Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Adventures of a Private Eye (1977)

A beautiful young woman is targeted by a mysterious blackmailer.  She turns to a private detective for help and he finds himself drawn into a web of intrigue, murder and bare breasts involving a sinister, cursed family and a night club run by gangsters.  It could be the plot of one of the Italian giallo films Suzy Kendall starred in during the 70s, but in fact it belongs to a film she made back home in Britain that’s about as far from a giallo as it’s possible to get.  Other than the bare breasts.

Laura Sutton (Kendall) could be about to lose out on an inheritance from her octogenarian millionaire fianc√© Ashley Grimsdyke when she’s threatened over some explicit photos of her being unfaithful with Bless This House’s Robin Stewart.  The private eye she seeks out is Judd Blake (Jon Pertwee, associated in the public mind with mystery as host of TV panel game Whodunnit?).  But he’s just gone abroad, so his inept assistant Bob West takes charge of the case instead.  His name’s clearly a riff on that of Joe North, hero of Stanley Long's previous film Adventures of a Taxi Driver, but Barry Evans passed up the chance to appear in the follow-up (though he starred in the even further downmarket Under the Doctor the same year) and was replaced by Christopher Neil, whose sexcom pedigree included roles in The Sex Thief and the Stanley Long-produced Eskimo Nell.  Neil also sings the film’s theme song, which he co-wrote with Paul Nicholas, whose hits “Dancing with the Captain” and “Grandma’s Party” Neil was also partly to blame for.

As if to compensate for being taken off theme song duty this time round, Adrienne Posta performs two numbers in her role as Lisa Moroni, an unsubtle spoof of Liza Minnelli.  “Make my pendulums swing,” she demands in one of them, and sure enough we get to see her pendulums in full swing in the very next scene.  Several other members of Long’s “repertory company” also return from the first Adventures film: Ian Lavender gets a bigger role this time around as Bob’s friend Derek, who does most of the actual detecting alongside Bob’s comically “ugly” secretary Maud Gubbidge (future Coronation Street star Veronica Doran) while Bob has various cack-handed encounters with loose women.  One of these is Angela Scoular, another returnee, once again playing a lustful housewife, this time with a very unattractive grey perm.  Diana Dors is back too, popping up for one scene only as a charwoman, and sporting the same vividly floral tabard she wore in Taxi Driver.  Finally, Liz Fraser plays eccentric vegetarian Violet, one of the dysfunctional Grimsdyke clan who are the prime blackmail suspects.  The other family members are boggle-eyed lecher Harry H Corbett, bonkers psychic Anna Quayle and buxom (and seemingly dubbed) Linda Regan.  In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Neil and Regan have sex in a boat in full view of a rowing team (Neil’s manhood can be briefly spotted in this sequence).

As you might expect, the mystery plot is a wholly perfunctory excuse to string together a lot of a comic sketches: the final denouement, arrived at by Lavender, Doran and seedy reporter Willie Rushton, is rushed, barely comprehensible, and intercut with vivid images of Neil escaping from Posta’s mafia boyfriend (head Tomorrow Person Nicholas Young) disguised as an Arab woman.  For reasons too baffling to recount, he ends up naked in an open grave, at a funeral.  Still, it’s one of the most agreeable films of its type, with a couple of truly wonderful moments.  One of these has Fred Emney, in his final film role, being absolutely hilarious as a sozzled aristocrat trying to get into the knickers of a dragged-up Christopher Neil.  The other sees Neil, on his way to dispose of a body, waylaid by yet another horny housewife (Hilary Pritchard), whose voracious consumption of “sex films” has led her to believe that all passing men are up for it.  And it seems she’s not wrong (“I would have suggested Deep Throat, but I tried it with the window cleaner last week and nearly choked myself”).   It’s a return to the satire of the porn industry writer Michael Armstrong had previously given us in Eskimo Nell.

Adventures of a Private Eye saves its most grimly memorable moment for its final scene: Pertwee returns from Beirut and tells everybody how bloody obvious everything was all along while in the nude (he’s getting a massage).  Then a desk fan falls on his crotch after Bob trips over a wire.  I imagine there wasn’t a dry eye in any house where this film played.

Trivia                                                                                        

·         Other familiar faces in the cast include Irene Handl (doing her posh voice) as a nosy neighbour called Miss Friggin, Rocky Horror Picture Show star Jonathan Adams as Angela Scoular’s police inspector husband, and Peter Moran (later Grange Hill’s Pogo Patterson) as their young son (who’s named Willy, purely so his father can exclaim “What a big Willy I’ve got!”).  Richard Caldicot, who plays the Grimsdykes’ butler, co-starred with Jon Pertwee on radio in The Navy Lark for many years.

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