Some Like It Sexy Review
Some Like It Sexy has gone by various names over the years. Initially released as the innocuously titled Come Back Peter in August of 1969, Donovan Winter’s feature subsequently saw re-cuts and re-issues as, amongst others, Afternoon Delight, The Importance of Being Sexy, Peter’s Pets, Seducer and, most commonly, Some Like It Sexy. By whichever title it should be fairly clear what we’re dealing with here - i.e., a relatively early example of the British sex film - but the name is important. That original 1969 release was almost as innocuous as its choice of moniker, running as it did to just 65 minutes in length and being somewhat tame in its sexual content. A continental version, which reached cinemas almost two years later, was created owing to complaints from some countries that Winter’s film simply wasn’t sexy enough. Body doubles were employed, equal opportunities nudity appeared (some of which the BBFC still label as “strong sex”) and the Collinson twins performed an incestuous encounter. This longer cut of the film, now entitled Some Like It Sexy, is the one that appears on this disc. It’s also seemingly making its first uncut appearance in the UK seeing as previous theatrical reissues and VHS editions all attracted the censor’s attentions.
Some Like It Sexy is the first of three Donovan Winter features being rescued from the vaults by Nucleus Films and treated to the uncut, remastered, widescreen treatment. Each of the films (the other two being Escort Girls from 1974 and 1976’s The Deadly Females) is also getting its international DVD premiere making this is a situation where the temptation to re-appraise Winter is high. He’s certainly one of the British film industry’s intriguing figures: a former actor who became a fiercely independent filmmaker once he stepped behind the camera - writing, directing, editing, occasionally composing and almost always producing for his own company, Donwin. His early works included the tough little ‘B’ movie crime flick The Trunk (1960), which earned itself a distribution deal with Columbia Pictures in the UK and the US, and his entry into the sex film market, 1961’s World Without Shame. The latter is now lost, but according to Simon Sheridan’s Keeping the British End Up was “more politically and ecologically minded than many contemporary nudies” and contained a plot revolving around “youngsters’ rejection of the establishment, commercialism and the threat of nuclear war”.
Such a description should demonstrate that Winter’s take on the saucy end of British cinema was far from conventional. World Without Shame no doubt satisfies the ‘nudist paradise’ remit courtesy of its main characters heading off to a deserted Mediterranean island for various clothes-free activities, but then it’s also trying to do something else. His next film similarly came from leftfield, a 40-minute black and white piece in which Winter’s camera heads off to the women’s toilets to record their candid (albeit scripted) discussions of men. Hampered with the long-winded title of A Penny for Your Thoughts or ‘Birds, Dolls & Scratch’ English Style, this intriguing little short finds a place on this disc’s extras. The BBFC description warns of “racist graffiti”, but the most surprising element is the curious balance between its overall hip-ness (The Animals and The Who on the soundtrack; dialogue peppered with the then-latest terms and phrases; cult-ish actresses putting in an appearance) and a frankness of tone that makes this more than a mere time capsule. Certainly, there’s an element of gimmickry involved (not to mention a latching onto more salacious ideas and concepts as a means of creating that initial sell), but once again Winter seems to be going for something slightly outside of the norm.
Armed with such a foreknowledge it’s safe to presume that Some Like It Sexy will not be your average British sex romp. It’s also worth noting that, having been made in 1969, this is also a film far removed from the comedic exploits of the Confessions and Adventures series that proved so influential in the seventies. At this point the British sex film was either part of the nudist cycle (Naked - As Nature Intended, et al) or something more serious as per Norman J. Warren’s Her Private Hell, Alastair Reid’s Baby Love or John Bown’s Monique. The popular image of Mary Millington or Robin Askwith appearing alongside slumming sitcom stars had yet to form and so Some Like It Sexy is a dramatic work as opposed to a comedy and also somewhat tawdry rather than bubbly. Moving slightly outside the remit of British saucy cinema, it is arguably closer to the likes of Alfie or Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush even if its succession of beddings is ultimately not that different from, say, The Ups and Downs of a Handyman or so many of that ilk which were to follow.
Yet whereas Alfie, for all his misogynist undertones, had Michael Caine’s charisma to keep him going and Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush’s teenage Jamie had youth on his side, Some Like It Sexy’s Peter, as played by Christopher Matthews, comes across as thoroughly dislikeable. We first meet him cruising the King’s Road in a E-type Jag complete with painted lips atop and below the number plate, eyeing up ‘the birds’ and eventually getting an au pair into his motor. What follows is an encounter entirely devoid of any genuine connection or chemistry: Matthews loiters in his towel, she struggles with the English language, but nonetheless they end up in the shower and, later, in bed. Subsequent scenes reveal Peter to be ridiculously vain (the modish pad and peacock clothing - all ruffled silk shirts, crushed velvet trousers and migraine-inducing colours), trying too hard (the very same reasons), racist (an encounter with a black singer prompts the line “You spades think you’re so superior.”) and entirely charmless. The latter is best demonstrated by his response when being asked if he wants a cup of tea by yet another woman: “Coffee. Instant. It’s quicker. Chop chop.” It’s a remark that’s topped off with a wink almost to camera as though we’re supposed to somehow agree and endorse his behaviour; a ‘matey’ link between lead character and audience which recalls Alfie but, fatally, produces the opposite result. Peter thinks he’s got a certain roguish charm, yet it reality he’s just an arse.
