In 1926 the tragic and untimely death of a silent screen actor caused female moviegoers to riot in the streets and in some cases to commit suicide - that actor was Rudolph Valentino. ... See full summary »
Set in France Oscar Wilde (so it appears) visits a local theatre and is surprised by their retelling of his own work ""Salome'" the story line then digresses in to a VERY twisted portrayal ... See full summary »
Ken Russell had a miserable time making the film, later saying that the title was "just about the dirtiest word in the business" and fully expecting that he would never be asked to direct for the cinema again. He admitted that it wasn't very funny, but said that it did have a quality of poetic melancholy which he was quite pleased with. See more »
"Michael Coy's dismissal of French Dressing is unfair"
The purpose of my review is to offer an alternative viewpoint to that of Michael Coy, whose hostility to "French Dressing" seems to me to be hasty and unfair. I simply do not recognise the film from his description, which is distorted by an animosity whose intensity puzzles me. Unlike the popular music of the 1960s, which, although often resented, is also widely respected, the cinema of that era awaits critical rehabilitation, despite the recent efforts of film scholars such as Robert Murphy. Therefore, a little-known 60s film such as "French Dressing" is easily regarded as a soft target by those determined to make hostile judgments. The film itself has been undervalued and misunderstood even by its own director, who has unhappy memories of its production and subsequent career. (Hampered in the first instance by a committee script, the film's commercial prospects were effectively scuppered by its own producers, who failed to give it adequate promotion. It was never released in the United States, and was shown in a mutilated version in many territories.)
"French Dressing" was Ken Russell's first feature film. However, it is not a cack-handed tyro effort, but, as befits the work of an already distinguished documentarist, a piece of no little technical accomplishment. Much of Coy's criticism of the film is directed towards its reliance on stock 1960s devices. It is worth pointing out that when the film was made (in 1963), most of the better-known films of the 1960s had not yet appeared, and that the stock devices in question were at that time still novelties. Furthermore, Coy, noting that the film is purportedly a comedy, bases a great deal of his criticism upon its failure to satisfy what seems to me to be a set of fairly narrowly-conceived generic expectations, and vastly oversimplifies the film's concerns. There is far more to the film than the simple encounter between "French sexiness" and "English aldermanic pomposity". Conceived initially as a Tati-esque comedy in an English seaside setting, its range of stylistic reference embraces a loving parody of the French Nouvelle Vague (in the film-within-the-film, "Pavements of Boulogne"), scenes of wistful lyricism (e.g. the boat scene with Judy and Jim), and the surrealistic entrance of the Mayor and his Councillors on roller-skates, which at once anticipates The Prisoner TV series and evokes the world of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe.
"French Dressing" has a strong claim to being the first genuine "swinging 60s" film. It pre-dates almost every other "swinging 60s" film one can think of: "A Hard Day's Night", "Catch Us If You Can", "The Knack", "Help!", "Morgan", "Alfie", "Blow-Up", etc. Had it appeared in, say, 1965 it would have been a far less remarkable film, but its early date of production is highly pertinent to a correct evaluation. In appearance its young principals, Judy and Jim (their names in part, of course, a weak pun on "Jules et Jim", in part an allusion to Punch and Judy), would scarcely seem out of place in 2001, and it is therefore disconcerting to consider how embryonic popular culture would have been at this point (one of the more obviously dated sequences being that featuring Brian Bennett's "twist" music). It is also salutary to remember that the United Kingdom was still presided over by the Edwardian Harold Macmillan (shortly pre-Profumo), that it still reckoned in pounds, shillings and pence, and that an admittedly diminishing number of murderers were still hanged by the neck. Far too early in the decade to encounter "rebellious sixties counter-culture", the "hidebound and middle-aged" Establishment, as represented by the lecherous Mayor and his absurd Councillors are figures of gentle mockery. The film's youthful protagonists are counterpointed against them and the seaside town's elderly residents. (The prospect of escape from the stultifying confines of Gormleigh is first canvassed in Judy's airline timetable, and Jim's ambitions will surely lead him - and Judy -elsewhere before very long.)
Judy (Alita Naughton, who subsequently appeared in Russell's TV film "Isadora") is certainly pretty, as Coy concedes. The second occasion on which she reveals her stocking-tops is by no means unaccountable, since at that point in the plot she is obliged to impersonate the recently-absconded Francoise Fayol. Nor is the riot scene in the cinema as bereft of invention as Coy would let us believe. There is a superbly choreographed and visually striking sequence in which some of the brawling men enter and emerge from Francoise Fayol's enormous projected mouth via a suitably located rip in the screen.
Contrary to what Coy's hostile review might suggest, there is much for the unprejudiced viewer to enjoy in this under-rated film, which is worthy of closer and more thoughtful analysis. If nothing else, there is the superb soundtrack by Georges Delerue (a direct link with the Nouvelle Vague, of course). But the film is also visually very beautiful. There is also, of course, with the passage of time the element of unwitting testimony: the old Herne Bay pier and pier pavilion (the former destroyed by a storm in 1978, the latter by fire in 1970), the river-going Thames steamer Medway Queen (doubling as a cross-channel ferry) and the sea-front at Le Touquet, now extensively redeveloped. Although notionally a comedy, this is a genre-defying film, much like "Catch Us If You Can" (also a feature debut for its director, John Boorman, and a film also characterised by wistfulness and lyricism). Coy's summary "This Atrocious Film", is, incidentally, a direct (if unconscious) quote from Judy, who, jealous of the attention Francoise Fayol is getting from Jim, pens a hostile review of her film!
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