The Pleasure Girls Review
Already, the BFI's Flipside series has had a tremendous impact on bringing attention to relatively obscure British films of the 1960s by issuing these always entertaining, if not quite masterpiece-level, pictures on both DVD and Blu-ray. Starting with spine number 10, the 1965 black and white feature The Pleasure Girls, the two formats have been merged into one release that includes both types of discs. The Pleasure Girls, written and directed by Flipside favorite Gerry O'Hara, features a young and somewhat wormy Ian McShane, as well as the unmistakably fractured mug of Klaus Kinski, but its focus is probably more on the ladies of the expectations-laced title who form the core of the picture.
The BFI has previously given attention to O'Hara's films All the Right Noises and That Kind of Girl and, when combined with The Pleasure Girls, I can assert that at least one new fan of the director has been made. I was particularly impressed by the former of those two earlier Flipside releases, and also thought that the latter, O'Hara's debut feature, was at least worthwhile. This newest addition to the line is noticeably superior to That Kind of Girl and stands on roughly the same plane as All the Right Noises. To be sure, these efforts are not without flaw but it's nonetheless easy to recognize how talented O'Hara was as a filmmaker stuck in semi-provocative dramas that revolved around sex. He was, in most every way, far more skilled than one might think based on the subject matter of these three Flipside efforts. A sincerity that avoids awkwardness and the typical contrivances of exploitation fare remains particularly impressive in these films. You can quickly spot how assured the filmmaking is by the frank but never lurid approach to each shot, scene, and plot point.
In addition to being the credited director on The Pleasure Girls, O'Hara also wrote it so the particulars are pretty much all on him for better or worse. Any picture that begins with an audibly disruptive rain storm gets my attention, as it's such an odd but beautiful and poetic way to get started. Both the title and the opening moments suggest that the action will revolve around a collection of young women who happen to share the same building. Newcomer Sally (Francesca Annis), fresh from the country, has just moved in and quickly meets her various neighbors, all of whom are friendly and, aside from one's brother (Tony Tanner), female. (Despite being rather obvious on impact, there's a "shocking" reveal of the brother's homosexuality that does stand out as being clearly of another time and yet handled respectfully enough.) The aforementioned male actors McShane and Kinski still, along with Mark Eden as Prinny, get plenty to do and possibly even make a stronger impact than their fairer, largely vacant counterparts. In particular, McShane is just great and has a nice, slimy screen presence that ends up being apparently far more sincere than initially imagined. Kinski, too, stands out as creepy but never quite so dangerous as one might think.
A party scene is staged early on that looks fun without sacrificing any of the subtext implying that, indeed, every straight male in the joint is there to bed one of these titular ladies. Where McShane's Keith becomes a little tough to figure is his initial failure to wrangle Sally and the subsequent, honest to goodness courting of her. The suspicion is that Keith is just playing things out until his conquest is finished but, as time keeps passing, it seems that either Keith has become immersed ever so deeper or maybe he's genuinely interested in Sally beyond exploring what's inside her pants. Either way, I like how O'Hara lets that journey roll along without giving in to any sort of expectation or dramatic necessity. Parallel subplots emerge successfully as ways to let the, frankly more developed, male characters share the spotlight with those enigmatic and lovely pleasure girls of the house situated at number 48.
This includes the very soft gangster portrayal of Kinski, who's both romancing Dee (Suzanna Leigh) and still technically a married man. O'Hara will, eventually, add a touch of poignant warning to such an endeavor by film's end. He effectively straddles the line between glamorizing this lifestyle and stripping it of any touch of envious delusion. The infusion of gangster elements does add some panache to the movie, as does a nice jazzy score. In sum, the director squeezes out a rather slick picture regardless of budgetary or other concerns. My only real qualm is with trying to figure out exactly what O'Hara's intentions are in presenting these watery sort of characters who all lack much spine and exhibit instincts as brittle as they are interchangeable. It feels like a stretch to consider The Pleasure Girls a full-on critique of the lifestyle. More likely is that it's a film comfortable with being diversionary while still offering something a cut above the usual swinging sixties fare. If so, mission accomplished.
