January 2, 2017

Love Is a Splendid Illusion (1969)

It’s not often that I feel compelled to write a review of a film I’ve only seen once, particularly one I wasn’t amazingly impressed with. So, why am I writing about this relatively obscure Bachoo Sen-produced oddity? Seriously, I’m baffled. But I feel that I should. For some reason, I am drawn towards it the way a fly is drawn towards a huge pile of poo.

Not that I would describe this film as such- heaven forefend, it’s still enjoyable in its own way. So why do I fail to connect with it on the level of, say, AU PAIR GIRLS or COME BACK PETER? Maybe it’s because there’s not much plot, or at least what plot there is seems strangely directionless.

Film stillOk, here are the basics. Simon Brent (you know, him from GO GIRL and Peter Sykes’ VENOM) is the implausibly named Christian Dubarry, an ad designer in London with a beautiful wife (Lisa Collings) and a young son. He also has several women on the side. She also has a man on the side. Well, hardly surprising, is it? After all, ’twas 1969 and ‘they’ were at it with everyone else from Bracknell to Brentwood back then or at least that’s what the makers of such fare would have us believe. Personally, I’d like to carry on believing it, and will do so it until I find that elusive time machine and discover the truth for myself.

 Mr & Mrs Dubarry go to Italy (which looks suspiciously like Dorset) together. They have more affairs, eventually splitting and coming home separately. Then they get back together (for reasons never explained), just as it looks like our Simes has landed himself a slightly more promising deal with one of his continental ladies, who is now also back in London. They embrace and walk off to the sound of some great schmaltzy MOR/Now Sound music. The End.

Film still I didn’t write ‘spoilers’ at this point because there really isn’t much to spoil!!! Described by DVD reissue king Nigel Wingrove’s blurb merchant on the back as a steamy affair featuring one bed encounter after another- OK, those aren’t the actual words but that’s pretty much the impression that it gives- what we actually get is probably the closest thing the Britsploitation scene ever produced to a genuinely soppy love story, but also the kind of film that could easily put a newcomer to the genre off for good.

OK, let’s quantify that statement, because I wouldn’t want anyone to think I hated the movie. I don’t. For a start, there are plenty of credible features- not least of all Brent, who is an immensely likeable actor (and actually good looking enough to be believable as a romantic lead).

In real life a good mate of esteemed trash director Norman J Warren (and indeed the leading man in two of his films, including LOVING FEELING, also produced by Sen) and quite a ‘face’ around the London scene at the time, Brent’s career seems to tail off some time just before his fortieth birthday in the mid-70s: it’s hard to believe that this man is now a pensioner, as he seems so inextricably tied to a youthful appearance.

Mind you, one often has the same thoughts these days about Simon Dee and David McCallum- it is terrifying sometimes, when you realise the ages of so many of your childhood idols, that is if they are still alive at all. Brent never reached idol status in that sense, of course, but to a small but fervent group of fans of genre filmmaking, he remains an enigmatic and fascinating actor, albeit more for his obscurity than his actual performances. He also appears to be playing about three parts in the film, as the hotel concierge and the sleazy barman both look a lot like him- but I’m sure that must be a trick of the eyes, as even Sen’s budget stretched further than that. Er, didn’t it?

Film stillAnd so to the female pulchritude. Leading lady Collings is easy enough on the eye, almost like a more bookish Vanessa Howard, and sings the theme tune well (one for the exotica comps, maybe, you lot at Cherry Red?) Most of the others, particularly Maxine Casson and Anna Matisse, are worth a look, if somewhat pasty-skinned under the unflattering lighting, and obviously have wardrobes to die for.

Interestingly, both of them also seem to have stopped working around the same time as Brent. It’s amazing sometimes to think how many of these actors and actresses there were working back then who have now slipped into obscurity. Hopefully one day a TV channel will fund me to make a series of documentaries on where they are now. Petitions at the ready…

Fiona Curzon, on the other hand, who will be best known to ‘us lot’ for her appearances in FRIGHTMARE, QUEEN KONG, THE CHERRY PICKER, LICENSED TO LOVE AND KILL and all sorts of Britsleaze, and who had a regular role in CROSSROADS back then (I could be wrong, but wasn’t she one of the ones whose screen death was serenaded by the Paul McCartney version of the theme tune?) is still alive, well and working today- possibly because her talents weren’t just based on the ability to pout or the size of her knockers.

Of course, I would never cast aspersions on other female performers of the time, who I have immense respect for, but let’s be candid here, a lot of them had a limited shelf life and they knew it. Some even tragically committed suicide with this in mind. Luckily most of the cast of LIASI (as it shall henceforth never be known) seem to still be at least alive, if not employed.

Film stillSo, on the surface, the film would seem to have all the requisite ingredients of a classic Britsploiter. So why doesn’t it? Maybe it’s because despite all its credentials, it still leaves you with an overwhelming feeling of ‘why’? It seems like an attempt to either (a) string together a series of (tame) sex scenes with as little plot as possible, or (b) spice up a dull romance which has little going for it with some rampant totty action. Except it doesn’t seem that rampant. Admittedly, I was knackered when watching the film, and will definitely watch it again, but I have to say that even from the point of view of someone who loves badly made low budget trash it doesn’t quite grab the nads in the same way SUBURBAN WIVES or PERMISSIVE do.

 And if love is such a ‘splendid illusion’ (a very woolly title now I come to think about it) then how come there’s a happy ending? Surely it would have been better to have had some bleak kitchen sink realism thrown into the mix- without it the whole thing does come across slightly as someone’s holiday travelogue transposed to the big screen, almost the kind of thing some bloke with huge Frank Worthington sidies would tell his mates in a pub as they quaffed Watneys and Double Diamonds, A SHARP INTAKE OF BREATH style. Hey, maybe that’s the magic missing ingredient…

As for the ’14 minutes cut by the censor’ referred to on the rear sleeve, are they still missing or have they been reinstated? The wording is ambiguous, but I would imagine Jezebel to have gone for the full megillah. And if they have, there’s little chance of the film getting any naughtier.

So, do I like it or not? I still can’t decide. Damn my indecision. I can’t remember a film left me feeling so ambivalent. But at least it makes me feel something- which so much modern cinema doesn’t. And at some stage in the future, when I’m old and grey like its leading man is now (not that far off judging by how tired I felt this morning), it’ll still have a place in my collection somewhere. Just don’t expect Askwith and you won’t be disappointed.

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About Drewe Shimon

Drewe Shimon has written 61 post in this blog.