Alvin Purple/Alvin Rides Again Review

Alvin Purple (Graeme Blundell) is just an ordinary bloke, not drop-dead handsome or anything like that, but somehow women find him irresistible. Even in his teens schoolgirls chased after him and the headmaster’s wife had to “intervene”. His vow to the “sexless Seventies” lasted only as long as it took the girl downstairs to ask to borrow some sugar. He’s referred to a psychiatrist, Dr McBurney (George Whaley), who hires him out as a sex therapist for certain of his women clients. It’s not long before the whole sordid business lands Alvin in court…

After "Stork", producer/director Tim Burstall next made “The Child”, his well-regarded segment of the four-part feature Libido (other parts directed by John B. Murray and in their big-screen debuts, Fred Schepisi and David Baker). After this, Roadshow Entertainment were keen that the first production of the company they had co-founded, Hexagon, should be a sex comedy, to take advantage of the recently-established adults-only R rating. The result was Alvin Purple, based on a screenplay by Alan Hopgood. Graeme Blundell, who had played a leading role in Stork, played Alvin – a deliberate decision on Burstall’s part, to cast someone ordinary looking rather than a stud, like Jack Thompson say. The film was a huge success, and was the biggest-grossing Australian film of all time until overtaken by the rather more family-friendly Storm Boy in 1977. Critics loathed the film, and indeed some have never forgiven Burstall for it. It also gave him the reputation, amongst certain feminists, as the great sexist of Australian cinema.

Watching Alvin Purple thirty-two years later, it’s surprising how well the film plays. There’s a lack of the mean-spiritedness which makes much porn (soft or hard) such a depressing experience. Alvin’s “gift” is certainly not an unmixed blessing, but as he says at one point better that the woman obtain pleasure than neither of them. Graeme Blundell, who was and still is a fine character actor, became a star in the genre of Australian softcore sex comedies which followed. The makers of 1975’s Fantasm claimed that they had to shoot in America as they hadn’t been able to find any Australian actresses willing to disrobe…but that sounds like an excuse, given the considerable number of actresses (some quite distinguished) who bared all for Alvin two years earlier. If you accept the very silly premise (and its blatant male fantasy), Hopgood’s script is well written and often amusing, with a few well-aimed barbs at the psychiatric profession, and other early 70s fads. Burstall’s direction is deft, Robin Copping’s camerawork colourful, Brian Cadd’s title song catchy and the film zips along for at least two thirds of its length. It does begin to drag a little in the last half hour, with an over-extended courtroom sequence and a tiresome chase through the streets in which Alvin ends up naked.

Time has been kind to Alvin Purple, the film which, along with Stork, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and its sequel, kicked off the whole “ocker comedy” subgenre. Critically reviled as they might have been at the time, they were the first commercial successes of the Australian 70s film revival and they still entertain today. Just goes to show the difference a good director can make. That’s not to say there aren’t any absolutely dire ocker comedies – of course there are. Let’s move on to the sequel. Of course there had to be one. Unfortunately.

Alvin Rides Again (also known as Foreplay the Prequel) arrived in Australian cinemas a year almost to the day after its predecessor. In between whiles Burstall directed Petersen (which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow) and he handed the helm over to his two Hexagon partners, David Bilcock Jr and Robin Copping, the latter continuing as DP. Burstall produced, and he makes a cameo appearance in the dole office in the opening scene. Alan Hopgood’s screenplay was heavily rewritten by Burstall and Alan Finney.

For about half an hour, Alvin Rides Again follows the formula of the first film, with one seduction scene after another. Then a plot begins to emerge as American gangster Balls McGee comes into town…and guess what, he’s the dead spit of Alvin! (And he’s played by Graeme Blundell too.) When Balls gets too excited and expires while watching an episode of Skippy (don’t ask), Alvin is persuaded to take his place, and he finds himself in the middle of a war with a rival gang led by Fingers (Frank Thring, seemingly auditioning for Blofeld in a Bond movie) and his glamorous accomplice Boobs LaTouche (Chantal Contouri). (I did tell you not to ask.) There’s a murderous midget as well…
Of the eight films in the Hexagon Tribute Collection box set, this is one of two that Burstall did not direct, and the difference in ability does show. The pace is off throughout, which makes this short film seem much longer. Several scenes are clumsily handled, such as the seduction of Alvin at a truckstop by the owner’s wife (Abigail), hamfistedly intercut with the truck repairs outside. Also, the finale features some out of place gore effects. Alvin Rides Again is just about watchable, once, if you’re in a very uncritical frame of mind, but it simply isn’t very funny or very good. Alan Finney returns as Alvin’s best mate Spike, and many of the cast of Alvin Purple turn up again in different roles. There’s less sex and nudity in this film, which explains its lower OFLC rating. (It still earned an 18 certificate in the UK though.) It did well enough at the box office, but once was really enough. A short-lived TV series followed in 1976 and another sequel in 1984, Melvin, Son of Alvin. The film rating on this review is an average of 7 for Alvin Purple and 3 for Alvin Rides Again.

