Written by: Christopher O’Neill on August 19th, 2010
Theatrical Release Dates: UK, 1965
Director: Gerry O’Hara
Writer: Gerry O’Hara
Cast: Francesca Annis, Ian McShane, Klaus Kinski, Mark Eden, Suzanna Leigh, Rosemary Nichols
DVD released: May 17th, 2010
Approximate running time: 82 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 15 (UK, rating due to extra features, the film itself is 12)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English (Hard-Of-Hearing)
DVD Release: BFI
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £19.99
The BFI have issued THE PLEASURE GIRLS in a special Dual Format Edition with the film presented on both BluRay and DVD in the same package. This review relates to the DVD version.
The trailer for THE PLEASURE GIRLS, which is included on the DVD as an extra, is a time-capsule of catchpenny 60s sensationalism that sums up the essence of the plot in this tabloid-style voiceover: Meet THE PLEASURE GIRLS, they came for the kicks, these bittersweet beauties of London’s bedsitter land…The big city offered adventure, romance, excitement…THE PLEASURE GIRLS – they take the kicks and the shocks of big city life in their stride…Ian McShane as a young photographer looking for a quick development. Francesca Annis as Sally, fresh and innocent. Two people with burning ambitions. In love with life and each other. For them, it’s a city of conquest…Klaus Kinski as the ruthless Nikko, he had money and enemies. Suzanna Leigh as Dee, did she love the money, or the man? (“If you’d like to buy me a sports car, or a mini”)…Mark Eden and Rosemary Nichols – Pleasure girl loves leisure boy and she’s courting disaster (“You realise what you were doing, don’t you? You were putting me on that gambling table, and you lost, and you lost me too!”).
Taking place over one eventful weekend in ‘Swinging Sixties’ London, THE PLEASURE GIRLS was written and directed by Gerry O’Hara (THAT KIND OF GIRL, THE BRUTE) for exploitation specialists Compton-Cameo. As the trailer illustrates above, the film was primarily aimed at a male audience but the female characterizations are well-rounded and ultimately come across as admirably independent individuals while the men are depicted as manipulative womanizers, gamblers or gangsters: Sally fails to be pressured into losing her virginity and gives Keith the ultimatum that he respects her decision or they no longer see each other. Dee relishes the glamor and excitement that her lover Nikko provides but eventually comes to the conclusion that she cannot bring herself to be with a married man. Marion is left pregnant by her wheeler-dealer boyfriend and would rather be a single mother than to get an abortion and be with someone who would do anything to get what he wants and not care who he hurts in the process. It is also interesting that the only wholly positive male character is Dee’s homosexual brother Paddy, whose sexuality is neither portrayed as caricature nor for any point or cause but simply as a way of life.
What is noteworthy about THE PLEASURE GIRLS is that there is just enough grit to make the film’s depiction of the time and place earthier than many of its contemporaries. O’Hara was a part of the Chelsea scene, he mingled with the likes of Mandy Rice-Davies (portrayed by Bridget Fonda in SCANDAL) and the notorious landlord Peter Rachman (who was known to menace his tenants for profit) and this insider knowledge helps immensely. While all references of Rice-Davies were excised early in the script stage (the Profumo affair was a subject too taboo for British filmmakers to approach for decades) the essence of that corrupt world is still evident where people are seduced by money and greed while the character of Nikko was clearly inspired by Rachman. Such qualities add a touch of realism to a screenplay packed with soap opera melodrama, but it is ultimately down to the cast to breath some credibility into THE PLEASURE GIRLS. Francesca Annis, Suzanna Leigh and Rosemary Nichols prove to be both attractive and credible actresses that carry the film well, each bringing their own levels of vulnerability and maturity to their roles. Ian McShane portrays the charming but scheming womanizer that he would continue to play throughout his career and Mark Eden is downright smarmy as a compulsive gambler. Klaus Kinski who was cast to give the film a sense of European sophistication plays Nikko with an air of arrogance.
Preserving the 1:66:1 aspect ratio, the film is presented windowboxed and is anamorphically enhanced. The quality of the film is stunning, with very little (if any) debris or damage and highlights the efficient camerawork by director of photography Michael Reed (DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS). The black and white imagery is strong and one wishes that other DVD companies had the resources of the BFI since they have done yet another fine job bringing an obscure low-budget British film to disc.
The original mono soundtrack is clear and free of hiss or crackle. The cringing but admittedly catchy theme tune by Three Quarters (which director O’Hara understandably loathes) never sounded so good.
There are four bonus features found on the DVD. “Export Version Scenes” runs 13 minutes and features footage that was shot for the overseas edition of the film. The differences are minimal, adding a few extra moments of then-salacious material to a handful of scenes, although the most notable difference is in a party scene where a model, who poses with a sheet covering her modesty in the British version, is topless here (the BluRay edition features the entire export version of the film as a bonus). There is also the aforementioned theatrical trailer.
One of the most welcome aspects of the BFI Flipside collection is the inclusion of forgotten British short films that otherwise would not get a commercial release on DVD. Accompanying THE PLEASURE GIRLS are two fine such examples of this: THE ROCKING HORSE from 1962 was funded by the BFI Experimental Film Fund and is a sombre tale of a rebellious teddy boy experiencing a one-night stand with a French artist. Clearly influenced by John Cassavetes’ SHADOWS, this 25-minute short is rich is atmosphere (the grainy on-location shooting of London at night is priceless) and, particularly in the final image of the teddy boy, stranded on a deserted city street with is motorcycle which he cannot start, lingers long in the mind. 1964’s THE MEETING is equally effective but less gritty and more dreamlike in its tale of a young woman’s romantic encounter with a man at a train station. Running 10 minutes, the film benefits from beautifully grainy black and white cinematography by Peter Suschitzky (a regular David Cronenberg collaborator) and is also a strong stand-alone bonus for the DVD.
Another worthwhile addition is a 26-page booklet, illustrated with stills and an informative essay from Sue Harper and recollections by Gerry O’Hara about the making of the film. There is also a biography on O’Hara and notes on THE ROCKING HORSE and THE MEETING (the latter written by the film’s director Mamoun Hassan). The BFI have done a wonderful job in preserving THE PLEASURE GIRLS and should be commended for their ongoing commitment to bringing forgotten British cinema to DVD.