Tuesday 28 May 2019

Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties (1980)

It’s pretty hard to dislike a movie with a title like Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties. Especially when it’s a Jess Franco movie and one of the lady spies is played by Lina Romay. This really is a movie about two female spies. Whether either actually possesses a pair of flowered panties is another matter - most of the time these girls aren’t wearing any panties at all. This is a Jess Franco movie.

Franco had made a couple of movies in the late 60s about two female spies (or at least undercover detectives), the Red Lips movies Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me, Monster. These were lighthearted romps. This was a genre that seemed to bring out Franco’s lighter side. Mixed with lots of craziness of course.

Cecile (Lina Romay) and Brigitte (Lynn Monteil) are strippers and they’re facing a year in prison as a result of their strip-tease act. They’re offered the chance to go free, in return for doing a few small favours for the government. Actually it’s not the government as such, it’s an American senator who is spearheading an investigation of the sex trafficking industry. He wants them to work as spies. All Cecile (who is a bit of an amateur photographer) has to do is take a few photos. They will also be given air fares to the Canary Islands and a job as strip-tease artistes.

The girls figure it’s a pretty good deal but it’s not always a good idea to believe government men who tell you they’re offering you a job that is really very simple and involves no danger at all.

Their assignment is part of an investigation into a white slavery racket. White slavery had been a very popular subject for exploitation filmmakers going right back to the 1930s if not earlier. And for obvious reasons - the opportunities for sleaze are practically limitless.

This is one of the many Franco films that exists in several different forms. It started life as a movie called Ópalo de fuego. Then numerous new scenes were shot and it became essentially a different film, Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties. Ópalo de fuego is apparently a much more chaotic film with no real narrative to speak of.

Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties is very much a movie for dedicated Francophiles. Anyone new to Jess Franco’s films would be well advised to start with his 1960s and early 1970s films. By the end of the 70s he was mixing genres with abandon but even more disconcertingly his films were starting to feature wild mood changes. If you’re a fan and you’re accustomed to his approach to filmmaking you’ll enjoy this. If you’re not familiar with his style you might find it bewildering and disturbing. It seems highly likely that he fully intended it to be bewildering and disturbing.

Oddly enough, having said all that, Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties actually has a remarkably coherent plot. Cecile takes on the rôle of spy and she takes her duties seriously. She quickly works out that a woman named Irina Forbes (Joëlle Le Quément) and her husband are kidnapping young women and selling them to billionaires as sex slaves. Mr and Mrs Forbes are seriously evil and depraved people and Cecile is keen to help the authorities. The difficulties are that it is not clear which authorities she can trust, and she is very much a rank amateur.

The plot is straightforward enough but the mood is all over the place, veering suddenly from lighthearted spy spoof and sex comedy stuff to brutal torture, rape and murder. And then it will veer back again. At times it is amusing and charming. At other times it is very unsettling indeed.

This is also, even by Jess Franco standards, a ramshackle affair. Franco was never overly obsessed with getting the picture in focus. In fact this is something that varies widely from film to film suggesting that it was as much a stylistic quirk as it was a result of ludicrously tight shooting schedules. The impression this movie gives is that Franco was embracing the chaos.

There is an astonishing amount of nudity. The sex scenes are not at all graphic but they are unsettling since they range from good-natured sexual romps to rather extreme depravity. The scenes of violence are also often more implied than explicit but what is implied is enough to make any viewer uneasy.

It must have been tough going for the cast but Lina Romay handles things pretty well. She is often adorably ditzy. At other times she experiences stark terror. She even manages a creditable action scene in which she dispatches one of the Forbes’ evil henchwomen with a well-placed kick to the head. She is in fact an oddly believable amateur spy, hopelessly out of her depth but showing a surprising amount of grit. If the villains are intending to destroy her she’s not going to give in without a struggle. She is of course naked for much of the film’s running time but that’s no problem - she was a competent actress with her clothes on and a very good actress naked.

Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties is a wild ride. It gleefully ignores all the conventions of the spy film, and the erotic film, and the sex comedy. Like so many of Franco’s best films it creates its own genre as it goes along.

I’m not sure this movie is a complete success but it can be recommended to Franco fans as an exhilarating example of his bizarrely idiosyncratic style.

Saturday 18 May 2019

Daredevils of the Red Circle (serial, 1939)

Daredevils of the Red Circle is a 1939 Republic action-adventure-crime serial directed by John English and William Witney. Which means it’s probably going to be very good.

It turns out to be very good indeed, in fact one of the best of all the serials of its era, and an absolute must-see for serial fans.

Here's the link to my full review at Classic Movie Ramblings.

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.