Written by: Christopher O’Neill on July 22nd, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: UK, July, 1976
Director: Stanley Long
Writer: Suzanne Mercer (and Michael Armstrong – uncredited)
Cast: Barry Evans, Judy Geeson, Adrienne Posta, Robert Lindsey, Angela Scoular
DVD released: June 2nd, 2008
Approximate running time: 86 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18 (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: London – the seventies. Joe North likes the ladies and gets to meet a variety of them in his job as a taxi driver. From dizzy young birds and frustrated housewives, Joe fancies them all, and they take a fancy to Joe. If only things were smoother at home for the put-upon cabbie. With his nagging mother, thieving teenage brother, and the attentions of an overbearing girlfriend with ideas of marriage, Joe leaves the homestead and rents the spare room at his best mate’s flat. Meanwhile, he continues to find himself in an assortment of humorous sexual escapades until he accidentally becomes embroiled in a jewel heist that doesn’t quite go to plan.
Riding on the coattails of the successful CONFESSIONS films, Stanley Long’s ADVENTURES series proved to be hugely popular in their own right. The basic premise of the films – a working class chap finds himself in an assortment of saucy yet comedic situations – was a formula that may have been predictable, but was a continuous hit with audiences across the country. The first entry, ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER, had punters queuing around the block on its London release during the summer of 1976 and it become one of the year’s most profitable films at the UK box office – quite an achievement for an independently produced and distributed picture.
As with the majority of British 70s sex comedies, TAXI DRIVER essentially sold itself to a television audience by imitating the comic styles of popular sitcoms while offering the nudity only hinted at on the small screen. The script, written by Suzanne Mercer (GROUPIE GIRL) with additional work by Michael Armstrong (ESKIMO NELL), is simplistic in structure while its humor can often be bluntly obvious. However, while Long’s filmmaking style is straightforwardly efficient, it is also pleasantly laid back. He wisely gives his actors free reign to do their best with the material and it is this quality that ultimately makes the film good-natured entertainment.
Barry Evans was a familiar face from the TV series DOCTOR AT LARGE and his character of Joe North is essentially a bawdy variation of that role. The randy cabbie is presented as a smug skirt-chaser and the fresh-faced actor plays him with just the right amount of cockiness for an agreeable comic performance. TAXI DRIVER also has a great supporting cast including Adrienne Posta (who also sings the theme song “Cruising Casanova”) as Joe’s highly-strung girlfriend, an early appearance by Robert Lindsay as his friend Tom and Judy Geeson as Tom’s girlfriend Nikki. British comedy favorites Diana Dors, Liz Fraser, Ian Lavender, Stephen Lewis and Brian Wilde all make brief but welcome cameos.
Most of the nudity is left to the likes of genre regulars Anna Bergman (Ingmar’s daughter making her British debut here), Gloria Walker and Prudence Drage. Surprisingly, former Bond girl Angela Scoular (ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE) disrobes in one of the film’s most amusing moments in which a downtrodden accountant, who has unexpectedly arrived home early, fails to notice that Joe is lying underneath his wife in soapy bath water! Linda Hayden’s sister Jane also appears in one of her few film roles.
Given that TAXI DRIVER was a low-budget production (it cost £130,000), what is most commendable about the film is the assured use of locations. Much of it was shot around London with little, if any, official authorization and one gets the impression that many scenes were improvised throughout the shoot based on the limitations and opportunities each situation had to offer. On the audio commentary, Long points out that family members, friends, even complete strangers, appear in bit parts that are peppered throughout the film. With such guerrilla filmmaking tactics it is unsurprising that TAXI DRIVER is often scrappy in nature, but that’s part of its’ free-wheeling charm.
The ADVENTURES series are grittier than their studio-based CONFESSIONS rivals since they were filmed on-location, which has left many with the impression that the films were seedier than they really are. Despite this reputation, the ADVENTURES films are actually considerably tamer. While Long’s previous work consists mostly of such sexploitation pictures as THE WIFE SWAPPERS and NAUGHTY, the director shies away from gratuitous nudity and the films operate as comedies with some light salacious content, rather than as erotic films with a dash of humor (it is worth noting that while TAXI DRIVER was rated as ‘18’ on its original video release in the eighties, the British censor has lowered it to ‘15’ for this DVD edition).
Icon Entertainment has released the ADVENTURES series together in a box set, and all three films have been digitally remastered to stunning perfection. TAXI DRIVER looks grainier than the later entries (particularly in darker scenes) but this seems to be due to the original cinematography. The image is incredibly 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 aspect 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, consisting mostly of stock tracks from the De Wolfe library, is nicely balanced.
Each of the DVD’s contains an audio commentary with director Long and he seems most enthusiastic on the TAXI DRIVER track. It’s an enlightening listen for anyone interested in low-budget guerrilla filmmaking as he covers such ground as shooting on location, the hiring of the cast and the stresses of working with animals and children (both of which appear in the film). However, the commentary can occasionally be frustrating to anyone unfamiliar with the production of these pictures. For example, Long refers several times to Michael Armstrong as the scriptwriter, despite the fact that he is not attributed to writing it. Such minor issues aside, it’s a worthwhile and enjoyable listen.
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.
As British sex comedies go, ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER is an amusing film that makes a welcome appearance on DVD.