It’s an interesting move for Winter to create such an unlovable protagonist and I’ll admit that I spent much of Some Like It Sexy’s opening scenes wondering as to how intentional this was. Is Winter on Peter’s side? Is he simply being honest in his portrayal of the (then) modern man as he had attempted with the opposite sex in A Penny for Your Thoughts? Is he, in fact, even chasing the zeitgeist and trying to encapsulate such grand ideas? The tawdry edges would appear to concur with the honesty angle, but is this simply a side-effect of the low budget? Similarly, is the overall vacuous nature of the ’scene’ Some Like It Sexy depicts (the empty dialogue, the empty relationships, the empty everything) simply a side-effect of bad filmmaking? None of these is an easy question to answer, primarily because the evidence relating to each plays both for and against. Indeed, it is perhaps the less tempting to err on the side of caution given that the film is essentially a succession of male fantasies (the older married woman, the fashion model, the threesome with identical twins, etc.) and the occasional painfully ‘arty’ visual flourish: crash zooms, cross-cutting each of the women with a slab of meat in a butcher’s shop, and so on…
And yet Some Like It Sexy is one of those films which only falls into place during its final moments. It’s not so much a twist ending, more a reveal that makes it all the easier to get to grips with those questions posed above. Perhaps not fully, but then a little ambiguity is always a good thing. Of course to let onto exactly what that reveal is would be a major spoiler and, as such, this precludes me from discussing it in any depth. Suffice to say that the ultimate effect is to genuinely query the string of beddings that make up the narrative and the exact nature of its protagonist, arguably to the point where it becomes a commentary on both the whole British sex film genre and a more general look at the sexual attitudes of the time. Perhaps it isn’t quite enough to counteract all of the attitudes and rough edges we’ve witnessed over the preceding hour-and-a-bit, but there’s enough subversion there to prove really quite satisfying.
Nucleus have done a superb job in bringing Some Like It Sexy to disc, kicking off their Donovan Winter Collection with what is surely a definitive release. The film itself has been treated to a new transfer from the original 35mm negatives and has had its ‘continental’ footage incorporated to make what is surely the longest version yet seen in the UK. (Even the most recent BBFC classification saw over a minute’s worth of footage censored.) An opening title notes that storage conditions have resulted in some unavoidable - and non-correctable - water damage, plus there is some occasional instability to the image, but for the most part we are presented with no real issues. The level of detail is more than satisfactory as are the colour and contrast levels. We also get the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, anamorphically enhanced of course. The original mono soundtrack fares a little worse, with more overt signs of age courtesy of a pretty much continual background crackle, though no doubt such issues were inherent in the available materials. More importantly it is generally only perceptible during the quieter moments, which are rare given Some Like It Sexy’s wall-to-wall genre-leaping soundtrack. (For review purposes a single-layered DVD-R was supplied which demonstrated some compression artefacts during moments of heavy motion - generally whenever Winter went overboard with the crash zooms - though these shouldn’t be a problem with the pressed dual-layer discs.)
The special features are a weighty bunch with the obvious highlight being the two rare shorts Nucleus have managed to track down. The first is A Penny for Your Thoughts, the 1966 short from Winter already mentioned in the main review. The other is Halfway Inn, a 13-minute silent film from 1970 produced and directed by George Harrison Marks (Come Play With Me, Naked - As Nature Intended) and starring the Collinson twins. It’s no forgotten masterpiece - the plot revolves around the twins fooling a man into believing they are one girl, and sexually exhausting him in the process - but rather a fascinating artefact from a bygone age. Whilst Odeon have been releasing Harrison Marks’ best-known features onto disc, it’s great to see that his comparatively minor 8mm stag films are not being forgotten either. Both films were shot in black and white, come in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios and demonstrate the expected damage given their age and obscurity.
Elsewhere the disc provides a gallery of lobby cards, posters and productions, the original theatrical trailer (and by original I’m referring to the Come Back Peter cut of the film), and cross-promotional trailers for eleven other Nucleus releases. Also present, in PDF form, are Winter’s memoirs entitled The Winters of My Discontent, previously unpublished and said to be a work in progress. The check disc didn’t contain the PDFs, though I have no doubt that they will make for terrific reading and contain plenty of background information on both Some Like It Sexy and Winter’s career as a whole. Indeed, they should make up for the lack of any newly recorded interview footage or commentary track.
As a whole, a terrific package: a rare film receiving its worldwide DVD premiere - fully restored, uncut and in its original aspect ratio - programmed alongside a pair of equally rare short films and supplemented with further thoughtful extras. The film itself may not be perfect, but there’s no doubting the care and attention put into brining it to a wider audience.