Sunday, 1 August 2021

Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974)

There has never been a genre so thoroughly reviled and detested by critics as the 1970s British sex comedy. They were enormously popular, which enraged British critics even further. Unlike other once-reviled genres British sex comedies have never quite managed to overcome the effects of that critical disdain. And of all the British sex comedies the ones that contemporary critics loathed most were the Confessions movies, beginning with Confessions of a Window Cleaner in 1974.

Some historical context is needed here. In the 70s the British film industry was in a lot of trouble. A way had to be found to entice audiences into cinemas. The obvious answer was to offer something that television could not offer, and one thing television couldn’t offer was wall-to-wall nudity. What was also needed was something to make it appear that British film-makers were not offering mere softcore pornography. The solution was to make comedies with wall-to-wall nudity.

The comedy would clearly need to be pretty broad. Ideally it needed to be in the Benny Hill style but more risqué.

Thus was the British sex comedy born. And it worked. Confessions of a Window Cleaner was the highest grossing movie in Britain in 1974, and was followed by three sequels and a number of imitators.

The movies were based on a very popular series of salacious novels.

The premise of Confessions of a Window Cleaner is that the job of a window cleaner is not to clean windows but to keep the female customers of the window cleaning business happy, and that the way to do that is to provide them with sexual satisfaction. Apparently all the clients of the window-cleaning business run by Sid Noggett (Anthony Booth) are bored sex-crazed housewives. He does his best to satisfy them all but there’s only so much one man can do so he brings his brother-in-law Timmy (Robin Askwith) into his business.

The problem is that while Timmy is certainly interested in sex he’s a virgin. So the first step has to be to do something about his sexual education. Sid’s stripper friend should be able to do this, but things don’t quite work out.

Fortunately one of Sid’s lady customers is able to successfully complete Timmy’s sexual initiation.

Now young Timothy is off and running and he soon has lots of satisfied customers. Timmy is however very accident-probe and as a result of one of his mishaps he meets a very pretty and charming young woman police constable, Elizabeth Radlett (Linda Hayden). Love blossoms and Timmy proposes marriage. But getting married turns out to be a rather difficult thing to do.

The plot of course is just an excuse for a lot of sexual jokes and a lot of nudity (including plenty of female frontal nudity).

The jokes are obvious and corny. They’re even more obvious and corny than the jokes in the Carry On movies but the Carry On movies had comic geniuses like Kenneth Williams, Sid James and Barbara Windsor who could make corny obvious jokes screamingly funny. This movie doesn’t have that sort of talent on which to draw. It doesn’t really matter too much - its the corniness and obviousness of the jokes that give British sex comedies their charm. If you groan at some of the jokes that means the film is working. It’s not supposed to be sophisticated humour.

These movies made Robin Askwith a star and he does have a goofy likeability.

It goes without saying that this movie is very very politically incorrect in a very 1970s way. That also doesn’t matter. If you’re worried about political correctness you’re not likely to be watching Confessions of a Window Cleaner in the first place, and it is a refreshing reminder of an era in which comedy was totally and wildly unconstrained by politics. If there was a chance of getting a laugh then the writers would go for it.

Val Guest (with a varied and distinguished career behind him) directed and co-wrote the screenplay.

Personally I think that if you want to dip your toe into the sea of 1970s British sex comedies then Val Guest’s earlier Au Pair Girls (from 1972) is a better choice, largely because it has some stronger comedic talent among its cast.

Confessions of a Window Cleaner might be a bit disreputable but it doesn’t care. The aim is to provide some sexy fun and some laughs and to a considerable extent it succeeds. It’s enjoyable enough in its cheekily trashy way and unlike later attempts at sex comedies it’s remarkably good-natured. Worth a look.

1 comment:

tom j jones said...

I've never actually watched any of the Confessions movies - just never got round to it. I've seen Robin Askwith in other things, and he's always perfectly fine.

By your description of the plot, Tony Booth basically lived the life of his character - he sowed a lot of oats in many fields! And I can't believe you passed on the chance to mention his rather famous son-in-law lol