Mike Sutton takes a look at Network’s dual-format release of this 1970s British caper movie.
There’s something comfortingly familiar about caper movies and particularly British caper movies. The latter tend to fall into three categories. The first are action-packed, light-hearted thrillers full of lovable rogues and cheeky chappies – see The Italian Job – while the second are rather grim tales of hard cases carving each other up and occasionally managing to find time steal something. The third type is my favourite however; the breed from the 1960s and 1970s where stiff-collared clubbable types decide that they deserve a slightly better deal from life and decide to ever so politely edge over the line into illegality. Perhaps the greatest of this sub-genre is Basil Dearden’s The League of Gentlemen with its perfect cast and witty script but I also have a fondness for Aram Avarkian’s underrated 11 Harrowhouse in which terminally ill James Mason decides to take his cold-bosses to the cleaners.
Peter Hall’s Perfect Friday belongs to this latter breed and it’s a diverting bit of nonsense which exists purely to entertain and show off its three stars: Stanley Baker, David Warner, and the divine Ursula Andress – who obeys Mike Sutton’s First Law Of Ursula Andress by spending much of the film in a state of undress. It rolls along pleasantly enough, the main problem not being that there isn’t a great deal of substance beneath the froth but that Hall has clearly realised this and decided to try and jazz things up with some nouvelle vague tricks which seem both dated and somewhat out of place.
Stanley Baker, one of my favourite actors, is on good form as Mr Graham, a deputy bank manager who realises the crushing boredom of his job at roughly the same time as he meets Britt (Andress), a flirty European who urgently needs some more money to spend on clothes – the irony being that she rarely bothers wearing them in the 93 minutes of the film. Britt is married to the Earl of Dorset (Warner) but barely thinks twice before starting an affair with Mr Graham – which is how she addresses him, even in bed. Mr Graham has a plan to steal a lot of money from his bank with the assistance of his two new acquaintances and it all eventually goes like clockwork. But all three of the concerned parties have been lying to each other and several double-crosses are being prepared just in time for the twist ending.
What Peter Hall and the screenwriters Scott Forbes and Anthony Greville Bell manage to do very well is evoke a sense of helpless tedium in the scenes set in Graham’s bank, a vast network of glass-fronted cages. Stanley Baker is very convincing as the buttoned-up executive who despises his golf-obsessed boss and the stultifying sense of routine is beautifully captured in the early scenes where he, then his colleague and finally his boss all arrive at work.
Contrasting with this ordered existence is the bohemian excess of the Earl of Dorset and his wife. David Warner has fun as the flamboyant earl who lies with his feet up in the House of Lords and gets most of the best lines – “You can’t possibly understand what an ordeal it is to wear clothes made by a stranger” he complains when Graham forces him into a ready-made three-piece suit. He’s perhaps a little arch in the opening scenes but it suits the character who is unapologetically unsympathetic. Meanwhile, Ursula Andress looks dazzling and acts with a delightful sense of comedy as the force of sexual nature erupting into the life of Mr Graham. The two wastrels are accompanied by a decrepit nanny played by the very funny Patience Collier who occasionally wanders in and steals a scene.
What’s slightly odd about the film is the distracting style employed by Peter Hall. He begins with a chopped up narrative relying on time displacement so you’re not sure who has met whom and when. Then he insists on inserting flash cuts into otherwise perfectly comprehensible scenes, seemingly in an effort to create an elliptical effect when it really isn’t needed. The extreme close-ups are sometimes very well handled but tend to jar. When he forgets about being tricksy, he does a perfectly respectable job and sometimes better than that. The heist scene towards the end is beautifully done and genuinely nail-biting.
Perfect Friday keeps threatening to be an absolute knockout and never quite makes it; it tends to dissolve in your mind as soon as you’ve watched it. But it does have an attractive comic spirit, some nice performances and enough cleverness to keep you watching.
Perfect Friday received a VHS release back in the 1980s and has been shown occasionally on television, but is now appearing on Blu-Ray and DVD for the first time.
The transfer is framed at a ratio of 1.66:1. It’s a solid, impressive job from original elements which aren’t always at their best, demonstrating some minor damage here and there. But the appearance of this, for the most part visually undistinguished, film is generally pleasing. Colours are somewhat muted but appear natural and there is light film grain throughout. Detail and contrast are both noticeably improved from the clips which appear elsewhere on the disc in the German trailer. The overall impression is one of a slight softness but this may well have been intentional on the part of the filmmakers wanting to give the film a sense of European lushness to go alongside the delectable Ms. Andress. Unfortunately, the result tends to be a lot of ever so slightly indistinct shots of Grosvenor Crescent.
Two soundtracks are offered in that variety of LPCM Stereo which is basically the mono spread over the front two channels. Both feature the English dialogue track but two different music scores are offered. One is an antic, slightly irritating composition and the other is more staid and classical. The latter gives the film a slightly more suspenseful and portentous feel. John Dankworth is credited as the composer but I’m not certain if he also wrote the alternative score.
The extras are confined to a German trailer, in average condition, and a stills gallery. PDF press materials are also available.
Network are to be congratulated on their continuing “British Film” range and this is an enjoyable addition to it; a minor but entertaining film well presented in a nice dual-format package.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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