Behold, the Dual-Format edition. It's here that the BFI christens a new policy of providing both DVD and Blu-ray varieties of a release inside the same package. Neither disc is region-coded. The outer shell looks very similar to what we've seen previously with the Comrades and Herostratus Blu-ray releases, only now with a transparent case rather than a blue one. The big problem, acknowledged by the BFI and assured to be eliminated in the next go-around, is the presence of a very sticky sticker on the top part of the plastic case rather than simply on the wrapper. It's seemingly impossible to remove cleanly, and remnants of paper and sticky artifacts most likely will remain when you first try to peel it off. Some sort of cleaning solution will be needed to fully get rid of this unfortunate stain.
Only a few light vertical scratches hold back the BFI's otherwise excellent presentation of The Pleasure Girls. It's presented in 1080p high definition on a region-free BD25 in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and looks outstanding. Detail and contrast are of such high quality that one could hardly imagine this movie ever being bested on a home viewing format. Black levels are rich and deep. Nothing in the way of unsightly noise or digital imperfections mar the release. Meanwhile, the DVD is dual-layered and PAL. It too has a marvelous image. The included booklet notes that this transfer came from a 35mm combined finegrain while the export version scenes originated with a 35mm combined dupe negative. The Blu-ray presents the alternative cut via seamless branching and utilizes both source materials.
The PCM mono track sounds lively and clean. Dialogue is fully understandable despite being measured against some instances of background party noise. I didn't hear anything at all that was alarming and the audio on the whole seems to have been reproduced as faithfully as possible. I wouldn't even know where to start with any serious complaints, and they'd likely seem ridiculously of the nitpicking variety anyway. English subtitles are available for the hearing impaired.
Extra features, in HD on the Blu-ray disc, consist of a pair of short films, the theatrical trailer, a booklet, and the option to see a longer, somewhat naughtier alternative cut done for export. The BD has the entire alternative cut available (86 mins.) while you can see just the sequences (12:50) that differ for this version on the DVD. This is a nice way of showing these variations since those who are simply curious can watch the DVD and see what was added for the export cut without viewing the entire feature again. From what I could tell, the differences mostly amount to some additional suggestiveness, borderline comical lashing of Klaus Kinski and, inevitably, breasts. The extra, though still mild, nudity seems to have upped this release's rating from a 12 (which is what the main feature was classified) to a 15.
"The Rocking Horse" (24:20) is a 1962 short that follows, with little dialogue, a young man with a pompadour - a "teddy boy" - across what resembles a one-night stand. It exhibits quite a bit of grain, also with scratches to the print, and is in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. I was a little more impressed with "The Meeting" (10:19), a short from 1964 that captures a brooding sense of mystery. The story of a young woman waiting around a train station ends with a notable and unexpected payoff. Its moody cinematography, swelling music and lack of dialogue unfortunately might remind the more cynical viewer of something like a perfume advertisement or even a parody of the more arty European films of the decade. If taken sincerely, the short can be rather moving and evocative. The print, shown in 1.33:1, has quite a few scratches but otherwise looks good.
The original theatrical trailer (2:17) for The Pleasure Girls uses the film's theme song and sells the picture (misleadingly, I'd say) as an exciting mixture of violence and partying.
Another of the BFI's lovely little booklets can be found inside the case. It runs 28 pages and includes an essay on the film by Sue Harper in which she applauds the strength shown by the female characters. She even argues that it can be interpreted as a "very radical film" in this regard. Gerry O'Hara contributes a four-page remembrance of his experience writing and directing The Pleasure Girls. He expresses a dislike for the theme song and, as with That Kind of Girl, an involuntary lack of involvement in the editing room. No mention, however, of a claim I read elsewhere that it was really Clive Donner who directed the majority of this movie. Two pages are then reserved in the booklet for a quick biographical sketch of O'Hara. The short film "The Rocking Horse" has a write-up that lasts for a couple of pages. It's followed by director Mamoun Hassan recalling his short film "The Meeting" across three pages. A neat bit of trivia found here is that Hassan shot "The Meeting" with pieces of 35mm film originally given to Kevin Brownlow by Stanley Kubrick. The rolls were unused ends from Dr. Strangelove!