Thursday, 15 November 2012

French Dressing .

It was his work for the BBC’s arts programme Monitor between 1958 and 1965 that brought Ken Russell to national attention, which in turn gave him the opportunity to direct his first feature film. Turning down the chance to direct Cliff Richard in the movie Summer Holiday (1963) he instead opted to direct French Dressing (1964) a decision that ultimately forced him to return to work in television until a second chance arose allowing him to make the more critically acclaimed feature film the Len Deighton spy drama Billion Dollar Brain (1967).

Gormleigh on Sea.
American film actress Alita Naughton.

This Tati-style comedy produced by Frank Harper was set in a seedy British seaside resort called Gormleigh-on-Sea; actually the filming took place at Herne Bay in Kent, South East England obviously during the summer month’s going by the amount of rain. Its rather dubious screenplay involves a very dull down at heel seaside community, that is until seasonal deckchair attendant Jim Stephens (James Booth) and his colleague Henry Liggott (Roy Kinnear) convince the Mayor (Bryan Pringle) to transport an ambitious young French actress called Francoise Fayol (Austrian born B-Movie actress Marisa Mell) to Gormleigh to open the local Film Festival. Of course every thing descends into chaos and its left to Jims girlfriend Judy (obscure American actress Alita Naughton) to save the Mayor from complete embarrassment.

Ken's first nun.

This critical and commercial flop is probable Ken’s most forgettable film and he has admitted that he had no idea how to handle actors at this time and we have to contend with James Booth doing his normal Jack-the-lad routine which grinds after awhile. The script is weak, even with additional dialogue from the great comedy writer of Till Death Us Do Part, Johnny Speight. I’m not surprised that Ken went back to the BBC, certainly not up to his later brilliance but a rare curio all the same and his first opportunity to include a nun, censored for showing her a garter belt! An interesting thing is we get to see, during the film, what the filmmakers regarded as a foreign movie and a ‘French actress’. I would generously describe Ken’s first film as a grand pastiche of seaside humour al la the famous saucy seaside postcards of Donald McGill. For fans only.

James Booth and Roy Kinnear.
Marisa Mell demonstrates the hula hop.

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