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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Brood (1979)

1979's The Brood is a gory, Canadian-made horror flick that has its roots in divorce court.

Following a bitter divorce and custody battle, director David Cronenberg wrote and directed this psychological shocker about a woman (Samantha Eggar) whose rage manifests itself by her giving birth to malevolent dwarves who kill anyone she perceives to be a threat to her happiness. As divorce metaphors go, this one certainly goes for the throat.

Art Hindle plays her estranged husband, who has custody of their young daughter (Cindy Hinds). This is no doubt very upsetting to Eggar's character, who is currently undergoing radical "psychoplasmic" therapy with the shadowy Dr. Hal Raglan, played by Oliver Re
ed. Ollie is excellent in the part, but aging fast, graying and a bit bloated from all the boozing. However, he seems unfazed by having come full circle, having started his career with the early '60s Hammer films, and now starring in another, different kind of horror, involving psychotic female rage and evil midget kids with no genitalia. It ain't exactly Curse of the Werewolf.

The atmosphere of the film is very '70s, and most Canadian. A host of character actors from the Great White North (Henry Beckman and Nuala Fitzgerald as Eggar's parents, Susan Hogan as a sympathetic teacher) die badly at the hands of the title characters before the final showdown at the Raglan Institute. The death of Hogan's character is particularly brutal, as
she gets beaten to death by the mallet-wielding title characters in front of a classroom full of second-graders. Maybe she reminded Cronenberg of his ex.

The third-act reveal of Eggar's exo-womb is still mighty disturbing. I was reminded of the Panasonic color televison ads she was doing at the time: "My hair is auburn, my dress is emerald green, and my malevolent dwarf-children are covered in gore that is vividly scarlet."

There is a remake currently in development, which on the surface seems absurd, but there is a serious lack of originality among the majority of modern Hollywood filmmakers, who have already puked out unnecessary remakes of movies like Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "The Horror Hacker" at put it this way: "
But really, what talent or originality does it really take to pitch a remake of a thematically rich classic film? In my opinion, that's why Cronenberg films should not be remade. His films are so complex and multi-layered that any remake is likely only to dumb down the story rather than explore the subtle horror behind everyday events. The day someone has the bright idea to remake Videodrome is the day I stop watching movies."

The Brood has gained a cult following over the years, and has aged better than other early Cronenberg works like Rabid and Videodrome. The director's nasty divorce begat
not only a pretty scary creepshow, but also a rock band: there is a British act who call themselves David Cronenberg's Wife.

Available on DVD from MGM Home Video.

A shorter version of this review was first published at, where you can read hundreds more of my write-ups, mostly film-related, as well as my reviews of books, local Austin places, various types of junk food, and some damn fine ales.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Oliver Reed Store

If you enjoy these essays and want to see the films, please visit The Oliver Reed Store for DVDs of Ollie's Greatest Hits.

Most titles are US Region One NTSC releases, but we do have the The System DVD in stock for our friends in the UK, and for our American customers, the VHS edition under the title The Girl-Getters.

Payments accepted via PayPal.

Available on DVD:

* The Devils
* The Three Musketeers
and The Four Musketeers
* Oliver!
* Tommy
* Women in Love
* Ken Russell at the BBC
* Gladiator
* Crossed Swords a/k/a The Prince and the Pauper
* Hammer Horror Series
* Revolver
* Tomorrow Never Comes
* The Brood
* The Shuttered Room
* The Girl-Getters a/k/a The System

...and more to come.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Achado bloguístico do dia: The Oliver Reed Film Festival

Many thanks to the Brazilian classic movie blog Quixotando ( for making The Oliver Reed Film Festival its "Achado bloguístico do dia."

Which, loosely translated from the Portugese, would be "Found Blog of the Day."

We salute you for your excellent taste.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Oliver Reed Film Festival, Pt. 3: the '80s 'Til Death

In Part One and Part Two of "The Oliver Reed Film Festival," Ollie rose to glory as "The Biggest Film Star in Britain." While other contenders for the title fled England as tax exiles, Reed stubbornly stayed behind. By the end of the '70s, Reed had at last come to America, but he was past his prime as a leading man.

DR. HECKYL & MR. HYPE (1980)
In this comic variation on Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Charles B. Griffith, Reed plays a deformed podiatrist who sets out to lose his virginity by ingesting a serum that turns him into a suave ladykiller. Imagine if you will, The Nutty Professor with Ollie instead of Jerry Lewis. Featuring Corman regulars Dick Miller and Mel Welles, former Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas, and Jackie Coogan as "Sergeant Fleacollar."

