Playbirds, The (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros & Playbirds? They're truly in their element with this one...
Following the mega-success of Come Play With Me, the race was on to create a follow up to keep the money machine rolling. Mary Millington was the hottest sex star ever to grace the screens of Soho, and punters would eagerly watch her read the shipping news, so what was wanted now was to appeal to a wider audience than just giving the dirty macs a few cheap laughs in the sticky seats. Imagine a British sex movie without gags? Dare you even dream one with a plot?? A sex thriller???
Along with British sex films, we also have a great love for movies from Butchers’ and the like, makers of those neat little quota-quickies which hit their peak in the 50s and early 60s. One of our favourites was Cover Girl Killer, which saw a pre-typecasting Harry H Corbett murdering the models from the front page of Wow magazine. The owner of the magazine helps police track the homicidal fan by using someone on the inside as bait. With a plot so solid, it seemed the perfect basis to take David Sullivan’s movie wing in a more dynamic direction.
The streets of London are littered with bodies as a sadistic murderer is slaughtering the glamorous starlets on the cover of porno-king Harry Dougan’s Playbirds magazine, with a number to indicate the death toll carved into their foreheads. With a list of shifty suspects ever dwindling, Chief Superintendent Jack Holborne (Glynn Edwards) Inspector Harry Morgan (Gavin Campbell) needs to get someone on the cover to lure the killer into the open. WPC Lucy Sheridan (Mary Millington) finds herself at the heart of danger when she steps forward to volunteer. Time is running out as the body count rises and Sheridan is closer to the hands of the killer than anyone realises.
Essentially, The Playbirds is almost a hybrid of Giallo and police procedural thriller, with the expected elements from sex film of the time sewn into its’ lining. As with most films which fall into the categories listed above, there isn’t so much a plot more than a sequence of events which allows bad things to happen to nice people, followed by the chance for the ‘good’ to eventually catch up with the loony on the loose. If this sounds like is deviates too much from the British sex film aficionados know and love, just remember that there are lots of tits, arse and more than the odd bit of carpet to enjoy.
Gratuitous nudity accepted, there is a concerted effort to make The Playbirds more than just another tits and arse movie, attempting to raise the profile of the genre and aim for some kind of either recognition or respectability. This is set out early on, as the first killing looked like something from Frenzy, with the imagery clearly borrowed from Hitchcocks’ penultimate movie in decision which serves Roe‘s film very well. Indeed, the thriller sequences are genuinely well handled, with the fourth murder being particularly good. Campbell stumbles upon the freshly-snuffed body of the girl he is supposed to be protecting, and give chase through the high-rise building. There is more than a flavour of Dario Argento about it, with the rickety elevator bringing to mind the climax of Profondo Rosso.
There is such a weird combination of smut and art throughout the film that it could be either read or mistaken as being ingenious. The use of models for ‘glamour’ shoots gives the opportunity to show naked birds whilst keeping things within the context of the plot. Indeed, some of the photo-shoots depicted in The Playbirds show something that would have been considered far-out back in the late seventies, and although more commonplace today, still comes across as pretty damned erotic. The imagery of a raving nymph riding a rocking horse in the raw is an arresting sight, as though combining both the adult baby fetish with bestiality. It’s doesn’t help refute accusations of animal lust when she slips underneath and undulates in a way strictly reserved for those who take the phrase ‘animal husbandry’ too literally. Mmm, arousing on two different levels…
The maddest of this sexual shoehorning is so brain-frying that you can’t forget it if you tried. The photographer not above suspicion snapping away at witchcraft-inspired photo-shoot, where a young wench in inducted into a satanic circle. The Grand Wizard conducting the ‘ceremony’ sports a werewolf mask, a black cloak and nothing else. With his meat and two veg exposed, he slashes her flimsy dress from her body with a big knife. It is utterly surreal, and the closest you’ll get to seeing Lon Chaney Jr with his nob out, apart from pissing up a wall during one of his later alcoholic binges.
