Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Cool it Carol (1970)

British exploitation legend Pete Walker's stab at a sex comedy, Cool it Carol is a surprisingly likeable slice of 'Swinging London' nostalgia, with engaging performances from all involved.   There's nothing hugely original in its plot - the film is a cautionary tale of two young people from the sticks going to London to try and fulfill their dreams, but finding sleaze and exploitation instead - but Cool it Carol more than makes up for that with the level of late sixties/early seventies detail it captures.  A pre Confessions Robin Askwith plays Joe, a village butcher's delivery boy who tries to impress teenage petrol pump attendant (and local beauty contest winner) Carol (Janet Lynn) by telling her that he's about to leave for the bright lights of London and a job as a salesman in a luxury car showroom. She takes him seriously and persuades her parents to allow her to accompany him to the Smoke for two weeks, to pursue her modelling ambitions.

Askwith's job is, of course, entirely imaginary and Lynn's modelling prospects stymied by the fact that she is too short to be a fashion model.  The inevitable downward spiral ensues, with Lynn becoming first a glamour model, doing nude shoots, before dabbling in prostitution to make ends meet.  Askwith, finding that getting a job in a top end showroom is all about who you know and who you went to school with rather than sales skill of automotive knowledge, first contemplate bank robbery, before unwittingly becoming Lynn's pimp.  This is the point at which the film suddenly veers away from comedy, into a darker and far more downbeat mood, with Lynn finding herself servicing five sad middle aged, middle class men in a night, for a fiver a time.  Realising that they've hit rock bottom, the pair contemplate returning home, but the arrival of the photos and money from Lynn's earlier photo shoot propels them back into the more glamourous world of clubs and minor celebrities, where Lynn is spotted by a porn producer, courted by fashion industry gurus' and sought after as an 'escort' for politicians and wealthy foreign businessmen, with Joe now acting as her manager rather than pimp.  Whilst this all pays much better than the earlier brush with prostitution and is far more glamourous, the pair quickly realise that it is just as emotionally and spiritually empty and decide to return to their former lives in the village.

As noted before, all pretty standard.  However, what lifts the film out of the ordinary is the sheer seediness with which Walker portrays this scenario.  When Joe and Carol arrive in London, they land in the absolute fag end of the 'Swinging Sixties', with any idealism supplanted by grasping and grubby profiteering, as various disreputable characters try to squeeze every last penny out of the the rapidly fading glamour of the era of  'peace and love'.   The contrast between Joe and Carol's initially rosy eyed view of the capital with the grimy reality is deftly handled by Walker, with their rapid decent into small scale vice portrayed in distinctly downbeat terms: Askwith is forced to awkwardly sit in the living room whilst Lynn audibly has sex with a punter in the bedroom of the punter's flat.  It gets worse as, the next night he is forced to sit on the sofa with a queue of punters as they await their 'turns' with Lynn.  For her part, Lynn engages unenthusiastically with her 'clients', in some of the least sexy sex scenes committed to film in a British sex comedy.  Indeed, none of the sex scenes are presented as glamourous or erotic, just full of embarrassed fumbling and sweaty gropings. 

Most of all, Cool it Carol gives us a portrait of a Britain long since gone, where London, far from being the sleek and shiny foreign owned metropolis of today, was tired and dirty, desperately trying to maintain a glamorous, yet shallow, facade.  It also makes one nostalgic for the days of old style petrol stations sat in the middle of nowhere, with rows of those noisy mechanical pumps, which were apparently made of tin, and bleak forecourts devoid of anything but the most basic of facilities.  The cast all give decent performances, with Askwith and Lynn engaging and likeable in the leads, (it's a real pity that Lynn, who imbues Carol with a combination of naivity and steely ambition, never seemed to go on to anything noteworthy in her subsequent acting career), and Jess Conrad memorable as an arrogant and amoral rich London playboy.  Walker is frequently denigrated as a directot by mainstream critics, yet in Cool it Carol he delivers a well crafted and entertaining hundred minutes or so of entertainment.  Very professionally made, despite a tiny budget, Cool it Carol reveals Walker as a solid commercial director, skilfully capturing the true seedy essence of a particular time and place.



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