Britsploitation from A-Z: S is for Secrets of a Windmill Girl (1966)
Arnold Louis Miller was there more or less at the beginning of British sexploitation. In the 50s he churned out splendidly-titled nudist camp fare likeTake Off Your Clothes and Live! In the 60s he moved on to a series of pseudo-documentaries on the sleazier side of Swinging London nightlife. Secrets of a Windmill Girl is a natural follow-up to these, a documentary tribute to London’s most famous ‘revue theatre’, The Windmill, which had closed in 1964. But it’s rather unconvincingly combined with a clichéd road-to-ruin drama starring future TV favourites Pauline Collins and Martin Jarvis.
The film starts as it means to go on with the credits superimposed over a rather unenthusiastic fan dance, accompanied by an excruciatingly slow song eulogising the Windmill girls. Cut to a drunken Pauline stumbling out of a bar into a car with an equally drunk chap. A few giddy minutes later they’ve crashed into a wall and the police are calling on toothy club singer Linda (April Wilding). Pauline’s character was Pat, her best friend and former Windmill girl. In ear-rendingly posh tones, Linda tells smoothie detective Derek Bond Pat’s life story. In great detail.
She begins with their schooldays. The sight of a clearly twentysomething Pauline Collins in school uniform might do something for someone somewhere but I can’t imagine who. It’s worth noting that, in contrast to Linda’s narration voice, both girls speak in rudimentary Cockney accents at this point. Pat sounds a bit like Kat Slater. Their carefree young ways are demonstrated by the obligatory 1960s fast-edited nightclub scene. All the men in the club are ugly, especially the band. In fact this film has a particularly unattractive male cast – Martin Jarvis is probably the best of the bunch, and that’s certainly a worry.
After leaving school the girls get a job in a shoe shop managed by the bald bloke from The Prisoner, but are swiftly sacked when Pat refuses to sleep with him. This acts as the spur for them to follow their dream to become dancers, and they try out at the Windmill. The clunky narration’s particularly absurd at this point: ‘Even irrepressible Pat must have had some misgivings. I know I did. But steadily and resolutely we moved towards our fate.’
The Windmill’s choreographer is Peter Gordeno, who’d butch it up a bit a few years later as one of the cast of TV’s UFO. Jarvis is the stage manager, who hires both girls thanks to Pat’s moxie (or whatever it’s called). The other girls at the audition are real former Windmill dancers who give charmingly amateurish performances. The glamorous set the girls are now moving in is demonstrated by a wild party they attend. We can tell it’s wild because there’s a butch lesbian there who tries to make the moves on Pat while Linda’s chatted up by former child star Harry Fowler.
After this we’re treated to nearly half an hour of the theatre’s acts (although we never get to see Pat or Linda on stage). They seem incredibly quaint today, and are mostly pretty tedious. There’s a reprise of the fan dance we saw earlier, and other highlights include an Amanda Barrie lookalike prancing about whilst a man in the background plays the bongos and mimes to ‘Witchcraft’. There’s also a comedy magician (‘I don’t know if you’ve ever had a sick eye, the thing to do is to go to a sick-eye-atrist’). At the end there’s even a topless lady, which is nice if you like that sort of thing. Throughout we cut to Martin Jarvis trying his best to look like a stage manager by clutching a clipboard and nodding approvingly. This is all worth sticking with for the bit of the end, where we get an insight into the daily lives of some of the performers with documentary footage of their day-to-day lives. My favourite is Pat Patterson, ‘the Liz Taylor of the company’, whose young son’s jumper is the best thing in the whole film. Considering that Linda is supposed to be telling all this to a detective to give an insight into her friend’s final hours it’s a wonder he doesn’t try to steer her back on to the point a bit.
Finally the drama bit of the film starts up again. Pat’s going increasingly off the rails and has hooked up with a sleazy West End producer (Howard Marion Crawford) on the promise of being in his next show. And we learn that due to the rise of strip clubs (condemned in no uncertain terms by Linda’s voiceover), the Windmill is to close. There’s a blow-by-blow account of the final show including most of the same acts again (including that bloody fan dance), as well as some tap dancing (is there anything more boring than tap dancing?) and a comedy folksinger, whose supposedly risqué number is quite endearing really. But Pat eschews the Windmill farewell party for a sinister get-together filmed through a red filter with the participants all in masks (and ‘native’ drumming on the soundtrack to underline how wicked it all is). She’s eventually drugged and raped by a group of men with stockings on their heads.
This event leads directly to Pat’s decline into the world of stripping, which we’re led to believe is essentially the same as prostitution. Weirdly enough the same scene, of a worn-out Pat starting to strip then telling the audience about how she’ll make it big one day before hurling abuse at them when they jeer, is repeated in three different locations. The last time round, as Pat dances on the table of a dingy pub,EastEnders‘ Charlie Slater’s among the rowdy patrons. Here the film abruptly ends, not bothering to take us full-circle to the fatal crash. Maybe the detective just got bored and walked out.
Apart from the amazing kiddie jumper mentioned above, the main thing that keeps interest going in the film is Pauline Collins’ very entertaining bad girl act. I especially loved the sleeveless purple polo neck we often see her wearing – exactly the sort of thing I’d wear if I did a drag act. Talking of drag, at times she’s oddly reminiscent of Divine in early John Waters films like Female Trouble – though that might not be a comparison Ms Collins would be too impressed with.
Here’s a clip from a party scene, featuring unfeasibly buxom 16-year old Dana Gillespie giving us a song: