was starting to lose its swing. It was becoming sleazy and tawdry rather than glamorous and the movie takes a slightly jaundiced view of the early 70s. The one character in the movie who really reflects the Swinging 60s fantasy, the rock star Ricky Strange, is the one character who could be described as an utterly worthless human being. He also reflects the dark side of the Sexual Revolution, sex as something cheap and nasty.

As for the plot, four au pair girls arrive in London. Christa is from Germany. She gets a glimpse of the glamorous world of rock’n’roll and she doesn’t like what she sees. Nan Lee is Chinese and finds that she is to be employed as a companion for a musically gifted but socially completely inept young man. They have a strange sort of love affair. Anita Sector (Astrid Frank) is Scandinavian and manages to end up in the harem of an Arab oil sheikh, which she decides is great fun. Randi (Gabrielle Drake) is also Scandinavian and gets entangled with Stephen (Richard O’Sullivan), the sex-starved son of a wealthy industrialist. Somehow whatever she does, no matter how innocent, she seems to end up without her clothes. The ending must have sent contemporary feminists into conniptions.

The actresses were presumably chosen largely for their willingness to shed their clothes but they’re OK. Astrid Frank and Gabrielle Drake (well-known to cult TV fans for her rôle as the purple-wigged Lieutenant Ellis in UFO) are both charming and funny. Richard O’Sullivan gives us a performance which is pretty much a dry run for his rôle in the immensely successful Man About the House sitcom. In other words he’s very good.

The Screenbound DVD release has no extras aside from a trailer. The image quality is extremely good, the sound quality not so good but acceptable.

So is it worth seeing? The jokes turn out to be as corny as one might expect but it certainly has its amusing moments. As for the four au pair girls, they’re likeable and very pretty and constantly naked. There’s wall-to-wall naked female flesh including lots of frontal nudity. If you want anything more than that forget it but if’s a movie that does deliver exactly what it promises so on it’s own terms it’s a success. Recommended, if corny jokes and pretty nude girls are your thing.

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