Friday, May 15, 2015

Sex Clinic (1972)

A real curiosity, this relatively unknown British sex movie from the seventies is fascinating on several levels.  Right from the off - the opening titles unfold over kaleidoscopic images of naked breasts being massaged, as a slow lounge bar-type piano number plays in the background - it comes over as some kind of daytime soap opera.  An especially smutty soap opera set in a 'clinic' dispensing highly dubious treatments to it's wealthy clients, (in addition to the breast massages being administered to the ladies, male clients get cold baths, birchings, mechanised testicle slappings and, it is implied, much more), but a soap opera, nonetheless. Which shouldn't be any surprise as, lurking behind the 'Elton Hawke' writer/producer credit is Hazel Adair, creator of legendary seventies ITV soap Crossroads.  Sharing the pseudonymous credit with her is Adair's usual partner-in-crime in the smut movie business, TV wresting commentator Kent Walton.  I must admit, the knowledge that the man who had been ringside during the Saturday tea time wrestling slot throughout my childhood, urging viewers to 'have a good week, 'til next week, grapple fans' had also bee behind Sex Clinic did make me feel somewhat uneasy whilst I was watching the film.  I couldn't stop my mind from straying into speculations as to what extracurricular activities his erstwhile colleagues from ITV's World of Sport might have got up to: did Dickie Davis organise illegal bare knuckle fights in his spare time, one wonders?

But to return to the film itself, in true soap opera fashion, plot lines involving the various staff and clients of the clinic proliferate, but the main driving force of the narrative is Julie Mason's (played by TV actress Georgina Ward), the clinic's owner and star therapist, schemes to scam money from her clientele. She tells each of them that the establishment is in financial trouble and that, in order to guarantee continued access to their 'treatments', they'll need to help her out financially.  Running parallel to this are plots involving a local estate agent's unrequited love for Mason, which she uses in order to get access to a pop star's mansion he's trying to sell so as to hold sex parties for her clients there, and her PA's, in turn, unrequited love for the estate agent.  Other storylines include the arrest of one of her clients for fraud, a female client's infatuation with Mason, (said client being played by Carmen Silvera of 'Allo, 'Allo fame and the machinations of a mysterious stranger (portrayed by Alex Davion, best remembered now for playing the lead in Titan's unfinished-yet-still released 1969 horror fiasco Incense For the Damned), who sweeps Mason off her feet. 

As well as offering plenty of titillation, Sex Clinic also captures the sheer, stultifying, dullness of seventies British suburbia.  Filmed against a wintry background of post war semi-detached houses with gravel drives, faceless hotel rooms and vinyl-bedecked bars, the film succeeds in conjuring up a distinctly British vision of Hell: a middle class mediocrity which suffocates ambition under a blanket of conformity.  Indeed, Mason's entire motivation for both the clinic and her ripping off of her clients is a desire to escape this stifling suburban milieu.  Her description of the childhood abuse she suffered at the hands of her father makes clear that, like her clinic, middle class suburbia's outward appearance of respectability masks all manner of dubious activities - a theme echoed in Davion's apparently respectable jet setting businessman's plotting.  It is this plotting which moves the film into its final act, where it turns from smutty soap opera into one of those fifties or sixties British crime movies which often made up the lower half of a double bill, as Mason finds herself framed for murder.

The whole thing is very slickly made, with a cast of familiar seventies TV faces bringing their customary professionalism to proceedings.  It's a little surprising to find Don Chaffey in the director's chair - something of a heavyweight for this kind of movie, only a few years previously he'd been directing high profile (and financially successful) fare like Jason and The Argonauts and One Million Years BC and would go on to direct for Disney before moving back into TV.  In contrast with his colourful fantasy films, in Sex Clinic he conjures up an effectively depressing vision of suburban dullness.  However, his direction never quite manages to move the film into top gear pace-wise and it does seem to drag at some points as one typically talky soap scene follows another.  Released under a variety of titles, including Clinic Exclusive and With These Hands, (the on screen title on the copy I have), Sex Clinic is, despite the pacing problems, a surprisingly entertaining and professionally assembled, slice of vintage British filth.  I mean, where else can you get to see Edith from 'Allo, 'Allo topless?  (There's another pub quiz question for you: in which British porn movie did Madame Artois get her norks out?)  And let's not forget that it's thanks to the Tories' effective privatisation of our health service that we can no longer get the services of clinics like this on the NHS.



Blogger gavcrimson said...

It is a film worthy of re-discovery but to me it is marred slightly by the distasteful way that film equates lesbianism with mental illness, with the Carmen Silvera character eventually revealed to have been a confused straight character whose attraction to other women is seen to be the by-product of a mental breakdown and leads her on a downward path of being blackmailed and eventually being driven to suicide. I’m inclined to think this aspect of the film was down to Hazel Adair, since Don Chaffey fits the profile of the type of male film makers she’d get to direct her productions, Chaffey like Ray Austin, Jim Atkinson and Robert Young being the type of filmmaker who could be relied upon to turn in professional product without leaving any ‘auteur’ handprints on the films themselves. A similarity negative attitude towards lesbians and lesbianism rears its head in quite a few of Adair’s other productions, most notably in Virgin Witch where Patricia Haines plays a sexually predatory, and possibly murderous, lesbian head of a witch’s coven whose sexuality causes her to be ostracized and despised even in the sexually offbeat occult community. Even in the considerably more lighter ‘Can You Keep It Up For a Week’ Adair throws in another terrifying lesbian character, this time in the form of a leather clad Valerie Leon, who puts the moves on the girlfriend of the film’s hero, who then has to rescue her from Val’s advances. Much as allot of the ‘poofer’ put down humour in 1970s British films and TV series can be explained by those films and TV shows having being made by straight men who at best viewed gay men as a source of ridicule and at worse as a sexual threat and source of hostility, Adair’s films seem to be the lesser sighted female equivalent, these being films made by straight women who appear to have been greatly intimidated and disturbed by the subject of gay females, for lesbian bogeywomen definitely haunt the film world of ‘Elton Hawke’.

4:57 am  

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