Night, After Night, After Night (1969)
Tawdry, tasteless and hypocritical, Night, After Night, After Night is a cracking slice of British exploitation. Made at the fag end of the sixties by low budget schlock specialist Lindsay Shonteff (hiding behind his Lewis J Force pseudonym), the film is ostensibly hell bent on exposing the sleazy and distinctly seamy underbelly of the permissive society and the supposedly swinging sixties. It features a stellar, by the standards of low budget schockers, cast, including future Shonteff regulars Gilbert Wynne (Clegg) and Linda Marlowe (Big Zapper), Donald Sumpter (now a distinguished character actor, but then a regular in exploitation flicks) and Jack May (Nelson Gabriel in The Archers), in its tale of a modern day Jack the Ripper terrorising London. Red herrings proliferate as Wynne's police inspector attempts to find out who is murdering prostitutes and any other women he considers to have 'loose morals'. Three main suspects are dangled in front of the audience: sleazebag pick uo artist Donald Sumpter ('I bang every bird I meet'), authoritarian judge Jack May ('I have to suffer degradation, perversion and every other sickening thing in society!) and the judge's clerk, Terry Scully, ('I blame the women, walking around the streets half-naked. They ask for it!'), who furtively reads wank mags in his boss' chambers, even as the judge is sending down another prostitute.
Whilst Wynne's Inspector Rowan becomes fixated on Sumpter as his main suspect, it is quite obvious to the audience that the real culprit is May's increasingly sweaty and twitchy Judge Lomax, as he becomes ever more obsessed with punishing 'degenerates', particularly if they are sexually active women. Really, May's performance is a tour-de-force, as he rapidly disintegrates in the face of the increased degeneracy instigated by the permissive society (as he perceives it), shifting from respected, albeit somewhat bonkers, member of the judiciary to crazed killer. Before going out to claim his next victim, Lomax dons a black leather jacket and blonde wig, clawing and fondling pictures of naked women whilst whimpering and crying as a warm up for his subsequent depravities. It really is quite extraordinary. Just when you think his performance can't go any further over the top, May dons drag in order to evade the police after he is unmasked as the killer. When harassed by a homophobic thug during his flight, Lomax coolly slashes him across the face with a flick knife. A sex killer judge in drag slashimg a gay basher - now that's something you won't see outside of exploitation cinema!
The two red herrings, Sumpter and Scully, also give memorable performances, the former's hustler a loathsome character, a sneering hedonist who treats every woman encounters as his potential next conquest. As played by Scully, Lomax's clerk Carter is no less misogynistic than Sumpter, but lacks the confidence or character to actually seduce them, instead decrying their 'wanton sexuality' whilst slavering over pornography when he thinks his boss isn't looking. When the smut rags aren't enough, he decamps to possibly the shoddiest and most depressing strip club ever committed to film. But, although these two are slimy perverts, they at least aren't killers. True evil lies at the heart of the establishment, the film seems to be trying to say, whether it is transvestite judges carving up women or, on a lesser scale, Rowan's obsessive hounding of Sumpter, culminating in his wrongful arrest and near conviction for a series of crimes he didn't convict.
But, like many a cheap exploitation films, Night, After Night, After Night's sensibilities are somewhat confused. Is it trying to say that the 'permissive society' and female sexual freedom is the root cause of sleazy lotharios, furtive perverts and murderous judges? Or is it trying to say that it is women who are the victims of aggressive male sexuality and a patriachal establishment? It never seems quite sure. Moreover, for a film seemingly wanting to expose and condemn the deark side of the permissive society, it does seem to revel in copius displays of naked female flesh and various copulations. But that's one of the defining features of great exploitation: having your moral cake and eating it too.
Riddled with huge plot flaws, (most notably the fact that Rowan is allowed to continue leading the investigation even after his wife has apparently fallen victim to the killer he is seeking), and reliant on unlikely coincidence, (Sumpter has the misfortune to have Lomax presiding over his trial), Night, After Night, After Night remains a hugely entertaining piece of schlock, a wonderful antidote to all those 'Swinging London' films of the era. Shonteff, as ever, keeps it all moving at a sufficient pace to maintain suspension of disbelief whilst the film is running. He also succeeds in creating a an atmosphere of sleaze and seediness, with 'swinging' London looking tired, dirty and downbeat. Like I said at the start, this is an absolute cracker of an exploitation movie. Don't misunderstand me - there's nothing classy about it and nobody is ever going to hail it as a lost cinematic masterpiece, but it does everything this sort of film is meant to do. Plus, if not exactly inspired, Shonteff's direction is solid and effective, delivering the goods.
Labels: Forgotten Films