The one happy family everyone is dying to meet in this horror black comedy from 1969, on DVD from Odeon.
Mumsy (Ursula Howells) – there’s no Daddy – lives with overgrown children Sonny (Howard Trevor) and Girly (Vanessa Howard) and their Nanny (Pat Heywood) in a large house. Their favourite pastime is to invite down and outs (anyone who wouldn’t be missed) into the house to play a series of elaborate games. If they don’t join in, they ‘re “sent to the angels”. One day Sonny and Girly meet a new friend (Michael Bryant) and his girlfriend (Imogen Hassall). During the course of their games, the girlfriend is accidentally killed and their new friend is taken into the house, where he begins to turn the tables on them…
Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (which became simply Girly for US release, was written by Brian Comport from a play, Happy Family by Maisie Mosco. The theatrical origins aren’t hard to work out: almost all of the action takes place in one house, or in its garden, with a principal cast of five, and there’s a distinct theatricality in the acting style. The film sets up its premise with what amounts to a prologue in which a “friend” is enticed into the household, played with and seemingly dispatched (with structurally awkward later consequences), before the New Friend (top-billed Michael Bryant) appears.
This is a pretty bizarre film, as much black comedy as it is horror, and about fifteen minutes of its very mannered tone and arch performances from the four family members – which include two obviously over-age “children” – will be enough for many people. It’s a black comedy that’s right on the edge of heavy-handed and excruciating, and Freddie Francis just about manages to avoid it tipping over. The horror elements aren’t gruesome – Francis implies rather than shows – which is one reason why this film which carried an X certificate on its cinema release is now a 15.
Especially with the abbreviated overseas title, much of the emphasis is on Vanessa Howard (who has a “and…as” billing in the opening credits, after the other four principals), who is in full school-uniformed, long-haired Lolita mode. Francis – who had left his previous career as a cinematographer, not to return until 1980, and was then directing full time – can’t seem to resist having his camera look up her very short skirt. Giving a much more naturalistic performance, Michael Bryant acts much of the rest of the cast off the screen. Prolific character actor – and Hammer stalwart – Michael Ripper turns up briefly as a zookeeper.
Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly was issued at a strange time for British cinema. The Swinging London boom in production was beginning to fade, and horror cinema was throwing up oddities like this. It shares a dysfunctional-family theme with Goodbye Gemini from the same year, which has also been released on DVD by Odeon. Though I’m not convinced it works very well at all, this film does have a cult following who will welcome its wider availability on DVD.
Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly is released by Odeon on a dual-layered DVD encoded for all regions.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced, with the opening credits sequence heavily windowboxed. (See the screengrab above.) The original ratio would have been either 1.75:1 or 1.85:1 most likely. A pretty much identical running time to that passed uncut by the BBFC in 1969 (101:47 then, 101:52 now), rings alarm bells. This transfer is unfortunately a standards conversion from NTSC, and effects such as combing and ghosting are quite evident, especially on a progressive-scan viewer such as my PC monitor. The colours have a dullish look, though some of this may be due to the original film – heightened colours, giving skin tones a reddish-orange hue, can be found in many films from the same era as this one.
The soundtrack is mono, and has been restored for this DVD. No complaints here: it’s clear and well balanced. There are no subtitles for the hard of hearing, which is as always a regrettable policy.
There are quite a few extras, but none of them are very substantial. First off is the theatrical trailer (1:59), part of which is played under the main menu. Next is a trailer with a Spanish voiceover though dialogue from the film is in the original English. This trailer calls the film Girly and gives some emphasis to Vanessa Howard who is “deliciosa”. Concluding the trailers is a thirty-second US TV spot. The first page of the extras menu concludes with a stills gallery (including poster designs as well as publicity photographs) and the first forty-seven seconds of the US version, identical apart from a Cinerama Releasing ident at the front and a Girly title card. This extract isn’t in 1.78:1 anamorphic and isn’t windowboxed like its equivalent on the main feature.
Also included are trailers for other Odeon DVD releases, continuing their line of British films from the Sixties and Seventies: the aforementioned Goodbye Gemini, Say Hello to Yesterday, The Asphyx, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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