Spanish Fly Review
At the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest an Irish singer by the name of Geraldine Branagan represented Luxembourg. Dropping the surname and singing in French, she placed fifth overall with Toi, a gentle little ballad co-written by Bill Martin and her future husband Phil Coulter. The pair were veterans of the contest, having previous penned Puppet on a String for Sandie Shaw and Congratulations for Cliff Richard, and EMI were sufficiently impressed that they released it as a single in the UK and Ireland a month before the competition. In fact, the label liked the trio so much that their services were called upon to supply a theme tune for the film division’s latest picture. Martin and Coulter had experience in this department too, having composed the titles ditty for Carry On Don’t Lose Your Head in 1966, and this latest project wouldn’t be all that different. Starring three-time Carry On cast member Leslie Phillips, Spanish Fly was to provide a similar slice of distinctly British sauce.
Geraldine’s song this time around was Fly Me, a chirpy, upbeat number that arguably sounds even more Eurovision than Toi. It’s an entirely fitting choice as there’s something of a Eurovision vibe to Spanish Fly too. Shot almost entirely on the Balearic Island of Menorca, making use of a continental supporting cast and sharing that cheeky, cheerful vibe, there’s an endearing naffness to proceedings. The crux of the plot relates to Terry-Thomas’ scheme to sell some local wine to a “rich, silly sucker”. Fully aware of its awfulness, he attempts to cover up the taste with a range of different ingredients and inadvertently creates an aphrodisiac. Meanwhile, his old public school chum Phillips, now an impotent underwear magnate, has just arrived on the island with a quartet of international models in order to shoot his latest advertising campaign. This being a seventies’ British sex comedy, it’s easy to predict the end results…
Spanish Fly was directed by Bob Kellett, a man best-known for bringing sitcoms to the big screen. He was responsible for all three of the feature-length Up Pompeii spin-offs, not to mention The Alf Garnett Saga (the second Till Death Do Us Part film) and Are You Being Served?, which relocated its ensemble cast to the fictional Costa Plonka for a holiday in Spain. Despite having been made two years later, the shared locale means it’s hard not to think of the Grace Brothers’ much-maligned cinematic outing during Spanish Fly’s earliest stages – we even get a quick appearance from Captain Peacock himself, Frank Thornton. Fortunately, any similarities end there and thoughts of that most notorious of sitcom movies very quickly fade.
The key difference between Spanish Fly and Kellett’s small screen spin-offs is the determination to use his Menorca locations as much as possible. Instead of the staginess that tends to typify most of his films we find a pleasing open-air sunniness that makes for all the difference. Indeed, it lends proceedings a genuinely exotic quality that was sorely lacking from the standard British sex comedy; the best Confessions from a Holiday Camp could muster up was a February-to-March shoot on Hayling Island, just off the south coast. The casting, too, points towards a less tawdry approach. The major part among the four models is played by Nadiuska, the German-born Sophia Loren lookalike who did plenty of Spanish softcore during the seventies and would later play Arnie’s mother in Conan the Barbarian. She’s backed by Sally Farmiloe (now much more famous for having been Jeffrey Archer’s mistress), Jaleh Haddah (making her one and only appearance in front of a camera) and Andrea Allan (who could count both Carry On and Playboy magazine as previous employers).
Of course, such exoticism is sharply counteracted by Phillips and Terry-Thomas doing their usual upper crust Brit routines. They’d been in the business for decades by this point (having already co-starred on three previous occasions, the earliest being in 1938 for Carol Reed’s Climbing High) and make it all look so effortless. Less senior cast members are upstaged seemingly by presence alone, while both the opening titles and the original poster – replicated on the DVD sleeve – position this as a case of “Leslie Phillips v Terry-Thomas”, which highlights the interplay. Further Britishness arrives in the form of future Crossroads regular Sue Lloyd and the lingerie designs of Janet Reger, by the mid-seventies an internationally recognised brand and quickly becoming a favourite with celebrities. It should go without saying that the latter is afforded plenty of screentime.
Indeed, Spanish Fly puts as much sauce into its scanty running time as it possibly can and we get all of the usual arse pinching, cavorting and cheekiness as you’d expect from a film of this vintage. It’s incredibly quaint to modern eyes, of course, but also somewhat charming too. Even if the storyline is entirely predictable (one of the writers would later inflict The Great British Striptease, hosted by Bernard Manning, onto UK cinemagoers so perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything less), there are enough winning qualities to make for a perfectly enjoyable 83 minutes. You may even find yourself whistling Geraldine’s theme tune for days afterwards.
Another recent arrival in Network’s ‘The British Film’ series, Spanish Fly is receiving its second DVD release in the UK following a release from Momentum in 2001. That disc was full frame and taken from a print that had been trimmed by the BBFC back in 1975. This new edition presents the film in a ratio of 1.78:1 (anamorphically enhanced) and would appear to be uncut judging by the running time. (Taking into account the 20-seconds StudioCanal logo, this new disc still runs for a touch longer than the previous one.) Presentation-wise, the image is in a mostly decent shape though there is a bit of light noise throughout. Colours are strong, contrast is excellent and clarity is perfectly acceptable. A full frame version is also included. The soundtrack, meanwhile, fares well with the original mono mix coping just fine with dialogue, Ron Goodwin’s score and Geraldine’s titles ditty. As has been the case with all films in the ‘British Film’ range so far, there are no optional subtitles, English or otherwise.
As well as the optional full frame presentation, the disc also presents a 55-minute audio suite of Fly Me and Goodwin’s compositions, the original theatrical trailer and a sizeable gallery of posters and production stills in both black and white and colour.