That Kind of Girl Review
The directorial debut of Gerry O'Hara, whose All the Right Noises was an unexpected highlight in the last wave of BFI Flipside titles, That Kind of Girl is, quite blatantly, a sex education drama given a dose of class by its filmmaker. There are numerous ways this could have turned out to be virtually unwatchable to modern viewers. Venereal disease on its own surely holds little entertainment value and even less novelty. The topic as presented here is preachy and filled with condescending adults who have little sympathy for the afflicted. Where the film rises above all that is the handling of the material. Though it's plagued by weak acting and a second half devoted to scaring young persons straight on the dangers of premarital sex, That Kind of Girl actually still registers its message to a real extent and stands now as a little peek into a different time.
That time would be the early 1960s, when an Austrian girl like Eva (Margaret-Rose Keil) could come to London, work as an au pair, and somehow manage to contract syphilis during her first ever sexual encounter only to then swiftly infect two young men, one of whom never even made it past first base with her. What luck. Murphy's Law seems to be in effect throughout, as nearly everything stems from a worst case scenario. When Eva meets Max (Frank Jarvis) at the beginning of the film, it seems like her biggest problem is either mastering the English language or fending off young guys no doubt attracted to the platinum blonde helmet she's sporting. Max is at least equally concerned with the disarmament of nuclear weapons, though that plot strand floats in the wind as mostly another way of grounding the film in its time. (Activism has also changed considerably since the time That Kind of Girl was made; now we protest the treatment of late night talk show hosts over here in the States.)
Even with Keil's terribly unconcerned line readings, it's clear that Eva has little interest in Max. She starts an anti-bomb march but bails on the poor fellow. (After she's unwittingly given him syphilis!) She's more intrigued by the older Elliot (Peter Burton), who creepily hangs out at a club occupied for the most part by much younger people. Here's our Mr. Syphilis. He takes Eva to a nice place for food and drink before a cabaret performer (read: stripper) does her act on stage. Are there still respectable places where couples sit at tables as a woman takes off her clothes to music nowadays? Seems necessarily like a thing of the past to me. Sort of like films that remind us of the dangers of sex with semi-strangers. Regardless, this Elliot, he's bad news. He's the type to give a girl syphilis and then go away for two weeks before hopping out of the bushes at night to assault her for seeing another guy. The film seems to imply that girls should probably not socialize with his ilk.
The ace in That Kind of Girl's hole is rich kid Keith, who gives a ride to Eva after she misses the bus. And while you can't get syphilis just from letting a pretty girl ride in your car, you certainly can from having follow-up sex with her a day or two later. Those are the breaks of venereal disease. Remember that kids. Unfortunately for Keith and even more so for his girl Janet (Linda Marlowe), the abstinence from premarital sex the two were practicing comes to an end just after he's rebelled with the newly infected Eva. Amazingly, not only does Janet contract syphilis from her first time she also gets pregnant. Again, the luck of some people. This takes the film into a different direction entirely. Even O'Hara's soft touch struggles to save scenes like a doctor mentally shaking his head in disgust as he recites the negative side effects of syphilis. The movie is mostly running on the fumes of the earlier narrative-driven portions by this point.
Luckily, it's well-made and even Keil's performance fits her character. Since Kay is out of her element as an Austrian in England she shouldn't be particularly articulate or, I guess, emotional. Keil isn't too convincing when she drops her head in shame and sadness at the police station but she's otherwise as sufficiently detached as you might expect from a young woman in a foreign land. The outsider aspect of the character serves her well. Only Linda Marlowe, as Janet, gives what might be considered a fully developed performance in the film. Her supporting turn, particularly the scene leading up to when she gives her virginity to Keith, has the sensitivity and gravity a picture like this requires in order to be taken seriously. You can tell even from All the Right Noises that O'Hara was a director entirely capable of handling such material, the type that could have easily descended into a more exploitative realm of nonsense. He shows early promise here, and the often nice addition of a jazz score credited to Malcolm Mitchell sets a very authentic mood, but I'm not sure That Kind of Girl goes much beyond its limitations. Despite being undoubtedly well done for what it is, the film will gather a lot of attention for being part of this BFI Flipside series when it's mostly a quaint and limited exercise in instructing the youths of Britain, particularly the unsuspecting girls, to exercise caution in their sexual escapades.
That Kind of Girl occupies spine number 008 in the BFI's continually exciting Flipside strand. A bright pink cover featuring star Margaret-Rose Keil does its part in catching the potential buyer's eye. The dual-layered disc is not region coded.
Despite having been released in 1963, the film is listed as having an original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, respected here by pillarboxing the image. The transfer was taken from an original 35mm finegrain positive and digitally remastered. The black and white contrast looks excellent. While detail can be inconsistent, scenes like when the lecherous Elliot is in a shadowy phone booth are impressive and sharp. A pleasing amount of grain has been left in the picture. Occasional speckles can be also be detected, as well as a few persistent tramline scratches that pop up vertically throughout the film and probably stand as the most significant drawback to the image. The lines have nonetheless been minimized significantly in the BFI's transfer.
The English PCM mono audio includes a fairly good jazz score that comes through the front speakers just fine. Most of the dialogue is likewise clear and easily understood but there are a few scenes, particularly at the doctor's office, when the track sounds a tad muffled and distant. Minor, infrequent instances of "loose synch," as the booklet calls it, also might be noticeable at times. I think I picked up on this happening in some of the outdoor scenes in particular. The optional English for the hearing impaired subtitles, white in color, should fill in any blanks the listener might have.
None of the special features contained on the disc are directly connected to That Kind of Girl but everything does complement the feature in some way. All of the extras are in high definition. "The People at No. 19" (18:13) is a stagy short film from 1949 that depicts the burden of syphilis on a young marriage. Those familiar with the BFI's The Joy of Sex Education DVD release last year might already have seen this one. The superb 1959 documentary short "No Place to Hide" (9:20) looks at anti-bomb protests and warns of the threat of nuclear armament. Similarly, "A Sunday in September" (28:00) has the clear focus of a 1961 civil disobedience protest against atomic weapons. And in a discussion centered mostly around the business side of British moviemaking in the 1960s, an interview (14:00) with Robert Hartford-Davis, the producer of That Kind of Girl, done for Bernard Braden's Now and Then project is also included. The audio tends to go up and down a little on that one.
As we've come to expect with the BFI and especially with the Flipside releases, a gem of a booklet, 32 pages in all, has also been included, with sufficiently retro poster art on the cover. It contains an essay on the film by Cathi Unsworth lasting 9 pages of text that mostly recounts the plot details before reminding readers that the problems depicted in the movie have only gotten worse for UK youths in the years since its release. Director Gerry O'Hara adds a fond but honest recollection of his first-time filmmaker memories. Nothing else in the booklet can really top that. Quick biographical write-ups of O'Hara and actress Linda Marlowe follow for a pair of pages each. The included short films are also briefly discussed, individually, across 4 pages.