Written by: Christopher O’Neill on July 22nd, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: UK, July 1977
Director: Stanley Long
Writer: Michael Armstrong
Cast: Christopher Neil, Suzy Kendall, Harry H. Corbett, Liz Fraser, Ian Lavender
DVD released: June 2nd, 2008
Approximate running time: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Icon Home Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £19.99 (as part of the ADVENTURES box set)
Synopsis: With renowned private eye Judd Blake away on business, his lackluster assistant Bob West jumps at the chance to proving himself as an equally skilled detective. When a former model is blackmailed by a set of compromising photographs, the well meaning but inexperienced Bob takes on the case. With a list of eccentric suspects all set to inherit a fortune if the offending pictures should come to light, the naïve detective sets about uncovering the blackmailer but his investigation is continuously hampered by several sexy shenanigans. Bob soon finds himself in over his head as he tries to protect his client and solve the mystery.
After the box-office success of the first ADVENTURES installment, Stanley Long naturally wanted to follow it up with a sequel. Barry Evens turned down the offer to star in the second film, ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE, and was replaced by Christopher Neil. Although given an “introducing” credit, he was an actor who had made several prior film appearances, most notably THE SEX THIEF and THREE FOR THREE, as well being as a talented musician (he contributed the film’s theme song “Private Eye”). While Evans was a competent comic actor, Neil arguably gives a more likable performance as the bumbling private eye since he possesses a warmer screen presence.
PRIVATE EYE is a more polished effort than TAXI DRIVER: The budget is higher, the cast is larger, and there is a strong script from Michael Armstrong, a talented filmmaker in his own right who was also responsible for writing two of the best British sex comedies THE SEX THIEF and ESKIMO NELL. While the script’s ultimate purpose is to allow several bed-hoping opportunities, it benefits from having a detective story plot that adds the momentum lacking in the previous films’ slapdash narrative. Another positive factor is that Armstrong’s screenplay is playful with its humor by being laced with anachronistic touches that not only reference other films but also send up the whole sex comedy genre. “I’m Sally, I’m a housewife” one character tells Bob, before commenting that it’s “rather boring really, being a housewife”. Once inside her home, Sally (played wonderfully by Hilary Pitchard) reveals herself to be a suburban dominatrix brandishing a whip – “How about a bit of LAST TANGO IN PARIS?” she asks, “I’ve got loads of butter in the fridge!”
While Long’s direction lacks the drive that Martin Campbell brought to Armstrong’s above-mentioned screenplays, he still handles the material competently, and is aided by having the finest cast of British comedy actors of all three films. Diana Dors, Liz Fraser, and Ian Lavender all return from the first film, as does Angela Scoular who is unfortunately wasted in a brief cameo as another randy housewife. Adrienne Posta also makes a welcome reappearance and performs possibly the film’s highlight: A wonderful parody of Liza Minnelli in the musical number “Moroni with an E”. It is notably the final screen role for the beautiful Suzy Kendall (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) before she retired from acting. Harry H. Corbett, Jon Pertwee, Anna Quayle and Jonathan Adams (THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW) also join the cast this time around.
Icon Entertainment has released the ADVENTURES series together in a box set, and all three films have been digitally remastered to perfection. PRIVATE EYE looks much smoother than TAXI DRIVER, since it seems to have been shot on superior film stock. With minimal grain, the image is amazingly sharp, without a speck of dirt, print damage or even cigarette burns to indicate reel changes, suggesting that the original negative was used. It is correctly letterboxed at the theatrical ratio of 1:85:1 and anamorphic enhanced, looking better balanced than the open-matte transfers which were released on video and shown on Satellite TV in the UK.
Audio quality is equally pleasing, with the mono sound spruced up and sounding clean in Dolby Digital. Dialogue is clear and free of hiss, while the music, which consists of music from Neil and selections from the De Wolfe library, is nicely balanced.
The audio commentary with director Long is as enjoyable as the one he recorded for TAXI DRIVER. He reveals some amusing stories about the making of the film, including cost cutting techniques such as inviting a group of theatrical bookers on their lunch break to appear in a scene rather than hiring professional extras, and also the legal problems that the production faced when a wardrobe malfunction exposed one of Posta’s nipples. It is worth noting that Long does make a few factual errors, such as claiming Ian Lavender appeared in PLUMBER’S MATE as well as this film (it was actually TAXI DRIVER) and he misidentifies Milton Reid as “Henry Milton”. These minor faults aside, it is an enjoyable listen, but it is a pity that screenwriter Armstrong, who contributed fine commentaries for his own films THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR and MARK OF THE DEVIL, didn’t also appeared on the track, as I’m sure he could have added further antidotes to the proceedings.
There is a image gallery consisting of production photos and some poster images which can be navigated from the remote control, and trailers for all three ADVENTURES films. Presented fullscreen, the quality is not as good as the main feature and seem to have been masters from the same materials used for the UK video releases from over 20 years ago (the PRIVATE EYE trailer opens with the Stablelane video logo, who published all three films in 1986). That said, they have been cleaned up as much as possible and are perfectly acceptable. The review discs did not include the final packaging, although I believe KEEPING THE BRITISH END UP author Simon Sheridan contributed to a 16-page booklet about the series, and postcards representing each film’s original theatrical poster should also be included.
ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE is the best of the series and is served well by this excellent DVD presentation.