With it being a Mary Millington/David Sullivan sex film, you’d rightly feel cheated if there weren’t some decent sex scenes, and The Playbirds doesn’t skimp on the sauce. Purely in the course of her investigations, our Mary has to get close to those under suspicion, and this provides Alan Lake with another chance for some more bedroom action with a stunning woman—it’s nice that he and his wife Diana Dors were able to have something they could both chat about over dinner, if the rumours were true. Speaking of which, the Sapphic sexual predilection of Ms Millington are put to good use during a rather hot lesbian sequence, where she is seduced by a masseuse in order to get to Dougan‘s bed. This was the cinematic alpha and omega of Ericka Von Jump’s big screen career, but it’s certainly a turn to make the old palms sweat! There was an outtake from this piece during Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions, where Jump struggles to unzip Millington’s pants—they just cut away in the end. The aforementioned sex scene between Lake and Millington is photographed with in very soft-focus, reflecting the porn magazines at the time, which is a nice touch of nostalgia.
Director Wily Roe makes much better job of deploying David Sullivan’s money than George Harrison Marks did on Come Play with Me, as there is a much more spacious feel and larger scale to The Playbirds than the others made around the same period, with stop-offs at the races, sojourns at country estates and location work in London which goes beyond the usual confines of the rest of its ilk. The sequence at Speaker’s Corner is particularly well handled, and makes you want to take a run out to Hyde Park and see what’s become of the popular area for the zealous. On a craftsmanship level, we have to give our highest praise for one particular shot in the movie. To many, these films are a warm blanket of nostalgia for times and sights which will never come again, and we have a prime example here. Lake sits at his office desk at dusk, with the setting sun backlighting an operational Battersea Power Station. Sure, it’s weird to see the long-derelict facility in its prime, but our compliments to Douglas Hill’s cinematography, which actually transforms the familiar amalgamation of concrete, pipe and steel into a thing of beauty.
With our love of all things contrary to the obscenity of political-correctness, The Playbirds is full of numerous blasts of warm, foul air, akin to the almost sensual wake of a speeding garbage-truck. Any movie where a gorgeous bird gets to say the line: ’Oh goody, I’m going to be raped…’ as a vicious prowler is about to attack her is one which will always nudge its way up to the top of our to-do list. With kids these days seemingly unbound by little things like manners and any form of respect, one of the genuinely shocking/amusing pieces has seen its power greatly diminished over the last few years. Paying a call at the home of a crucial suspect, a sweet-looking kid—almost ripped from the Cadburys‘ Fudge adverts—exclaims: ’Fuck me, the old bill!’ While it’s still amusing, there isn’t the same surprise there was when we first saw it a couple of decades ago. The overall effect is also a little damaged by the kid in question clearly giggling as he gets the chance to say a dirty word. It’s still pretty funny, though.
To this end, you have to admire the brass neck of using the plot device of selecting a policewoman to strip for the magazine as bait for the killer, where it gives the opportunity for a couple of women to perform a striptease within the confines of the script. Another way employed to squeeze as much filth into the movie as possible comes through an interesting POV shot of Marry Millington during a massage scene, which gives her fans the chance to see what it might look like to witness her face in the throes of ecstasy, as though having sex with Britain’s most popular sex icon.
There are some other nice touches, including our favourite, where Windsor Davies is going over the murder of sex starlets as he muses: ’Remember that Stratton case?’ No prizes for guessing which topical event it was referencing, but it doesn’t come across as forced, nor reeking of desperation. Just compare it to the cloaked mention of the Manson killings in Dracula AD1972, where it sticks out like a sore thumb. When Davies is going through the rap-sheet of one of his key suspects, he reads out ’Rape… 68. Rape… 73’. We defy anyone not to watch that sequence and think: Boy, that’s a Hell of a lot of rape! It would have more certainly been even more tasteless for Davies to have casually read out ’Rape... 69’.
