The A-Z of Britsploitation: L is for Loving Feeling AND Love is a Splendid Illusion
British sexploitation films weren’t always just dodgy Carry On rip-offs with extra tits. Take these two (yes, two) late sixties efforts from producer Bachoo Sen for example, a pair of glum melodramas without a double entendre in sight (but with extra tits). As well as a producer they share a star, Simon Brent, who plays a disillusioned philanderer in both. Brent’s a typical male star of British sexploitation, reasonably attractive and with quite a nice body but let down by some rather frightening teeth.
The first of the films, Loving Feeling, is an early directing effort from Norman J. Warren, best known for tacky late 70s horrors like Satan’s Slave and Inseminoid. The opening credits sequence is a kitsch joy – a naked man and woman slowly cavorting in silhouette while Jackie Lee (who sang the theme tunes to Children’s faves White Horses, Rupert and Pipkins) belts out a rambling ballad that sounds like it’s half-heartedly trying to be Je t’aime…moi non plus. The icing on the cake is the credit gratefully acknowledging the help and co-operation of the Vogue Bingo Club, Margate and St Christopher’s Hostel, Isleworth. Yes, we’re in glamorous territory here.
The film itself tells of the tangled love life of trendy DJ Stevee Day (Brent). Stevee’s name, cheesy patter and absurd backcombed hairdo (a he-hive, if you will) all suggest that he’s based none-too-subtly on Simon Dee. Dee, a then-ubiquitous man-about-swinging London, was a major influence on Austin Powers and its no surprise to see Stevee got up in the standard Powers outfit of velvet suit and frilly shirt several times in the film.
Since his rise to fame, Stevee’s been unable to stay faithful to wife Suzanne (the impossibly plummy Georgina Ward, who comes across as a posher version of Nigella Lawson). Tired of his infidelity she’s left him, and now seeks comfort in the arms of his former best friend Scott (John Railton). Ward and Railton both deliver all their lines in a very serious, deep-voiced way reminiscent of Duncan Preston as Mr Clifford in Acorn Antiques. Their dialogue has a whiff of spoof about it too: ‘Who do you think you are?’ ‘I’m your lover – do you understand that? Love!’ But despite his bed-hopping ways Suzanne’s still pining after Stevee.
Meanwhile Stevee’s latest squeeze is Carol (Paula Patterson), an ambitious secretary. He doesn’t confine himself just to her, though. He also sleeps with her flatmate. But deep down he can’t stop thinking about Suzanne. After taking Carol’s flatmate back to his flat, he departs mid-shag to see his ex, helplessly wailing ‘Why can’t I live without you, Sue?’ They go to bed and a very silly dream sequence ensues, Stevee in the middle of a giant bed, constantly rolling between Suzanne on one side and Carol on the other, then dissolving into a shot of a dead-eyed Carol constantly repeating ‘Stevee’ while Suzanne keeps running toward the camera in a white gown. Priceless dialogue ensues in the morning. Stevee: ‘There was something, there must have been. There always was. But –‘ Suzanne: ‘Yes, I know, but. There’s always your but’. Clearly sensitive about this part of his anatomy, Stevee departs.
Stevee’s next fling is with a nameless French model (Francoise Pascal, future star of TV’s Mind Your Language) in a series of long, drawn-out scenes that look like they’ve been added to the film at the last minute to pad it out. They go on a riverboat together, do a photoshoot, and then, when she reveals a bizarre amount of knowledge about Stevee’s married life, he mounts a pathetic attempt to strangle her, which ends in a kiss.
The film ends with Carol as the radio station’s new It girl, Suzanne heading off with Scott and Stevee alone and miserable. What happens to the model is anyone’s guess. The main plot about Stevee and Suzanne’s marriage is swamped by a load of irrelevant old nonsense. The things that Loving Feeling really has going for it are accidental: the ridiculous dialogue and acting and, most of all, the astonishing period look of the thing. It’s a breathtaking showcase of OTT 1968 fashion and décor (Suzanne’s outfits are especially incredible, and even the walls of the radio station are adorned with paintings of sad-eyed children). As you might expect, there are a lot of softcore heterosexual couplings going on in Loving Feeling. If, like me, you’re not especially interested in that sort of thing, there’s usually some interesting wall paper or bedclothes to look at.
The following year’s Love is a Splendid Illusion (directed by Tom Clegg) is just as much a period piece – it even features a shop with the most 60s name ever – ‘Trend’! In this one Brent plays a man called Christian Dubarry. He’s essentially exactly the same character as Stevee Day except he’s an interior designer rather than a DJ. The other distinguishing feature of this film is that it’s largely shot on location in sunny Italy, which looks a lot more glamorous but isn’t as evocative of the gloomy London of Loving Feeling. Like Stevee, Christian has a problem staying faithful. The long-suffering partner in this case is Amanda, played by the enormous-haired, wonderfully sulky-looking Lisa Collings. They live together and have a child, but they’re not married. Nowadays that’s pretty standard, but here it’s used as evidence of Christian’s lack of commitment. Amanda’s having an affair too, though, with Bernard Collins (Mark Kingston), a client of Christian’s who looks like the archetypal aftershave advert man of the 70s.
Given that Christian’s an interior designer, it’s not surprising that the world he lives in is even more gloriously 60s in appearance than that of Loving Feeling. Christian and Amanda have amazing purple wallpaper in their hallway and Christian’s office is pure space age. It features a Newton’s Cradle which induces Christian to hallucinate a surreal party scene complete with a silver-painted woman and a lecherous old queen when he gazes into it. We don’t get to see all this for long though, as Christian and Amanda are soon off on a trip to Italy in an attempt to save their flagging relationship. But after a promising start with a day-long sexual marathon (there’s a lot of sex in this film, which I suppose is the point really) Christian’s head is soon turned by other female occupants of their hotel – Sophie (Anna Matisse), a former Miss Germany reduced to whoring around the hotel bar, and Michelle (Andrée Flamand), a French Joan Collins lookalike married to supernaturally boring Englishman Maurice (Peter Hughes). And what’s more Bernard’s staying in the hotel too, whispering sweet nothings into Amanda’s ear with his dark brown voice at any opportunity.
From this point on the film becomes largely focused on shots of the Italian coastal scenery and various sexual encounters on the beach, until Amanda heads home in a huff and Christian decides to shack up with Michelle (it’s her tendency to dress as a matador that makes her especially irresistible). On his return to England Christian’s just not happy though, and eventually he and Amanda are reunited through their love for their scary-looking offspring. Phew.
So there you have it – British sexploitation isn’t all slap and tickle. Sometimes it’s an hour and half of moping interspersed with the odd bit of sex.