wed 21/08/2019

DVD: French Dressing | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: French Dressing

DVD: French Dressing

Ken Russell's cinema debut is a misfiring, fascinating seaside sex comedy

Jim (James Booth) sweet-talks French sex-bomb Francoise Fayal (Austrian cult star Marisa Mell)

Ken Russell remained British cinema’s enfant terrible till his death in 2011, aged 84. Rather than fade into respectability, he retreated to amateur provocations filmed in his back garden, and returned to the dramatised documentaries on classical musicians which made his name for the BBC in the Sixties. His notoriety peaked with Women In Love’s nude male wrestling in 1969, the nude nuns and corrupt bigotry of 1971’s The Devils and his chat show assault on its critic Alexander Walker, and The Who’s Tommy (1975).

Russell’s decision not to direct Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday as his cinema debut in 1963, instead choosing the same screenwriters’ 1964 flop French Dressing, is part of his career’s apocrypha. This DVD debut reveals the latter as a seaside sex comedy hampered by thuddingly unfunny dialogue (despite script-doctoring by Till Death Us Do Part’s Johnny Speight). Its inadequate hero is deck-chair attendant Jim (James Booth), employed at what the trailer included here calls “an English resort to which no one resorts”. His luring of a sub-Bardot sex-bomb to the town for a film festival, aided by Alita Naughton’s perky American reporter for the local paper and Roy Kinnear, creaks when anyone opens their mouth.

Booth, a Zulu co-star of Michael Caine who hubristically turned down Alfie, is one of British cinema’s what-ifs? Here, the hulking actor mixes gauche romance from the Cliff Richard playbook with wistfulness hinting at Hancock. Like the talented clown Kinnear, the vividly natural Naughton (barely seen since this debut), and Russell’s combination of Carry On and modish Nouvelle Vague, the script defeats him. But in the last, less wordy reel, as French sex appeal brings liberated anarchy to the dozing English seaside (reported on by an enthusiastic Robert Robinson, pictured above), the director touches a purer cinema. Naughton’s final nude descent into the sea, watched in lashing rain by binocular-wielding dignitaries, combines sauciness with mythic poetry.

Booth, who hubristically turned down 'Alfie', is one of British cinema’s what-ifs?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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