Thursday, June 23, 2016

Au Pair Girls (1972)

I've spent a lot of time over the past few weeks ranting about the EU referendum and, whatever the outcome, I'm sure that I'll be ranting about it again tomorrow.  So, I thought I'd take advantage of this interlude, while we're all voting, to have a quick look at some smut I've recently watched.  Made back in those (just) pre Common Market days of 1972, (see what I did there?) Au Pair Girls occupies an interesting place in the history of British sex films.  Arguably, with veteran British director Val Guest at the helm, it helped make the genre more 'respectable'.  Whilst Guest wasn't exactly an 'A-List' director, he was, by the early seventies, a hugely respected and reliable professional, with films like The Quatermass Experiment, The Day the Earth Caught Fire and Expresso Bongo under his belt.  Determined to preserve his reputation, Guest ensured that his excursion into sex films wouldn't simply be a parade of naked female flesh and continuous couplings loosely linked together by a rudimentary plot.  Instead, he emphasised the comedic and dramatic elements and focused on establishing his protagonists as characters.  Au Pair Girls also predates the first of the Confessions films, (which was also directed by Guest), which effectively set the template for subsequent British sex comedies.  Consequently, it doesn't follow what many casual viewers of such films might assume to be their standard 'formula'.

Rather than follow some hapless young bloke as he struggles with a new job, falling into bed with a series of beautiful women under the most unlikely of circumstances, Au Pair Girls is effectively a portmanteau film, following the hectic first day in England for four au pairs.  The four intercut stories vary tremendously in quality and tone.  Danish Randy (Gabrielle Drake), spends most of her day in a series of car-related escapades (which, obviously, result in her losing her clothes) as her new employer's son (Richard O'Sullivan) tries to drive her home.  Astrid Frank's Alita, from Sweden, causes chaos at the home of the straight-laced middle class, middle aged, couple she is supposed to be working for, with her penchant for unselfconciously stripping off.  On her first night out, after some misunderstandings at a casino, she ends up going home with Ferdy Mayne's wealthy sheik.  Whilst these tow strands are enjoyable comedic, (thanks in no small part to engaging and likeable performances from O'Sullivan and  Frank), the other two strands are somewhat darker and more melodramatic.  Me Me Lay's Chinese Au Pair Nan Lee finds herself staying at a remote gothic mansion, where she is expected to be the 'companion' to her employer's adult son, who has had virtually no contact with the outside world.  German girl Christina (Nancie Wait), finds herself with a suburban family and spends her first day being inducted into the 'swinging' pop scene by the household's teenage daughter.  Her night ends with a tryst with a pop singer.  To her disappointment, she soon realises that she is merely another groupie to him.

The emphasis upon the female characters and the darker, more dramatic, elements make an interesting contrast with later, more obviously male centered sex comedies.  Rather than present a parade of topless and horny beauties whose only purpose is to bed the hero, Au Pair Girls makes a largely successful attempt to give its female leads actual characters and presents them as being far more in control of their bodies and sexuality than many later films would.  Here it is the male characters who are mainly window dressing.  The closest thing to the typical Robin Askwith-type sexual blunderer in the film is Richard O'Sullivan's character, enchanted with, yet terrified of, Randy.  It's definitely the comedy elements which work best in Au Pair Girls and one can't help but feel that this influenced subsequent movies in the genre, which increasingly emphasised bawdy comedy over hard core sex.   The movie also establishes another staple of the British sex comedy: guest appearances from well known and highly respectable British actors, in this case Rosalie Crutchley and John Le Mesurier.  The latter, playing O'Sullivan's father, even gets to leer over his naked secretary, laid out on his desk, in a dream sequence.  He never got to do that in Dad's Army.  Maybe he thought it was all an hallucination brought on by all the funny fags he smoked.

All-in-all, with its insanely catchy theme tune, decent production values, assured direction and likeable performances, Au Pair Girls remains an enjoyable, if cliched, by today's standards, watch, providing the viewer with a vivid slice of seventies Britain.  A Britain, incidentally, which despite being 'free' of Europe, still seemed to be full of foreigners coming here to work...



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