Take An Easy Ride Review

Although it’s easy to be nostalgic about them, the truth is that most British sex films of the 1970s are terrible. Apart from occasional jewels like Martin Campbell’s Eskimo Nell, they tend to be characterised by stagy direction, indifferent acting and ugly cinematography. Take an Easy Ride, made by the auteur of Ups and Downs of a Handyman, is such a grubby, sordid piece of filmmaking that it fits beautifully into this general run of British soft-porn movies. It was, however, a massive hit at the box office, playing in Soho for nearly a year.

Take an Easy Ride begins like a public information film with a particularly salacious narrator – “At times you may wish the wife and kids were out of the way as you pass that miniskirt thumbing a lift...” – who assures us that the film is an opportunity for us to decide whether or not hitch-hiking should be banned. Some interviewees of dubious provenance discuss the various pitfalls associated with thumbing a lift and then we get into one of the main stories – although the film only last forty minutes, it tries to cram in as much plot as an average Trollope novel. A couple of teenage girls attend a nightclub which is remarkably similar to the one in Dracula A.D. 1972 - idle thoughts such as this help to pass the time – where they find out about a music festival taking place at the weekend. But how are they to get there? “We could always hitch” says one of the girls, sealing their fate with the inexorability of a teenager in a slasher film saying “I’ll be right back…” So hitch they do but they make the mistake of accepting a lift with a strange man wearing black giallo-style gloves who is, confusingly, played by the same actor who plays one of their dads. This whole section of the film is very peculiar indeed, coming across like a cross between a sit-com and Last House on the Left. “Ever tried this with your boyfriend?” says the driver, passing the girls a copy of a magazine charmingly entitled “The Prostitute”. It’s not long before our heroines are being attacked, one in a stream in a scene which oddly resembles the aforementioned Wes Craven movie. One of the girls is raped, the other goes blind. It’s all very tragic, or it might have been if I hadn’t been distracted by wondering where I’d seen Margaret Heald before – it turned out that she was in Confessions of a Pop Performer, mistaking Robin Askwith for Mick Jagger and shagging him in a giant horse costume, and Rosie Dixon Night Nurse.

The second plot strand features Suzanne, played by the uncredited Ina Skriver who went on to a glorious career of even worse soft-porn movies than this, including the memorably awful Cruel Passion. She addresses us with the come-on, “Oh yes, I used to hitch – but it’s not a pretty story”. Naturally, such a shy and retiring girl won’t accept a life with “just anyone” but surely she’ll be alright with Alan and Margaret, a middle-aged couple. To my mind, Alan’s sideburns and stay-prest polo shirt should have tipped her off but maybe that’s just me. Alan and Margaret take her to a restaurant decorated with bright red bricks and then suggest that they stay in a hotel. “I decided to take a bath” says our “I was very surprised when I was joined by Margaret!” she says and she’s even more surprised when Alan turns up in some black Marks and Sparks y-fronts and brandishing a camera. The threesome which develops is deliriously funny largely because no-one seems to have the slightest idea of what a threesome might actually look like. There’s some grinding, during which no erogenous zones seem to be touching, and an unpleasant view of Alan’s bottom complete with a glimpse of dangling testicle. “When I awoke, I was alone” says Suzanne – and what’s worse, she’s pregnant! An awful warning no doubt to any Swedish ladies in the audience but little more than a rather boring eyeful for the rest of us.

Meanwhile the third story presents itself wherein a hapless young motorist is terrorised by two scary young women who establish their criminal credentials by stealing from a transport café and buying drugs from someone who looks like Richard O’Sullivan. “We need a whole new scene, Lucy… a completely different trip” says one of the girls. It turns out that only an act of murder can satisfy them. “Hey is this a joke?” says the motorist just before his throat is slit. The moral here is that girls who steal money to buy drugs might end up killing you if you give them a lift and while this might possibly be a danger, it doesn’t seem the sort of thing that’s likely to give anyone a sleepless night.

In between the stories, the interviewees return, amongst whom my attention was caught by two drug-addled Dutch tourists telling their tedious travellers tales about hitch-hiking on the Welsh borders. A truck driver informs us sagely that “We don’t pick up hitch-hikers because they’re not insured”, advice one feels that might have saved C. Thomas Howell a lot of trouble back in 1985. The sleaze content of the film is slightly upped by a diversion involving two girls and a lorry driver who looks like the sleazier younger brother of Albert Steptoe, and some shots of a Soho strip club. Apart from some nudity and the hilarious threesome scene, there’s very little explicit material in the film at all. It’s the sheer tastelessness of the film which is quite shocking in retrospect – the fact that it makes no bones about presenting rape and murder as titillation. If the film was better made, it might be quite disturbing but it’s so amateurish that you’re kept at arm’s length throughout. Needless to say, it’s so lacking in anything resembling eroticism that your arm isn’t likely to be occupied at the time.

The Disc

Odeon’s release of Take an Easy Ride is quite good. The film is presented in a fullscreen format and the picture is clear and sharp, although there are numerous defects which presumably reflect the condition of the print being used for the transfer. It looks a bit washed out throughout. The mono soundtrack is more than adequate although the quality of the original recording seems to have been fairly poor.

The extras consist of the same trailers which have been on every recent Odeon release of a British sex comedy - Cool It Carol, Intimate Games, Spaced Out - and a couple of unexpected items. We get an interview with the director of the film, Kenneth Rowles, which runs just short of twenty minutes. Rowles is quite an engaging chap who talks about his love of British films, his background in cheapjack Edgar Wallace B-movies and his work in TV and cinema. Most surprising is his revelation that he has worked with Jean-Luc Godard. Least surprising is his discussion of the abysmal lack of adequate funding which was available to British filmmakers in the 1970s, resulting in most of the films being made on slightly less than a shoestring. I was particularly intrigued by his discussion of the untransmitted Go Girl pilot made for HTV, especially since the episode is included on the disc. It’s a story of good-time girls which stars Luan Peters and Francoise Pascal and it’s neither funny nor sexy but as a time-capsule of turn of the decade fashions, it’s quite diverting. Picture quality on this is good – it was made in 35MM and has been virtually unseen.

A brief but very informative booklet completes the package. No subtitles are provided.

The interest of Take an Easy Ride is now largely historical and lies in its usefulness as a good example of the sort of thing that a general sexploitation audience expected thirty five years ago. It’s a fairly poor film in itself but those who are keen on the genre of British sex films should definitely see it.

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