Playbirds has the distinction of bringing the term ‘Pornocrats’ into the public domain, rather than that of the pubic one. It is a term born of resentment from either the morally righteous or police frustrated that smut was becoming more legal, and the very people they could easily bust were making seriously good money from the sex business. That Sullivan permitted its use in the movie might have been tied into his character’s fate in the film, but you’ll have to work that one out when you watch it, as we wouldn’t want to spoil the ending, which really does surprise, with even whiskey-soaked cynics like us left pleasantly flummoxed by the coda.
Then we come to the tragic figure of Ms Mary Millington as WPC Andrews. With so few feature films on her CV, it’s a shame that only at the end did she start to get things right. Her dialogue delivery in The Playbirds is really ropey, not yet having been giving the valuable acting tips from John M East which saw her right in Confessions From the David Galaxy Affair. On at least one occasion, she sounds exactly like the aging Criswell in Orgy of the Dead. As much as it sounds like griping, but she certainly doesn’t walk like a policewoman, and pounds the beat around Soho as though she’s touting for business. Ms Maxted isn’t required to do all that much when it comes to dialogue, which is just as well, with her utterance that she is a dab-hand at self-defence sounding as though she hadn’t heard of the concept until just being handed it on a piece of paper and reading it cold. As with many things during her short life, her charisma carried her a long way.
If ever you needed a good example of the way familiarity breeds contempt, you only need to look to Alan Lake’s performance here. As Harry Dugan, Lake puts in a considerably better—or at least more consistent—turn than he did in the following Confessions From the David Galaxy Affair. Clearly he used the clout of playing the title character to turn in alcohol-fuelled, hammy work, secure in the knowledge that everyone knew him and wouldn’t dare put him in his place for his behaviour. In] The Playbirds, he makes you realise that he was a decent thespian, but the combination of ego and drink impaired his abilities. Using real life as a leaping-point, Harry Dougan is essentially porno producer & movie financier David Sullivan, a man who loves women, horse-racing and good living. It all adds to the credibility of the conceit to see Dougan at the races watching his new nag, Mr Playbird, taking on all comers. Even those who don’t know of Sullivan directly will be able to identify with the trappings on display, with the opulence being both enticing and almost repulsive at the same time. In this respect, Alan Lake was the ideal choice for the role. Make of that what you will…
Among the many familiar faces to pop up throughout the movie is that is Dudley Sutton, who makes his first appearance wearing a religious sign of repentance over his head. Given his character’s fanatical nature, you might be forgiven for thinking that it should have been a neon sign rather than a wooden one. When the suspects are thinned out and Sutton is cleared, the plot just gets even thicker. This was only a couple of years after Sutton turned down the offer to be in Revenge of the Cybermen, so you wonder if he made a bad move to end up in a sex-thriller, regardless of how entertaining it turned out. Speaking of Doctor Who, Sutton’s character is a dead ringer for Patrick Troughton’s one he played in The Omen, with both roles being just a religiously zealot with heavy Irish brogue. In the eighties, Sutton garnered a new audience when he became a regular in the television series Lovejoy, endearing himself to pensioners everywhere as loveable Tinker—our dear old Nan would have been aghast to have heard that he did soft-core porno only a few short years prior to Lovejoy.
When watching the movie for the purposes of reviewing, one of our Missus stuck her head around the door as the pretty little woman brought in coffee. About to leave, she exclaimed: ’Blimey, is that Gavin Campbell?’ Many don’t realise that there is more to him than just being the guy from That’s Life, with dramatic appearances in many popular TV shows, even turning up in On The Buses, which doubtless trained him well in the use of double-entendre. He acquits himself well in Playbirds, playing yet another police officer, but he’s good at it. There are certain instances where Campbell uses some of Roger Moore’s mannerisms when trying to be suave, and plays well off of Glynn Edwards. There is also a surprising amount of depth to his performance, particularly during on scene where he listens to the sob-story of one character and he responds and adjusts his performance to suit the delivery of his co-star's delivery, which is a crucial requirement to be a good actor.
