Come Play With Me (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros review the 'Porn With the Wind' of 70s British sex comedies...
Things were changing in the fateful year of 1977—the global cinematic landscape was about to be forever transmogrified by the release of Star Wars, but a significant development was to occur within the UK adult film industry. That year also saw the last of the four official Confessions movies being dumped onto wary cinemagoers and with the advent of US films such as Deep Throat and The Devil Within Her, the steady diet of British adult films that contained the usual mix of comedy, nudity and very little sex was starting to seem awfully quaint. Hell, that very same Robin Askwith epic had its title Americanised to Confessions of a Summer Camp Counsellor when it finally limped out Stateside.
As if to signify the end of this era, adult magazine magnate David Sullivan teamed up with nudie photographer and filmmaker George Harrison-Marks to make what many regard as the ne plus ultra of the British adult sex comedy— Come Play With Me.
The movie opens with deeply ironic proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The government is trying to prevent a financial disaster. In spite of the deep recession ushered in at the hands of Labour, the source of economic instability here comes from a gang of forgers, but when the (unnamed) Red Menace is ruled out and the source is traced to UK, the Minster calls for a crack team to be put on the job.
The nefarious forgers turn out to be the benign paring of Cornelius Clapworthy (George Harrison-Marks) and Kelly (Alfie Bass), two social misfits who have created some almost flawless plates for printing £50 notes, producing virtually indistinguishable currency which has the government worried. They make the mistake of crossing mobsters Slasher (Ronald Frasier) and Blitt (Tommy Godfrey), and flee to the country to hide out. Stopping off at a luxury heath spa, things go swimmingly until the arrival of a bevy of gorgeous girls who decide to make some money on the side by spicing up the personal services offered there. With the mob and government agents out to get them, not to mention the exhausting attentions of more girls than they can cope with, things aren’t going to be a relaxing stay!
There is no doubt that those behind Come Play With Me were bent on attempting to make a cinematic evening at a burlesque house, with a gaggle of attractive young women in various states of undress, a musical number and an entertainer all adding to this the feeling of a night out at an adult music-hall. With the UK adult film industry realising that it’s day were effectively numbered with the influx American movies containing hardcore pornography, not to mention the advent of home video on the horizon, it’s as though the producers of this film were determined to pull out all the stops and go out with a bang by incorporating all the elements that more senior members of the Dirty Mac Brigade used to enjoy in their younger years.
Among the disparate plot element is some Watergate-style espionage, with covert meetings and unnamed agents operating on both sides. This is typical of Come Play With Me’s ambitions of being a sex film relevant to the time it was made, hoping to transform the British smut-flick into something chic, presumably emboldened by the global, genre-redefining success of Deep Throat. Those who have seen more than their fair share of these movies will know that most of the better-produced sex films have subtext written into their scripts, if just to give their frustrated writers something to keep their interest, and a good chunk of the fun watching them is to pick out these elements, and Come Play With Me is no exception to this rule. The whole enterprise is rather like a naked version of beloved ITV game-show 321, where baffling, mind-scrambling stuff is interspersed with broad comedy and quaint, superfluous musical numbers—sadly ‘The Lovely Caroline’ was not on-hand to get her kit off and join in the fun.
Come Play With Me has it all. Comedy! Dirty nurses!! Lesbian action!!! Musical numbers??? There was no doubt that the poster of the movie was one to get ’em packing out auditoriums, which it certainly did at Soho’s Moulin Cinema, where it played continuously from its release until 1981! That it was the alpha and omega of its own sub-genre, not to mention the final call for the UK sex movie, elevates it to a status few other films from the decade can lay claim to.
With the significance George Harrison-Marks’ film had for the UK sex industry, you can‘t help but pick out a very telling line of dialogue from one of the girls. Realising that they are onto a nice little earner through their sexual services at the health resort, they try to avoid alerting one of the more undesirable elements to their activities, pointing out that: ‘…we don’t want to kill the golden goose, now do we?’ Ironic stuff, considering that Come Play With Me was the culmination of the genre, with only a swift, downhill trend to follow. But it’s a memorable ride, and one which should be seen to keep the genre alive—as much as certain parties would like to salt the earth where it lay.
