Friday, July 31, 2009

The System a/k/a The Girl-Getters (1964)

Michael Winnner's 1964 film The System, released in the US as The Girl-Getters in 1966, casts Oliver Reed as Stephen "Tinker" Taylor, part-time beach photographer and leader of a group of rogues who prey on the pretty young girls who come to their seaside town on summer holiday. Peter Draper's screenplay is set in the last days of August, as Reed and his cohorts, practitioners of the "System" of the title, look to make the most of the end of the season.

The film opens with the Searchers providing an appropriately Beatlesque title tune, as the lads meet the train from London, to get first look at all the new birds. They are joined by a new member, played by a young David Hemmings. Reed sets his sights on a bit of upper-crust crumpet from the First Class compartment, a debutante/fashion model named Nicola, played by Jane Merrow (apparently the producer nixed Winner's original choice for the role, Julie Christie, because he didn't think she was sexy enough).

Winner keeps things moving, alternating between drama and sex comedy, contrasting the sunny locations with darker intrusions of reality. When Tinker's friend and longtime girl-getter (John Alderton) gets his girl pregnant, the news is met with icy pragmatism: "Well, she better get rid of it then."

The adult themes in The System set it apart from the usual beach party flick, and ultimately, it's more drama than a comedy. The film captures the wistful, elegiac feel of summer's end, with the inevitable long winter looming ahead. Get it while you can, cause it's a long time until next May.

There's a virtuoso sequence involving Reed's description of the "grocks," code for the square holidaymakers who invade the town every summer. The striking black and white cinematography is the work of Nicolas Roeg, who would go on to direct such cult films as Performance and Walkabout.

Reed, as usual, excels at playing a perfect bastard, but he also manages to show the character's vulnerability. His obsession with the rich girl turns his world upside down, and undoes the foolproof stratagems of the System. One comic set piece that exposes the differences in wealth and privilege between the grocks and the locals involves Reed being challenged to a game of tennis by some of Merrow's rich friends, foolishly accepting, then getting roundly thrashed by the sons of privilege.

The System was Reed's last starring vehicle before getting his face scarred with a broken bottle at the Crazy Elephant nightclub in London, just prior to the film's premiere. He would re-establish himself in 1965 with Ken Russell's The Debussy Film for the BBC, and in the Michael Winner films The Jokers and I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname in 1966 and 1967, before becoming an international star with Oliver! and Women In Love. While Ollie's performance isn't perfect, his charisma is in full effect, and he carries the film on his back. It's easily my favorite of his early "pre-scar" performances, and one of my favorite '60s Britflicks.

The System is available on DVD in the UK from Odeon Home Entertainment, while in the US, you can still get The Girl-Getters (actually the British version, with "a/k/a The Girl-Getters" superimposed over the titles) on VHS from Kino Video.

For further reading, check out "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game" at Movie Morlocks, the TCM Movie Blog.

For your listening pleasure, tune in to The Mal Thursday Show #6: The Girl-Getters on the GaragePunk Podcast Network, available online or via iTunes.

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