“ Actors: Gabrielle Drake, Astrid Frank, Nancie Wait, Me Me Lay, Richard O'Sullivan / Director: Val Guest / Classification: 18 / Studio: Odeon Entertainment / DVD Release Date: 29 July 2013 / Run Time: 81 minutes „
This DVD from Odeon Entertainment (who have a horribly corporate looking new ident) is about a tenner at the moment on amazon.
The humble British sex comedy is a curious, much-maligned beast. Back in the 60s there was no way the British censor would have allowed smutty fare like the Confessions series to show nudity, so the nearest we had to such things were the Carry On films. These relied heavily on innuendo, behind-the-hand sniggering at names that sounded a bit rude or sexy women who were apparently completely unaware of how sexy they were.
Then came the 70s, in which suddenly boobs and pubes were fine onscreen. But weirdly, the style of humour didn't greatly change. There was still the same sniggering prurience on display; it's just that we could now see all the things that Sid James had previously only been able to hint at. This led to a collection of films that seem bizarre now - a weird mixture of seaside-postcard innuendo and actual sexual explicitness.
So it is with Au Pair Girls (1972). The director later went on to make the first Confessions film, so this could be seen as a dry run for that series.
Four au pairs arrive in London. The film takes us through their first day in the city as they meet their new employers, and have various saucy misadventures.
It's a very odd film, in that two of the girls' stories are completely played for laughs, while two are not. We get the mindless Swedish girl who is blissfully unaware of the innuendo she keeps accidentally spouting, goes on a date with a feckless cabby, and ends up seduced by a sheik. And the Danish girl (called Randi, ha ha) ends up trapped on a farm with her boss's son when they get a flat tire, and all kinds of hilarity ensues.
But another story has a German girl rather cruelly tricked into surrendering her virginity to a 'famous pop star'. Weirdest of all is the Chinese au pair's story - she is hired by an aristocratic family as a companion for their bizarre man-child son, a piano prodigy who has never been allowed to grow up. It's strangely melancholy and weirdly disturbing.
Still, I'm sure no one cared about that when it was first shown. They were probably just hooting and hollering at the boobs. All four of our au pairs get naked, as does at least one other woman. While there's a certain amount of nudity from the men, they manage to artfully conceal any penises from our view. Clearly, this film knew what its target audience wanted to see.
The supposedly funny episodes are the easiest to relate to as they're more or less like a dozen other British films being made at the same time. The Swedish au pair (Astrid Frank) initially scares her fuddy-duddy English employers (who include Catweazle) by wandering around naked and going on a date with Johnny Briggs, later a Coronation Street stalwart. Unfortunately, she ends up getting seduced by a sheik, leading to some mildly racist comedy as he acts like something out of the Arabian nights, in spite of wearing one of the most offensive suits I've ever seen. The sheik is played by Ferdy Mayne, normally a good actor but here very clearly not giving a hoot. One of his servants is played by Milton Reid, everyone's favourite glowering bald heavy, so it's not a complete loss.
The Danish one is employed by John Le Mesurier in a really pointless two-scene cameo (in one of those scenes we see him squeezing a naked breast). But she ends up being driven around by his son, Richard O'Sullivan, a 70s sitcom star who doesn't seem to engender much nostalgic fondness. After a flat tire leaves them stranded in a hayloft it's only a matter of time until she's torn her dress, fallen in a water trough and accused him jokingly of trying to rape her (it was a very different time, the 70s). This is wearying stuff, even though she's probably the sexiest of the au pairs (she's Gabrielle Drake, later in Crossroads).
The story of the German au pair and the pop star is a lot more depressing, having some of the ambience of 'grittier' British sex films like Permissive or Cool It, Carol. It never descends to the grimmer depths of those kinds of films, but it leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth as the poor love is seduced by a callous, buffoonish pop star ('Ricky Strange' - he's so famous he can apparently have sex with any girl who takes his fancy, but the crowd in the club where he plays seems to consist of about eight people.) This has John Standing in it, as a sleazy club owner - he was later in things like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Dance To The Music of Time. I wonder if he puts Au Pair Girls on his CV. At least there's some funny dancing in the nightclub scene.
The weirdest story is the au pair who is taken to befriend the young pianist. She is played by Me Me Lay, who was a TV gameshow hostess in Britain, but was later in two grim Italian cannibal movies in the 70s. It's unexpected - but good - that the film doesn't make any racist comments or assumptions about Chinese women. In fact the general lack of racism was an unexpected surprise in this film.
It's still a really weird story, though. The young man is played by Julian Barnes - not the novelist, the actor who is in the godawful Haunted House of Horror. He's clearly adult, but has been educated only to about the age of eight. He likes playing hide and seek and pushing the au pair on a swing. But he happily gets it on with her when she - in rather unlikely fashion - decides to seduce him. This is a deeply weird and oddly sad little story, rather off-kilter and not at all sexy. (I mean, none of it is sexy, but at least the other stories feel like they're trying to be). It's not the weirdest thing I've ever seen in a British sex comedy (everything in Secrets of Sex is weirder) but it's by far the oddest thing here.
The stories all kind of meet up at the very end for a denouement that's as ludicrous as it is unsatisfying. Val Guest, who directed this, had earlier made the classic Will Hay comedy Ask A Policeman, the first two Hammer Quatermass films, and the great British crime thriller Hell is a City. I don't know what brought him to this low point. Tigon, the company which made this, also made some of the better British horror movies of the era, including Witchfinder General.
It's not a terrible snapshot of London in its era, although more tourist footage would have helped. The most infuriating thing about this is the theme tune, a jaunty number that rhymes 'au pair' with 'everywhere'. At first this is quite fun, but the damn thing goes on for about seven minutes - that's as long as Hey Jude! You ultimately want to strangle whoever wrote it.
The picture quality on the DVD is pretty good as these things go. Not pristine, but better than expected. Extras-wise all we get are a few trailers for other releases from the best of British collection (mostly other sexy films, although a film adaptation of a sitcom called For the Love of Ada is most definitely *not* sexy). It may be something in one of these trailers that gives the release its 18 rating - I can't imagine Au Pair Girls itself rates more than a 15. Trailers for Secrets of Sex and Virgin Witch might well push some boundaries.
The film itself is a reasonable example of its genre - not too annoying, mildly endearing, and free of Robin Askwith. Only for people who enjoy these nostalgic softer-than-soft porn outings, but there are much worse examples.