The movie was sold (before and especially after her death) as Mary Millington’s film, and when she makes her first appearance she literally lights up the screen, to the point where she compels us to resort to the previous tired cliché as a description. She sits on a coach among a bevy of 70s totty, culled from the pages of adult magazines, but it’s Millington to whom your eyes are immediately drawn. She is everything David Sullivan saw in her, exuding an effortless sensuality which would have propelled her to international stardom, and puts her premature death into depressing focus. It was a crying shame that she seemed to freeze like the quintessential rabbit-in-the-headlights whenever a camera was pointed at her—there are scenes where she blinks profusely before delivering a line, almost as though she was signalling her distress via Morse code.
Speaking of the cast, the opening credits read like who’s who of British talent, and anyone watching must have wondered exactly how the hell all of them could have been persuaded to appear in what is essentially a sex-film. One has to wonder just how many of the more respectable thespians were aware of just what they were getting into. The scenes with the established stars are comparatively tame and come across as no more raunchy than the average episode of The Benny Hill Show—it has been said that quite a bit of additional filming occurred in order to beef up the nudity and sexual content, with Millington being brought back into film some of this material, which increased her prominence in the film considerably.
She’s part of the medical staff at the spa, the type of women who feature in the fervent dreams of every patient who has spent time on a stroke-ward. Those with a fetish for our ladies in white are well catered for, as they disrobe at the drop of a hat, and rigidly enforce the heath regime in spite of their patient’s protestations. With the influx of Asians into Britain at the time something of a political hot-potato, the subject is addressed here in the form of one of the nurses being Indian, which might not seem like much today, but was a pretty brave thing to do back then. OK, so you can (very) easily argue that she was put in there to give an exotic flavour, or to appeal to those with a yen for foreign women, but with some of the other socio-political elements in the mix, it can be seen more than merely literary masturbation. Nevertheless, these nurses put the ‘stroke’ in stroke-ward.
Having said that, when watching some of the Planet of the Apes movies (specifically Beneath and Conquest) to save money and effort when it came to crowd shots, some of the extras in the background were given ape masks instead of makeup-jobs. These ones stick out like a sore thumb, and the same thing applies to scenes in Come Play With Me which require a large group of the scantily-clad women. The Whitehouse/Playbirds-pin-up types are placed firmly in the foreground, but if you look towards the back, there are some women whom David Sullivan wouldn’t even let through the door. It’s worth pointing out that Ronald Frasier is heard to say ‘She’d be better off with a bleedin’ saddle on…’
The biggest laugh (for us) comes when the action switches to Brighton , with our plucky government investigator, Podsnap (Ken Parry), dressing as a woman in order to find the forged paper-trail—well, it wouldn‘t be traditional British comedy with some transvestism, now would it? He attracts the unwelcome attentions of a couple of queer-bashing yobs, and tries to lose them by hiding in the crowd at an outdoor entertainer. Interrupting his act, he tries to bring them to book, and is met by a vicious shot of ‘bollocks!!!’, meekly replying ‘Oh charming! Well, there’s no answer to that!’ It might not sound like much, but it’s pretty damn funny.
Though this scene is amusing, this whole sub-plot with Parry trying to track down the forgers is completely redundant and almost feels as though it’s from a different film entirely—in reality, it was merely padding to bolster the running time. At one point, Parry enters a fortune-teller’s tent on Brighton pier and has his fortune told by veteran character actress Rita ‘has anyone seen my Fanny?’ Webb, during which a parrot is sitting above him and predictably defecates on him during the scene. No doubt in the hardcore version, Webb would have been the one taking a dump, but on a glass coffee table. OK, maybe not. Still awake? Just testing.
Coming a close second is the riotous instance of an American guest whom gets the personal attentions of a masseur, providing a moment of hilarity, as his deep, honking tones give you perfect insight into how Mr Magoo would sound when having sex. Possibly too much masturbation caused Magoo to become so ridiculously myopic in the first place.
