Friday, 20 February 2015

Eskimo Nell (1975)


"A crackingly good look at the rear end of early 1970s British cinema"

The British sex comedy: a unique genre of film that simply could not have been created anywhere else in the world, combining our excruciating embarrassment at all things body functional with the desire to show on the big screen scenes considered by its makers as not so much ‘erotic, taboo-breaking and forbidden’ as ‘naughty and rude tits and bum stuff’. If I was forced to watch too many British sex comedies in a row I would end up wanting to jump off a tall building, and yet at the same time these films remain fascinating, a snapshot of life and cultural attitudes in Britain that we shall probably never see again - thank goodness. If you do feel the need to sample one of these movies, however, ESKIMO NELL is definitely the one to watch.

Add your own "boing" sound effect to make this scene come alive

Young film-maker Dennis Morrison (Michael Armstrong, who also wrote the script and was responsible for parts of MARK OF THE DEVIL, HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR, and LIFEFORCE), desperate to find work, ends up at the dreary, sleazy office of BUM productions. Producer Benny U Murdoch (Roy Kinnear) - apparently a thinly veiled portrayal of real-life Tigon producer Tony Tenser - says he has a film ready to go, based on the famous bawdy poem ESKIMO NELL. All that’s needed is funding, a star and a script. Penguin enthusiast and virgin Harris Tweedle (Christopher Timothy) wrestles with his typewriter in a way many starving screenwriters must have back in the day as the money is obtained from different sources, all of whom want an entirely different film. 

The influence of Ken Russell?

        American producer Big Dick (Gordon Tanner) - apparently another thinly veiled portrayal, this time of Louis Heyward who was in charge of AIP’s London office - wants a hardcore porno, buxom Prudence Drage’s sugar daddy wants her to star in a kung fu musical, and a rich enthusiast for spanking cowboys in tight white jeans wants a Western filled with...well, that. When Benny buggers off with the money Dennis turns to girlfriend Hermione’s mother Lady Longhorn (= Mary Whitehouse) for the money, and a fourth, family-friendly project is proposed. All four films get shot but guess what happens at the Royal premiere?

The sexiest that this, or any other British sex comedy, ever gets

To paraphrase writer and critic David McGillivray in his masterly History of British Sex Movies, British sex comedies were “films that were neither sexy nor funny. Consequently the British public went to see them in droves”. Martin Campbell’s ESKIMO NELL was released in the UK six months after the overwhelming (and nowadays inexplicable) success of Val Guest’s CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER. While that movie had continued the fine (?) British sex comedy tradition of concentrating on a youthful hero’s amusing and amorous adventures, ESKIMO NELL tried to do something different.

Comedy!

        Indeed, it remains unrivalled in British sex comedy cinema in being that rare, and probably unique, item: the British sex comedy with ambition. And what an ambition it is, namely to provide an accurate, knowing, and at times properly funny satire of low budget British film-making in the early 1970s. It’s not in the slightest bit sexy, not even for a moment, but aficionados of the genre would probably be disappointed if it was. I have to admit I laughed out loud a lot, but your enjoyment of ESKIMO NELL is very much going to depend on how much you know about this era of film-making, and to what extent you are an aficionado of the ‘Tit and Bum Humour’ subgenre of British cinema. If you are then this is well worth your money. If not, then you should already know to stay away.

Probably too close to the actual London AIP office for comfort

88 Films have done a fine job of giving us ESKIMO NELL on Blu-ray. The print looks a bit washed out and faded but it’s uncut and for a film from the UK’s era of Cinema Du Grotty it really looks pretty good. There’s also a commentary track from Simon Sheridan and Michael Armstrong. Mr Sheridan is an excellent and knowledgeable moderator and handles the conversation well. Other extras include a trailer, a reversible sleeve, a booklet with notes and an interesting bonus for anyone who wants a real taste of sleazy British porn shorts of the period. WILD LOVERS is a scratchy old piece of filth shot in black and white with no sound, features Mary Millington (who has a tiny part as a stripping traffic warden in ESKIMO NELL) and is guaranteed to put you off your dinner. Don't let it put you off this package though, which is a crackingly good look at the rear end of early 1970s British cinema. Ooer. 

88 Films released their special 40th Anniversary Edition of Martin Campbell's ESKIMO NELL on DVD and Blu-ray on 16th February 2015.



4 comments:

  1. What bugs me about this release is that it portrays Mary Millington as one of the main stars of the film on the blu-ray cover- she is sixth billed- and yet in reality she is in the film for about 6 seconds, doesn’t receive any screen credit and the film pre-dates her even adopting the ‘Millington’ name. Even if you ignore the bad taste aspect of using a dead woman’s name to try and sell a few more copies of a film she is barely in (would even Benny U Murdoch himself stoop that low?) it also seems quite disrespectful to the people who are actually in the film –like Christopher Timothy, Terence Edmond and Beth Porter- and contribute a great deal more to it, yet have received no mention on the cover. Prior to this release Eskimo Nell was a witty satire on dishonest and tacky film industry behaviour, but now thanks to this release it now epitomises it.

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  2. Hi Gav

    Thanks very much indeed for commenting, and I hear exactly what you’re saying. But I don’t think you can take this particular release of this particular film to task for something that has essentially been an exploitation standby since almost forever. The naming of bit part players as ‘stars’ on new releases of old material stretches back to the days of VHS (Norman J Warren’s TERROR starring...Glynis Barber?) and was probably pioneered by Ed Wood (Bela Lugosi in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE). I think we’ve all picked up movies where we know the so-called ‘stars‘ are only in the movie for a fraction of a second. At least here we don’t get ‘Mary Millington in ESKIMO NELL’ which I would have considered far more objectionable. She gets sixth billing, which I agree isn’t at all fair but I can understand it from an exploitation point of view. Besides, I suspect anyone who knows who Mary is these days will also be well aware of her oeuvre. Just in case they don’t, though, I thought it prudent to mention how little she’s in it in the review! Would Benny U Murdoch have stooped so low? I think in such a situation he would have been the first to do the very same thing.

    Best wishes,

    John

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  3. Mary,Mary,still the subject of much controversy, and even now from beyond the grave she exists.. Six seconds feature time, really it could it could have been one and she would still have sold this dvd for you.

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  4. I take your point about there being an exploitation film tradition of over exaggerating ‘before they were famous’ film appearances, 23rd Century’s DVD release of Born to Win –which top bills Robert De Niro even though he only has a secondary role in the film, and uses a more up to date photo of him on the DVD sleeve- is a more recent example of this, but even in that company giving someone front cover prominence on account of an un-credited, 6 second appearance really is pushing it. You rarely see VHS or DVD releases of say, The Devil’s Rain (1975) or Night-Flowers (1979) giving much attention to the fact that John Travolta and Linda Hamilton are in those films’ casts, due to their appearances in those films being so slight that its barely worth mentioning, let alone trying to exploit.


    I could almost understand it if we were talking about ‘Whats up Superdoc’ which is a legitimately terrible film with barely anything going for it other than a seconds long Mary Millington appearance, but I would have thought that Eskimo Nell wouldn’t have had to descend to the level of emphasizing the barely present Mary Millington angle to it, and would be able to sell itself on its own merits. Its worth noting that the DVD releases of I’m Not Feeling Myself Tonight and Keep it up Downstairs relegated mention of her brief appearances in both those films to a DVD back cover fact, even though she is in both those films for a lot longer than she is in Eskimo Nell. I do think it has a detrimental effect on the film’s credentials as a satire when 40 years down the line its makers seem to be adopting the same tactics that they once mercilessly parodied with this film, it has rather null and voided their right to look down on the Benny U Murdochs of this world.

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