Mommar Khadafi helped finance this epic story of guerilla leader Omar Muhkta (Anthony Quinn), who fought ferociously against Mussolini's occupation of Libya during the Second World War. Reed plays Italian general Rodolpho Graziani. One of Ollie's favorites. With Rod Steiger, Sir John Gielgud, and Sky Dumont.

This Disney-made stinker reunited Reed with Michael Crawford, his co-star from The Jokers. Ollie preferred to call this movie "Condom Man."

VENOM (1982)
Cool suspense flick about a kidnapping gone awry, with Reed as Dave the chaffeur. Co-starring Klaus Kinski, Sarah Miles, Sterling Hayden, Susan George, and a deadly black mamba snake. Original director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) got fired from the movie, perhaps because he had a more difficult time working with a drunken Reed and the certifiably insane Kinski than he did working with Leatherface.

Having famously turned down the role of Doyle Lonnegan in 1973's The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Ollie finally got to play the part in this belated sequel, but instead of Newman and Redford, his co-stars were Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis.

TWO OF A KIND (1983)
John Travolta. Olivia Newton-John. Oliver Reed. Better than Grease 2, not as good as The Sting II. With Charles Durning, Scatman Crothers, and Gene Hackman as the voice of God.

SPASMS (1983)
Ollie returned to Canada to make this godawful gorefest, which makes The Brood look like Citizen Kane in comparison. With Peter Fonda.

Ollie is brilliant in his last great starring performance as Gerald Kingsley, the self-proclaimed "Sex Pest of the South Seas." Based on Lucy Irving's book. Irving (Amanda Donohoe) responds to an ad in the classifieds placed by Kingsley, who seeks a companion to live on a deserted island with him. They spend a turbulent year roughing it, walking around naked, and fighting a lot.

Reed in his final leading role, as Roderick Usher in this undistinguished Poe adaptation, done in by a cheesy '80s synth score. Produced by exploitation vet Harry Alan Towers. With Donald Pleasance.

As his career waned, Ollie's legend grew. He began appearing on British chat shows and making a drunken spectacle of himself, culminating in his 1991 appearance on Channel Four's After Dark in which he sparred verbally with feminist author Kate Millet, telling her "I've had more fights in pubs than you've had hot dinners," and kissing her full on the lips. And though he was brilliant in Castaway, Reed's days as a leading man were over. And so it was that he filled out the remainder of his screen career with supporting roles, such as his brief-but-memorable turn as Vulcan in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Direct-to-video sequel to the mid-70s Musketeers movies, reuniting much of the principal cast with director Richard Lester, only to prove how badly most of them had aged. After a fight scene had to be rewritten because of his debilitated physical condition, a dispirited Ollie apologized to the director, saying "Sorry I'm such a fat cunt." Tragically, the wonderful and round character actor Roy Kinnear was killed during the making of the movie, after a fall from a horse, which lent an air of doom to the proceedings. There would be no roadshow theatrical run for Return of the Musketeers, only straight-to-video ignominy. Has its defenders, me among them. But watching the film and knowing the backstory, I couldn't help but feel bad for Kinnear and think back to his performance as Algernon in The Beatles' Help!...Sad.

Superlative made-for-TV adaptation of RL Stevenson's tale, and much more faithful to its source material than, say, a film like Dr. Heckyl & Mr. Hype. Starring Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins, with Ollie third-billed as Billy Bones. Co-starring Reed's Hammer Horror co-hort Christopher Lee as Blind Pew. Directed by Heston's son Fraser.

Israeli schlockmeister Menahem Golan helmed this obscure thriller about a gang of criminals in Berlin who plot the perfect bank job.

In another small part, Reed is nonetheless a memorably menacing presence as the heavy of the piece, gay gangster Dolly Hopkins. But, like they say, there are no small parts, only small actors. With Oliver Platt and Jerry Lewis.

Reed plays an inept professional killer in this alleged comedy, his sixth and final collaboration with director Michael Winner, whose career paralleled Ollie's in many ways. With Diana Rigg, Felicity Kendall, and John Cleese.

"We are but shadows and dust." Triumphant swan song from Mr. England, as the gladiator pimp daddy Prospero. Reed's death in a Maltese pub, mid-production, led to a hastily written death scene using a CGI simulacrum of Ollie, at an additional cost to the production of over three million dollars. A fitting end to a checkered career. With Russell Crowe.
Originally posted 24 August 2007.