If you need proof that there were winning elements at work, you need only look at how many shared themes there are between this and the following David Galaxy Affair. Aside from numerous returning cast members, we find Glynn Edwards as a police officer pursuing another suspect with an alibi involving sleeping with an MP. Inspector Holborne is a police officer in the typical 70s mould, with many of the character flaws which befall those who he seeks to put behind bars. This all ties into his interest in the affairs of the porno-publisher at the centre of things, with Holborn’s love of putting money on the gee-gees making the pornocrat’s new Mr Playbird horse an irresistible avenue to pursue.
As reliable as Edwards is, it came as a shock to us—as folk who regularly watched Minder—to encounter his foul mouth. There is a classic exchange between him and a lower-ranking officer who mocks his lack of success on the horses, asking him if he’s going to put his money on Mr. Playbird, to which he responds with: ’Fuck off will you, and leave me alone!’ We’ve quoted that line (complete with appropriately gruff tone) to each other for years, and it is a firm favourite.
An appearance to bring a smile to our lips comes in the form of Mr Kenny Lynch. Much better here than the numerous outings on the dreadful Celebrity Squares, or any other time you can drag him away from Brucie Forsythe’s golfing mafia, but our favourite of his works comes in Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, where we really dig that Calypso music, man. When we first saw The Playbirds, the sight of Kenny in a Parka struck a resonant chord in us, embodying a quintessential snapshot of 70s Britain.
That parasitic little pratt John M East turns up towards the end to interview Millington on her character’s newfound sex-stardom, running a tape recorder as she talks. This is deeply ironic, as East used a recording of her final interview as the basis of his opportunistic ‘tribute’ True Blue Confessions. He really puts the Burke in ‘Burke and Hare’.
With the pre-net generation brought up on ropy, washed out copies of filthy movies, one can only wonder just how a movie like The Playbirds will look on DVD. Is it from a copy off the shelf at your local video shop? Did they pick up it from a shady guy at a car boot sale? We think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised as we take a look…
Much like Odeon's release of Come Play With Me, The Playbirds has been remastered from the original negative and the results are nothing short of stunning. When we first watched this film back in the early 90s, we had no idea that it could ever look as remarkable as this.
The general image is surprisingly sharp and detailed, with some vibrant colours and a pretty crisp look to it. One has to bear in mind that the low budget of the film means that it couldn't compete with the image quality of a big budget film from the same period, but it still looks comparatively amazing. In fact, the print is so good that it highlights the pretty lousy makeup on the actors, with thespians like Glynn Edwards, Windsor Davies and Gavin Campbell looking as though they just escaped from a mortuary.
It's not perfect—there are several instances in the first half an hour where an inferior print seems to have been used for a few second here and there, which is probably due to damage to the negative, but these moments are only sporadic and won't hamper your enjoyment of the film. All-in-all, this is another wonderful effort from Odeon that will make you wonder why all sleaze couldn't look this good.
Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, there are no complaints about the audio; the limitations of the budget mean that the original recording of some of the dialogue wasn't as clean as it could have been, but this is not the fault of the disc. Odeon sprang for a full restoration of the audio element, and this pays of when watching, particularly when the irritating-yet-catchy theme song comes across with a pleasing degree of clarity, burrowing into you mind like a flesh-eating bug.
Odeon have lavished this release with a set of supplemental features similar to other more recent titles in their Slap and Tickle series.
Mary Millington's Striptease Extravaganza: To open our appraisal of this particular oddity, we feel that adopting the style of Dickens and misquoting him would be appropriate:
Mary was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that... Old Mary was as dead as a door-nail.
Millington was very much residing in her grave by the time that this shameless cash-in on the former Ms Maxted was filmed and in order to squeeze just a little more out of the legend of Britain's first adult superstar, producers David Sullivan and John M East, along with director Roy Deverell cobbled together this cheap and nasty parade of second-rate striptease artists and wannabe starlets as a bizarre ‘tribute’ to Ms. Millington. The end result is something that would have probably had the sounds of revolving and splintering echoing across the little village of South Holmwood in 1981.
The always seedy-looking John M East (a gentleman whose facial expression always seems to say ‘phwoar!’) kicks off things by eulogising Mary and showing an out-of-context clip of her from Queen of the Blues, which shows her character stripping and hangs the shaky premise of a stripping movie upon it.
