More Cult British Movies Released on DVD - Articles - Soundblab

More Cult British Movies Released on DVD

by Ian Johnston Rating: Release Date:

Four more unjustly overlooked cult British movies from the 1960s and 1970s finally receive DVD/Blueray release this month: MORGAN - A SUITABLE CASE FOR TREATMENT (1966, Optimum Releasing), PRIVATE ROAD (1971) and DUFFER/THE MOON OVER THE ALLEY (1971and 1975 both on the BFI Flipside label). All DVDs are released on January 17 2011.

Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment

Something of a 'lost' cult classic from 1966, Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment is a funny and surreal black comedy. Starring the legendary British actor David Warner (Cross of Iron, Tron, Titanic), in his first and only leading role as Morgan, an anarchic working class artist obsessed with gorillas, the movie charts his desperate attempts to rekindle the love of his divorced upper middle class wife (Vanessa Redgrave's first starring role). Morgan kidnaps his wife from Kensington, nearly blows up her mother-in-law and plans to shoot her fiancé and his art dealer (Sir Robert Stephens). An impressive array of stalwart British character actors (including Bernard Bresslaw as a dozy policeman, Arthur Mullard as a punch drunk wrester Wally 'The Gorilla' Carver and Irene Handl as Morgan's Marxist mother) contributes to escalating the black humour and anarchy, but it is Warner's finely nuanced performance as the deranged but sympathetic Morgan that anchors David Mercer's script.

Perhaps surprisingly, Karel Reisz directed Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment. Born in Czechoslovakia during 1926, the son of a Jewish lawyer, Karel Reisz left the country for England at the age of 12, before the Germans invaded. Reisz's parents where later killed in a Nazi concentration camp. During the last years of World War Two, Reisz served in the Czech squadron of the RAF. After studying at Cambridge, Reisz became a leading figure in the 1950s' British Free Cinema movement, with fellow directors Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson. Before directing Morgan, Reisz had previously helmed the critically celebrated and highly popular 1960 'kitchen sink' realist drama Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, starring Albert Finney.

Though shot in black and white, Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment is the very antithesis of Reisz's previous social realist film and his work as a documentary filmmaker. Far very being another inconsequential swinging London movie, Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment arguably posits that madness is the only way to successfully handle existence as an artist, or for that matter as a human being, in the mid-20th century during the insane Cold War era.

PRIVATE ROAD (1971)

Directed by Barney Platts-Mills who filmed Bronco Bullfrog (1969, and previously reviewed at length on Soundblab), Private Road captures a moment in time (the post-hippie free and easy early 70s), its attitudes and a Britain that has pretty much vanished forever. Unlike Bronco Bullfrog it features a professional cast and was shot in colour with a full crew. It stars a young and charismatic Bruce Robinson (the director of the 1987 cult classic Withnail and I, who will soon be filming Hunter S Thompson's The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp) as Peter, an arrogant but talented writer who falls for an attractive, blonde, upper middle class girl, Ann (Susan Penhaligon) who works at his publishers. Despite the disapproval of Ann's overbearing parents (Robert Brown and Katherine Byron) in Esher, Surrey, the couple are soon living together in London and then experimenting with an abortive attempt to 'get back to nature', by living in a small cottage in a remote area of the Scottish Highlands. After returning to London, reality begins to quickly encroach on Peter and Ann's existence. Peter's friend Stephen (Michael Feast) has graduated from pot to a serious heroin habit, and Peter is faced with taking domestic responsibilities seriously, by pursuing a financially lucrative career at an advertising agency, or following a more creative path. Platts-Mills' script might be unduly harsh upon Ann's 70s sitcom-style uncomprehending parents and hasty in introducing changes in character and a succession of misfortunes that befall Peter, Ann and friends, but Bruce Robinson (who as Kevin Jackson in the DVD booklet notes looks like a tall Martin Amis) is a compelling screen presence. Robinson's Peter is likable despite his youthful foibles, due to his selfless performance.

