Sunday, 31 October 2010

Au Pair Girls

One of the things I find fascinating about British exploitation cinema from the 1970s is the existence of an obvious division amongst their personnel.

On the one hand we have those with little or no prospect or at times interest in careers in the mainstream.

On the other hand we have those who might well once have enjoyed mainstream careers but who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time now that London had stopped swinging and US money coming in.

Au Pair Girls is a film which perfectly illustrates this tendency.

In the former camp we have David Grant, credited as author of the story. One of the biggest figures in the British porn scene as producer, distributor and exhibitor, Grant would later be jailed for distributing the video nasty Nightmares in a Damaged Brain in the 1980s before dying in mysterious circumstances in 1991, the possible victim of a hit.

In the latter camp we have co-writer and director Val Guest. A forty-year industry veteran by this point, he had first made his mark in comedy in the 1930s and 40s before playing a major role in kick-starting the British horror cinema through The Quatermass Xperiment for Hammer. Here, however Guest, veteran of some 14 Hammer productions in total, was working for that company’s more downmarket rival, Tigon.

The mark of quality

Perhaps more interesting, however, is the way in which the film also exhibits something of a tension in its own approach, between presenting exploitation and commenting critically on it. Whether this was a deliberate strategy on someone’s part – the likes of Quatermass 2 and Hell is a City have a critical, realist edge to them – or unintentional is another matter, of course.

This is most evident towards the end of the film.

Never has a place been less appropriately named, though was the intention or not?

In one of the four stories the German au pair, Christa, who is a virgin, is taken to a Ricky Strange gig at Groovers nightclub and offered up as a sacrifice to the rock god by the opportunistic daughter of the family she has been placed with, “a Deutschland dolly where the hand of man has never set foot before”

Whilst no Permissive, it’s pretty sordid, depressing stuff and perhaps provides a hint of why Guest, who also helmed Confessions of a Window Cleaner around this time, was not involved with its sequel, Confessions of a Pop Performer.

Ironic use of phallic symbolism, or what?

In another of the four stories a Swedish sexpot type, Anita, with a colour TV obsession is recruited by an Arab Sheik to be part of his harem. Though there’s a hint of criticism, in that we’re told the Sheik has magnanimously raised the annual income of his people from £10 to £20, it’s basically played for laughs.

Ferdy Mayne plays the Sheik

Following this, however, Christa, along with the other two Au Pair Girls, Nan and Randi, is herself picked up by the Sheik for what seems a bit of a dramatic transition from virgin to whore and an odd way to end the film on a high.

The story featuring Nan is also a bit off-key as she is placed with a family of eccentric aristocrats and immediately becomes involved with their piano playing child-man son Rupert (A “new playmate” / “It’s beautiful, I like it”), has sex with him and then silently departs.

Yet if there’s perhaps a hint of the inscrutable Oriental stereotype here, that ‘we’ cannot fathom ‘them’, Nan is also the only one of the four girls whose English is perfect and devoid of unwitting innuendo (Anita’s “I work with them all day and in the evening I play with myself. Is no good?” or Randi’s “I am not miss Lindstrom. My friends call me Randi”)

Again, some sort of critical comment ((Me Me Lai, more famous for her roles in Italian cannibal films, is Anglo-Burmese) or just unsatisfactory writing and characterisation?

Taken on its own basic terms, of providing laughs and showcasing female pulchritude, the film is a success.

For some reason the au pairs on the right is not featured subsequently – was there perhaps an export version with extra material?

It also has a very cool theme song, the kind that had it been sung in Italian or in Italian accented English would surely have showed up on a Beat at Cinecitta or Easy Tempo collection.

Le Mesurier's finest moment

And then there’s the immortal sight of none other than John Le Mesurier fondling his secretary’s breast before telling his son – who imagines this – to “Piss off!”

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