Those who keep up with political machinations will get an unintended laugh from one particular line of dialogue, as our hapless forgers scrabble to prevent their identities from being discovered, claiming they are government officials. Whilst Harrison-Marks passes himself off as a detective, he introduces his associate as ‘…none-other than the Doctor Kelly’. It’s no wonder that he is trying to avoid falling into the clutches of the Labour government! Come Play With Me was over thirty years before getting the release treatment it deserved, but we’ll have to wait longer for the other Dr Kelly stuff to get a proper release…
If there is one conversation point which keeps coming up about Come Play With Me, it has to be that of the rumoured hardcore version purportedly filmed at the same time. While the movie is noted for being the rigid reed against the gale of hardcore, Sullivan and Harrison-Marks didn’t have their heads buried in the sand as everybody thought. Sure, we have all seen the photos from the various adverts and photosets which were printed throughout the 80s in dirty books, showing much spicier content than in the final film, but most thought that they were just quick snaps produced as lobby-cards to lure the punters in.
Well, as detailed in the booklet which accompanies this set, the answer is ‘yes’, said material was filmed. It was intended for the German market, with four key sequences featuring actual penetration. They even managed to persuade some of the thespians to appear in the uncensored stuff, a world away from merely using body-doubles for close-ups. Sadly, this version is lost to time, and didn’t see the light of a projector bulb, even in the German market for which it was made. It’s a shame, because it might made good on the infamous gambit made during an Equity visit, where the rep was told that Alfie Bass was about to ‘f**k the arse of Irene Handle…’.
Interestingly, in something purported to be the teaser trailer for the movie, there is a rather rough-looking shot which doesn’t seem to be from the final film. It shows Derek Aylward about to get frisky with one of the girls. Nothing unusual about that, but as Alyward was one of thespians mentioned above who participated in the hardcore shoot, it is likely that this brief piece is from the mythical German cut of Come Play With Me.
There really isn’t much of a plot to the movie: our friendly forgers go on the run with the mob in pursuit, hole up in the health spa, the girls start having copious sex (with boys and themselves!) the mob track them down and our guys try to get away. That’s it. It hardly sounds like the makings of a landmark (or footnote, at least) in British cinema, but there is such a warm nostalgia generated that you could almost appoint a copy of the disc as a goodwill ambassador to the UN. Come Play With Me is a movie which was designed to bring together recognisable actors in a respectable/professional adult movie for the masses, so with that at the heart of the film, how do the thespians pan out?
Making the biggest impact has to be Tommy Godfrey. This particular Love Thy Neighbour stalwart is his usual, reliable self, stretching to bring us a gruff, loveable Cockney. They guy made a good living out of his single character, and we respectfully doff our caps to the man who is so likable that he gets away with it every time. It’s not often as guy like him gets the chance to have the personal attention of cracking pieces of crackling, so when the tits start rubbing all over him, we respond with a resounding ‘fill your boots, son!’ In Come Play With Me, Godfrey gets to stroke more pussy than his cat-loving landlord in From Beyond the Grave and we should mention that although he can occasionally come across as nervous and flustered in his delivery, he exhibits a wonderful example of phone-acting during one of the early scenes in this film.
In contrast producer/director/smut-pedaler George Harrison-Marks being fairly weak as one of the lead characters. Harrison-Marks was obviously more comfortable behind a camera, rather than in front of it, as his interesting mixture of shameless mugging and frequent flat delivery of dialogue confirms. It didn’t help matters that he wears a syrup that look like it was pinched from Kenneth Connor’s trailer during production on Carry On Cleo and having fake comedy teeth that was around nearly two decades before Mike Myers made them fleetingly fashionable as Austin Powers. Matters aren’t helped when his co-star just happened to be an old pro and showed up his inexperience in practically every scene, not to mention having flesh tones the distracting hue of a baboon’s arse. Still, it obviously helped to save a few quid on the actor’s fees by casting himself.
Thankfully, he’s ably backed up by Alfie Bass, who typifies the very term ‘professional’. With the exception of playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Bass tends to keep to one character when doing comedy, wheeling it out whenever he’s signed up to do something. Dr Kelly/Harry Goldberg—oy vey, much of a muchness! This really isn’t a problem, as he’s so reliable that he brings a touch of class to whatever project he’s drafted into. Bass is solid here, and even more impressive when you note that he has been rather blunt about his disappointment at being involved with the movie.