Alvin Purple and Alvin Rides Again is released in a two-disc set, which is available either separately or as part of the eight film set 70s Australian Cinema Classics: Hexagon Tribute Collection. Both discs are encoded for Region 4 only.

Both films are given anamorphic transfers in the ratio of 1.78:1 (not actually 1.85:1 as it says on the box). As they were shot in 35mm rather than 16mm as was Stork, there’s an instant jump in picture quality for that reason alone, and far less noticeable grain. The picture is sharp and colourful, with solid blacks. Some of the colours, noticeably the reds seem to be cranked up quite high, which does show off some hideous 70s interior décor and clothing. (A prize has to go to the combination of yellow cardigan, orange shirt and purple trousers Alvin wears in one scene.) There is some minor aliasing in places and some minor scratches, spots and reel-change marks. All in all, these transfers, without being fullscale restorations, are pretty good.

The soundtrack is available in the original mono (two-channel) and a pointless 5.1 remix which mostly plays through the centre speaker anyway. Alvin Purple has twelve chapter stops, its sequel fourteen.

The main extra on Alvin Purple is a featurette, Inside Alvin Purple, made for television (by a future film director, Brian Trenchard-Smith) at the time. It runs 48:02, though as the narrator indicates is meant to fill an hour-long slot. Every so often, we cut to Brian Cadd singing the title song and a title card comes up, cue for a commercial break. The programme is in colour – despite Australian TV being black and white only in 1973 – and is presented on this DVD in 4:3. It looks like it was sourced from a video copy as there are tracking errors now and again. It shows clips from the film (including some sequences not in it) and interviews Burstall, “Graham” Blundell and Penne Hackforth-Jones amongst others. The whole is a rather po-faced discussion on the new permissiveness in cinema and what this new film means in that context.

As with the other discs in the Hexagon box set, the bulk of the extras are made up from interviews. These are more extensive on Alvin Purple than they are on the sequel (24:35 and 8:05 respectively). The interviewees are Burstall, Blundell, Alan Finney, Alan Hopgood and Robin Copping on both, with Jacki Weaver and Ellie MacLure on the first film. The interview on the first film contains some rare footage from Two Thousand Weeks (seemingly sourced from a video copy) as Burstall discusses this arthouse film which was a total failure, in contrast to the far more lowbrow Alvin Purple which succeeded beyond anyone’s imaginings. There are the theatrical trailers for both films (3:32 and 3:40, both in 4:3), a biography and filmography of Tim Burstall, biographies of Blundell, Hopgood, Copping, and Finney on both discs and also David Bilcock on Alvin Rides Again. Finally, there are self-navigating stills galleries on each disc (3:47 and 3:35). Of British interest is a double-bill poster of Alvin Purple (which was cut by the BBFC) playing with Blazing Saddles.

On several of their DVDs, Roadshow have included a short film made by the Australian Film Television and Radio School. These appear on five of the eight discs in the Hexagon Collection. On Alvin Rides Again it’s a 2002 film called Six Days Straight, a comedy about a robbery which goes wrong. It runs 10:35 and is in non-anamorphic 1.85:1. The director is Michael Duignan.

Alvin Purple has worn well and is still entertaining more than three decades after its initial release. Less can be said for its sequel. Roadshow’s DVD package has a good picture and sound and some good extras – even more so if you count Alvin Rides Again (with its own extras) as a supplement to the first film. I can’t see many people wanting the sequel on its own. This is the only part of the Hexagon box which is available separately as I write this, so is worth considering if you don’t wish to invest in all eight films in the set.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 10:28:54

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