The DVD package also includes a Platts-Mills' 1967 documentary, St Christopher, about an enlightened special needs school for adults and children in Bristol and a superb 1974 short film, The Last Chapter, directed by David Tringham and based on a story by novelist John Fowles (The Collector/The French Lieutenant's Woman). It stars the great late Denholm Elliott as a middle aged Ian Fleming style thriller writer, whose visions of his fantasy novels feature him pursing secret agent Geraldine Moffatt, who starred in Get Carter. Private Road's Susan Penhaligon co-stars as a teenage girl who throws into turmoil the successful authors work regime. Edgy and confrontational, the 29 minute The Last Chapter is definitely an example of superior story telling.

DUFFER (1971) /THE MOON OVER THE ALLEY (1975)

On this DVD there are two outstanding movies for the price of one. Co-directed by Joseph Despins and William Dumaresq, Duffer was released the same year as Platts-Mills' Private Road and is set in London but otherwise the picture might as well be unfolding on another planet. Shot on 16mm in black and white and without sync sound, the disturbing and demented Duffer anticipates David Lynch's Eraserhead by five years.

The grim, surreal story, such as it is, concerns a damaged teenage boy called Duffer (brilliantly played by Kit Gleave, but his voiceover narration provided by William Dumaresq) who alternates between two sexual partners; Louis Jack (William Dumaresq, under the name 'James Roberts'), a psychopathic, misogynist, Catholic older man, with whom he submits to bizarre and violet S&M sex games (asphyxiation, sodomy, worms poured over his naked body while being filmed) and Your Gracie (Erna May), a kindly, large prostitute. The film follows Duffer as he moves between Louis Jack's dark world and Your Gracies' soft, light, playful existence. Louis Jack and Your Gracie are simultaneously surrogate parents and sexual partners. This unique oedipal/bisexual/role playing psychodrama grows ever more deranged as Louis Jack's madness seems to infect Duffer, as he perpetually walks the shadowy, menacing streets of Notting Hill and Westbourne Grove in an ever mounting state of wilful derangement. It is obvious that there will be blood, sooner or later. With haunting piano music by Hair musical composer Galt MacDermot and electronic interjections from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's acclaimed Delia Derbyshire (who worked on the groundbreaking Doctor Who theme), Duffer is a rough, compelling and rewarding ride into a netherworld of madness and obsession

The Moon Over the Alley, made in 1975, is also directed by Joseph Despins and set in Notting Hill, written by William Dumaresq, with a score by Galt MacDermot and shot mostly at night in black and white (beautifully rendered by Peter Hannan). But here the similarities with Duffer end. This is a musical: a Bertold Brecht style musical culminating in a mugging, a rape and a murder rather than a Hollywood extravaganza, but a musical nonetheless. Despins and Dumaresq's film focuses upon the everyday trials and tribulations of the multicultural residents of an over-crowded and dilapidated boarding house, run by a demanding German landlady Bertha Gusset (Erna May). Galt MacDermot's effective musical numbers emerge as naturally as possible from the narrative with street singers singing their songs, a mother serenading her child and a ghoulish singer performing his number at the gothic 1950's Le Macabre coffee bar on Meard Street in Soho.

The Moon Over the Alley is a weird and wonderful mix of 1970s TV comedy and pathos, which displays a real care and understanding for the multi-racial characters (accurately depicting the composition of the areas inhabitants - unlike Richard Curtis' Notting Hill - and for the most part avoiding stereotyping and sentimentality). Only the film's shadowy teenage 'yobs' are not fully developed and whose motivation for committing their ultra-violent actions is never really scrutinised at all. The glimpse The Moon Over the Alley offers of mid-1970s Portobello Road, filmed so beautifully on a typically hectic Saturday afternoon, is priceless, capturing the exuberance and strangeness of the area. Ironically, the threat of council demolition and rehousing hangs over the picture, presciently foretelling what would eventually sap the locations vitality.

Fortunately, The Flipside label will be releasing another two off-beat 'mislaid' British movies during April 2010 - Lunch Hour (1961), directed by James Hall, written by John Mortimer and starring Beat Girl actress Shirley Anne Field and Joanna (1968) directed by Mike Sarne, starring Geneviève Waïte and Donald Sutherland. Roll on April.

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