Veteran character actor (and possessor of one of the world’s most distinctive gravelly voices) Valentine Dyall puts in a one-scene appearance just after the opening credits in the form of a Sheik who is concerned about counterfeit currency flooding into the UK, given the nature of the material, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if his character was named Sheik Jawillie. Dyall probably gave deep thought to either doing this and paying the gas bill or not doing this and cooking by candlelight, though he more than likely ignored the advice from his agent, who probably told him to ‘keep his distance’ from the project (geddit?)
Aficionados of the British sex film will be heartened to find that Sue Longhurst is present and correct, presumably signing on at the Omega of the genre to collect her long-service award. She’s always a real tonic to see her in one of these, and she turns in one of her most relaxed, polished performances. OK, Meryl Streep won’t have anything to worry about, but she blows most of her contemporaries away—no pun intended…
We’ve written on this site before about our affection for Michael Balfour, and it’s out pleasure to report that he plays yet another seedy character to perfection. Here he is Luigi, the shady waiter at Godfrey and Frasier’s sex show, employing some of oldest tricks in the book in these establishments, popping his finger in his mouth to fool a punter that the cheap wine he’s ordered is champagne. Amazing, isn’t it? Ten years down the line, and the same scurrilous practices depicted in London in the Raw were still alive and well.
The aforementioned Man of Violence baddie Derek Aylward gets the chance to spend another movie wandering around in a dressing gown, but here has the opportunity to get it on with a woman and get paid for it, when such birds would ordinarily put their flags down before going anywhere near a guy of his advancing years. Looks like his appearance in the hardcore footage sealed the deal on this one!
As heavies go, they don’t come much heavier than Milton Reid, a familiar face to those who have seen their fair share of British movies from the 70s. Handling the arse-kicking side of Frasier’s organisation, Reid cuts an imposing figure, almost the very definition of barrel-chested, suggesting he’s swallowed a piano at some point. The same year he played a monosyllabic Bond villain in The Spy Who Loved Me, opposite Richard Kiel. He was the one hanging off of a building, clutching at ol’ Rog’s tie as Bond disrupts his grip and sends him to his death, followed by the pithy line of: ‘…what a helpful chap!’
Whovians will be either delighted or annoyed to find that our shady contact of the government is none other than Talfryn Thomas, better known as that creepy Taff with the goofy teeth from two Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who stories, those being Spearhead from Space and The Green Death.
Special mention must go to actor Howard Nelson—Nelson is probably best remembered as Harry Hernia in the risible Carry On Emmannuelle (though he was dubbed by Kenneth Connor); Howard's career was short but memorable—in Come Play With Me, the powerfully-built muscle-man plays a resident at the health farm who is given an intense rub-down by Mary Millington before having a rubber tube inserted into his rectum without any sign of lube. Howard ‘Vanderhorn’ Nelson died in 2007, but his passing was only recently made public after a fan tracked down the information. The colonic irrigation scene is arguably one of the most remembered pieces in Come Play With Me, and Nelson's place in British cult cinema is assured.
Just when you think that you have seen the entire roll-call of British comedy character actors, along comes Bob Todd in the closing minutes, playing a vicar with distinctly Alec Guinness tones. The Benny Hill cast of players in this film is bolstered by an appearance by Henry McGee as the Deputy Prime Minister—all they needed was Jackie Wright in this to slap on the head and they’d have had all three.
Though populated by all these familiar faces from the world of British cinema and television, their professionalism is frequently undermined by the fact that most of them appear to trip up on their lines during a scene. This is probably due to the budgetary restrictions and Harrison-Marks only allowing for one take—even the greatest of performer have their occasional fluffs in front of the camera, but if there wasn’t enough time and/or enough money to allow for multiple takes, then this is going to show at some point. A prime example is a scene where two old pros Alfie Bass and Irene Handle exchange dialogue and Bass accidentally treads on Handle’s line, causing her to have to repeat her dialogue—this was a little careless from acting standpoint, but unforgivable in terms of allowing it to be used as the definitive take included in the finished film.