Join the white-knuckle thrill-ride as a major British television celebrity is your compare, introducing a gaggle of the world's most gorgeous gals as they battle it out in a series of exciting, well-choreographed striptease routines for a host of top prizes.
Well, that's how you would describe it if you were blatantly using your rectum as a mouth. Let's try for a more realistic description of the thing...
Endure the coma-inducing tedium as the washed-up half of a comedy duo makes racist jokes and introduces a mixed-bag of Britain's most willing women who take their clothes off for money in a series of routines that have the grace and co-ordination of a semi-tranquilised rhinoceros for non-existent prizes in a fictitious contest.
That's right—the contest (which author and smut scientist Simon Sheridan confirms) was non-existent, so there was no grand prize of a modelling contract, Jamaican holiday and money—it was all a load of cobblers in order to have some sort of reason for this thing to exist.
Bernie Winters was on the verge of becoming a celebrity in his own right after his brother Mike came to his senses; by this time, he had picked up a large St Bernard and was getting back on his feet, but it's a miracle that he became the lovable scamp of chat-shows and game-shows like Give Us A Clue after appearing in this scummy piece of junk. Winters leers over the girls and makes remarks that would have had toes curling back in the day, let alone in the 21st century. Schnorbitz' owner also cracks on or two racist remarks during his shtick and tries to pass them off by adopting the demeanour of schoolboy innocence. That sort of thing worked for Benny Hill, but it doesn't work for Winters—he just makes himself out to be more of an offensive twat than usual. Winters’ jokes give the audience the full Virginia Rappe broken bottle experience. The audience reaction to Winters’ gags seems as though generous quantities of nitrous-oxide had been pumped into the venue. We’d swear that some of the audience footage comes from Queen of the Blues, which would make sense, seeing as some people appear to be laughing heartily at Winters' tired routines.
We had a real problem with the patently phone nature of the nationalities of the contestants, just so as to justify the international angle of the concept. Worst of these is probably the woman purported to be Turkish when clearly Indian, even wearing a Sarong which Winters describes as ‘a chapatti’. Prick. In spite of being hoodwinked as to our ladies’ origins, you can't deny that there are some terrific multi-national dongers on display, and some interesting parings to be had. Possibly our favourite was the Turkey/Sweden lesbian act, which showed that two countries can come together when they can get their act together, but then again, Turkey and Swede have always complimented each other nicely...
Probably more accidental than planned, a clever piece comes during a Crying Game special, when one of a foursome of strippers isn't quite all ‘she’ seems. Clever use of music, with a totally arrhythmic baseline in complete contrast to the rest of the tune. An indicator that something with one of the contestants isn’t right. Or maybe it was just luck in the choosing of a crap piece of music.
Stripper ‘Chantelle’ throws Winters a little when she turns out to be more than the vacant parrot he assumes, and resists setting up for a crap gag he wants to score over her. Forget it, Bernie, you have more chance of reanimating Mary Millington than getting off with these broads. Still, even if he was able to bring the former Ms Maxted back to life, he’d have to fight John M East for the privilege of having sex with her, as he has the exclusive necrophilia rights on that one.
Possibly the most interesting aspect to this short film (well, it's certainly not feature-length and it's too fake to be a documentary) is that it features the final appearance of superstar-in-her-own-mind, Julie East. The ambitious East was not one to let the fact that her desire for stardom eclipsed the amount of talent that she possessed; her previous appearance in Emmanuelle in Soho was disastrous from an acting point-of-view, but it got her noticed, but sadly, she ventured into murkier waters and her star was already waning before her demise. Lee appears in a stripping double-act, and her hunger for stardom is still in evidence, but this was a far cry from even the dubious feature film she appeared in, with Lee getting her togs off in an unsexy manner that would have had many real punters wanting a refund at the door. Lee does not win the non-existent prize in this fake contest, and it is with a certain eeriness that Lee would lose a real beauty contest and drive off in such a huff that she would suffer fatal burns in a car-crash.