In spite of such glaring directorial problems, the most troubling scene in the movie has nothing to do with the writing or execution, but through a peculiar combination of fluke elements. Bass and Harrison Marks are sitting in bed together, with the hairier of the two reading an issue of Whitehouse (sporting Mary Millington on the cover). Nothing wrong there, as Morecambe and Wise made a decent living sharing a duvet cover, but on the back of the mag are the words ‘Films to shock you’, alongside a huge Swastika. OK, this is merely unfortunate, but when you consider that the Jewish Bass is sporting a Hitler-moustache, it all becomes a little distasteful. The scene is mitigated by the inclusion of a fart gag at the end, but it’s not enough to take the edge off.
Harrison-Marks was noted for his interest in the fetish side of the sex business, and the film includes a sequence where one of the resort’s girls dresses in bondage gear and gets it on with one of the guests. OK, this was another cynical attempt to give the movie a little more saleability in the market, but that’s fine with us! Where are we going with this? Well, the girl in question looks fabulous, has a talented tongue—which wouldn’t look out of place on a Basset Hound—but sports a most curious accent, with our linguistic GPS putting at New York via Plymouth. It’s almost as bad as the accent that poor black actress was dubbed with in Confessions From a Holiday Camp.
Noting that some of the movie was filmed at Bushy Studios gave us a wave of nostalgia, as we went to the improbably-named area outside London for our costume fitting on Hot Fuzz as it was shooting there. It is closer to our hearts still more for being the base of the Quota Quickies, which our beloved Butchers’ movies were a part of. (Beg, borrow or steal Cover-Girl Killer or Naked Fury, btw…)
Anyway, we’ve long been devotees of smut, which has more value than hardcore. The later overplays its value, an opinion we’ve had ever since early exposure to issues of Color Climax and the like, which would run very po-faced articles entitled ‘Great Moments in Porno’, which depicted the monumental event of Johnny Holmes penetrating Seka from behind, and other such aggrandising of fleeting instances. By its own censorial restrictions, soft-core smut has more opportunities for entertainment, having to broaden its appeal to bring the punters in. Hardcore is hardcore, with a movie watched and spent as singularly unappealing as a skin-mag with the pages stuck together. With humour, titillation, characters, a basic plot and recognisable actors, there are more strings to their bow, and have a replay value hardcore can’t compete with.
With that in mind, it’s when the end credits roll that it really hits you how Come Play With Me was the beginning of a swift end for the British sex movie. OK, so the inclusion of Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions on this disc is proof that it didn’t die out immediately, but crap like Emmanuelle in Soho seemed like equine sadism and necrophilia as this particular horse was flogged to death. We get the same feeling when the closing titles of The Boys in Blue roll up, another film which was the end of an era in UK cinema, with Cannon and Ball’s opus closing the book on movies produced for the ‘Saturday afternoon at the pictures’ generation. Come Play With Me pushed the genre as far as it could go, and the only way ahead was to join the rest of the world into hardcore.
Odeon brings Come Play With Me to DVD in a restored version that has apparently been remastered from the original negatives in a high-def transfer. The anamorphic 1.78:1 (not 1.85:1, as it states on the sleeve) widescreen transfer is pretty good all things considered, with some of the more vivid colours nicely coming to life before your very eyes. Short of this being released on Blu-ray, this is the best that Come Play With Me will ever look and the images are so clear that you can practically smell the saline/fishy/chestnut odours coming through your screen.
The sleeve describes the audio as the ‘restored original mono soundtrack’, and it sounds perfectly fine. The general lack of polish that comes by having the production audio from the location shooting can’t really be helped (in one scene, the heavy footfalls on wooden floorboards of one character leaving a scene is quite disconcerting), but what you have here is pretty much what you would have heard whilst watching the film in a cinema in the late seventies.
Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions: This is not really feature-length, as it only has a running time of around forty-five minutes, but it played as part of a triple feature in UK cinemas with Boys and Girls Together and Scandinavian Erotica. This hastily-filmed documentary takes the viewer on a whistle-stop tour of the tragic life of Mary Maxted, illustrating it with copious footage from her cinematic endeavours, along with photographs, interviews with those who knew her and specially-filmed footage of naked people frolicking in her former home. The best part of this documentary comes from frank audio interviews with Millington that were recorded shortly before her death, in which she comes across as an intelligent, compassionate person and she pleads for the legalisation of pornography in the UK—the sad truth is that it look nearly twenty years before this actually happened, and even when it did, the BBFC still have narrow parameters about what is acceptable to be seen in Britain.
A cynical eye would immediately see this documentary as an attempt to cash-in on the tragic demise of Mary Millington, and you would probably be right, as there are several crass moments (the naked frolicking included)—the shots of Millington’s deserted house are quite eerie, but it’s nothing compared to the monumentally tasteless shot of a Millington look-a-like in a coffin in a real-life mortuary. Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions provides a potted history of the tragic star’s life and suicide after apparently being hounded by the police and taxman, but there is a lot of padding and some of the music choices (provided by the De Wolfe library) will have you scratching your head—aside from these minor niggles, it’s an entertaining watch.
Sex is My Business: Here we have a prime example of Harrison-Marks’ ‘loops’, which he made a rather nice business from for a couple of decades. He always took pride in giving his 8mm films a perfunctory plot, putting them on a firmer footing than his rivals, and here is no exception. After a bottle of Love Drops is accidentally spilled on the floor of a sex-shop, furious, unbridled copulation breaks out among staff and customers alike! Egad, Mary Millington is right in the middle of things, and the action is dirtier than you would think. If it wasn’t for the accidental glimpse of a John-Thomas thrusting between a girl’s legs rather than penetrating her, you’d swear that it was hardcore, especially with all of the open-leg shots. It all looks a bit rough, but they were made to be an expensive variety of disposable porno, and you have to expect a certain look to surviving film. A very nice addition to a great set, particularly when this shows off Millington to her best, with the silent nature and lack of plot making her the usual nervous wreck, and hasn’t looked better.
Photo Gallery: Pretty much every poster, every production still and every issue of every Paul Raymond adult magazine that featured images from Come Play With Me is featured here. There is a colossal amount of visual material here, ranging from stills to some of the seedy ads that used to appear for the film in late 70s and early 80s adult magazines. There are a number of (unfortunately censored) images that seem to suggest that prove that some hardcore footage was shot for foreign territories, and these sexually explicit photographs taken on the set also appeared in some of Raymond’s magazines.
Booklet Notes: Writer and actor Simon Sheridan proves some highly informative liner notes in a booklet that comes with this release; As we mentioned earlier, Sheridan uses quotes from a number of the participants and even tackles the vague question as to whether or not hardcore material was filmed for foreign territories—the answer is most definitely ‘yes’! Sheridan’s work is wonderful and this serves as a great way of whetting people’s appetites for his book on British adult cinema, Keeping the British End Up. Take a guess as to who personally provided all of the wonderful material in the photo gallery…
Trailers: As is the case for many of Odeon’s adult movies, there are a selection of vintage trailers for some of their other wares in this series. Always good to get people in a party mood!
In 1979, The Buggles sang ’Video Killed the Radio Star’, and the advent of the VCR did the same thing to the very genre Come Play With Me typified. While it took until the early 80s to take hold in the UK, at the time Harrison-Marks’ epic came out, video exploded in America and sex film producers knew that the days of porno cinema were numbered, with the privacy, immediacy and comparative cheapness of the home format sealing celluloid’s doom. Come Play With Me was the end of an era and Odeon’s release of this film is to be commended for preserving it, so that future generations can see what people considered racy in the 1970s. Get a big plate of nachos, a case of San Miguel and set yourself up for a night of gleeful nostalgia as welcoming and enveloping as an angora blanket. It’s an era which will never come around again, so raise a glass to sex—the British way.
We have no hesitation of calling this lovely release of Come Play With Me as our essential purchase of the month.
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 26th April 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Extras: True Blue: The Confessions of Mary Millington, Sex is My Business. Photo Galliery, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: George Harrison-Marks
Cast: Mary Millington, Alfie Bass, Ronald Fraser, George Harrison Marks, Tommy Godfrey
Length: 90 minutes
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