It's interesting to note that the ‘winner’ of this striptease extravaganza was ‘Kathy from Brighton’, who was in actuality Kathy Green, Mary Millington's real-life lesbian lover. It's quite possible that the decision to have her be the recipient of the crown was as a way of commemorating Millington's memory in some way. It's worth pointing out that Julie Lee is nowhere to be seen in the final part of the contest. She clearly didn’t want to be seen losing yet another competition.
Winters goes out of his way to praise the work of the two very talented musicians who provide the live music, and their efforts impressed us no end. Using just a set of drums and piano, they are able to belt out a brassy rendition of ‘The Stripper’ and a couple of disco tunes in spite of the physical impossibility of performing them without sufficient instruments or even a singer to do the vocals. In actuality, those familiar with that obscure sub-genre known as the 70s British sex comedy will recognise many of the music tracks that accompany the girls as they gyrate and stumble through their routines—that variant of ‘The Stripper’ was also heard in the wonderful Eskimo Nell several years prior; one or two of the generic-sounding disco numbers heard in Emmanuelle in Soho the same hear are also reused here.
The image quality is distinctly mediocre, in keeping with the shorter films that have been included as extras on Odeon's Slap and Tickle label. The print is almost-certainly sourced from videotape and there is noticeable interlacing. Colours are pallid and not vibrant in the slightest, but we're sure that some of you out there will feel that having such a lousy-looking copy of this film will add to the sleaze value.
Mary Millington's Striptease Extravaganza is one of those rare films that actual cause a split of opinion between us. Both of us thought it was crap, but we had conflicting degrees of crappiness—one of us thought that it was almost irredeemably awful, whereas the other summed up his feelings whilst watching it with the following words...
’I can feel my soul dropping through my arsehole.’
Response: You get more Millington for your money with this terrific 8mm short from 1974. Mirroring Mary’s burgeoning Sapphic predilections, she plays a bored office worker who has a passionate fling with an equally stunning woman. It’s not big on plot, but is very well filmed, enshrouded in a hazy mist of gorgeous, 70s photography, and is one of the few loops which is sensually erotic rather than merely pornographic. We absolutely guarantee a severe case of trouser arousal for the men when watching this one, not to mention a bean-flicking urge for any liberated ladies tuning in. The quality of rather nice, which given the 8mm origins, is something of a miracle. This is the version which was sold ‘silent’, which is a shame, but takes nothing away from the overall experience. Damn good stuff.
Stills Gallery: We get another exhaustive set of photos and other promotional material, courtesy of Simon Sheridan, and drops you right into the world of late 70s porn. Once again, there are much stronger photos here than ended up in the movie, produced for publicity and as photosets for Sullivan’s magazines. The posters and video boxes brought a warm frisson as we sat through them, and will be a real curiosity-magnet for anyone with even the slightest of interest in the scene. Keep an eye out for a particular still, which shows one of the girls with possibly the widest baby-cannon you’re likely to see in high-glamour porn.
Booklet Notes: Mr Simon Sheridan once again shines with his encyclopaedic knowledge of 70s filth as he takes you through all three projects contained on the DVD. Bursting with information and amusing trivia, the booklet is so full with seedy notes spewed into the pages that you expect them to be stuck together. Sterling stuff, once again.
The Playbirds is a wonderfully nostalgic slice of 70s sleaze; it's more enjoyable than Come Play With Me and Confessions From the David Galaxy Affair, as it has the added benefit of a coherent plot and some genuinely good performances by many members of the cast. Even today, the ending really packs a punch, and comes so far out of left field that it might have been thrown by a vegetarian member of Greenpeace, making you appreciate that they didn’t go down the usual path most others lazily tread. The extras are plentiful, and the restoration job makes it all look and sound terrific. This is the last of the films in which Mary Millington had a significant role, and it is fitting that Odeon have saved the best still last—good stuff!
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 9th August 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Mary Millington's Striptease Extravaganza, Photo Gallery, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Willy Roe
Cast: Mary Millington, Glynn Edwards, Gavin Campbell
Length: 90 minutes
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