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Adventures of a Plumber's Mate

Adventures of a Private Eye

Adventures of a Taxi Driver

 
 
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Adventures Of A Plumber's Mate
cast: Christopher Neil, Stephen Lewis, William Rushton, Prudence Drage, and Suzy Mandel

84 minutes (18) 1978
widescreen ratio 16:9
Icon DVD Region 2 retail

Adventures Of A Private Eye
cast: Christopher Neil, Suzy Kendall, Robin Stewart, Jon Pertwee, and Diana Dors

96 minutes (18) 1977
widescreen ratio 16:9
Icon DVD Region 2 retail

Adventures Of A Taxi Driver
cast: Barry Andrews, Judy Geeson, Diana Dors, Adrienna Posta, and Robert Lindsay

89 minutes (18) 1976
widescreen ratio 16:9
Icon DVD Region 2 retail

director (of all 3 films): Stanley Long

RATING: 6/10
reviews by Paul Higson
Before Stanley Long shot a frame of the first of his Adventures... series, the 1976 box-office hit, Adventures Of A Taxi Driver, the British soft-sex comedy had some well-established principles... including a lack of them. Long and his cohorts, scriptwriter Suzanne Mercer and associate producer (later, a writer in the series) Michael Armstrong had credentials in the field though this had not made names of any of them and cinemagoers, at best, had expectations only of some mild titillation and a gallery of familiar faces in potentially embarrassing proximity to naked female pulchritude.

The Carry On series had slipped into abysmal un-funniness and the Confessions series, starring Robin Askwith, got by on the weakest of double entendres in extravaganzas of gurning. Popular stage farces transferred blandly to the big screen and individually awful entries like Can You Keep It Up For a Week?, Commuter Husbands, and Keep It Up Downstairs only added to the dismal lot. There was small-screen naughtiness which occasionally travelled well to the cinemas as in On The Buses film series, but the only additional draw in new sex-coms would be even more flesh and bonus pubic mounds. The drab comedy devices are largely depressing but the Adventures series operates better than its competitors.

The Adventures trilogy now comes to DVD in a useful package. Bizarrely, if the director's commentaries on the three movies are anything to go by, Stanley Long does not seem to understand what made them successful. Retrospectively hurt by some of the decisions made during their original production he is keen to reclaim most of the credit for the success that was for himself. Long's performance on the commentaries appears addled and unconnected to the astute veteran that had guested on the BBC's Balderdash And Piffle only last year. The recordings give tell to a man who is not well. The release of this DVD boxset and an autobiography may yet prove to have been rushed into as a last say by the septuagenarian, suspecting that a little wait and he may not be around to provide that record. It is unfortunate that Long did not invite others to contribute separate commentary tracks on the discs but some of the obvious candidates for this (Armstrong) could very easily have upstaged Long and, it is clear, Long was not prepared to take that risk.

It is unnecessary to explore the storylines in these films in any detail, as they are no more than rail-tracks during which the travellers stop at stations of misadventure, sex sketches from which our antihero must extract himself. Adventures Of A Taxi Driver arrived in the year of Jaws and The Omen, and Long delights in recounting that it was the eighth highest box-office taker here that year, his sexist London cabbie having far more impact than Scorsese's psychotic Travis Bickle. Duking it out at the UK box-office Robert De Niro was no match for Barry Evans.

Christopher Neil would replace Andrews as the leads in the successive movies: Adventures Of A Private Eye in the following year and Adventures Of A Plumber's Mate in 1978. They could not rightly be called sequels as Neil twice began afresh with new leading characters; Evans had played Joe North, while Neil played Bob West and Sid South. The character of each changed too, North sexist, West passively horny, South almost aggressively sexist. Evans' casting possibly came on the strength of his notoriety for his role in one of the best regarded sex comedies, Here We Go Around The Mulberry Bush but when the actor was detoured into television where lay more consistent earnings Long had to find a suitable replacement.

The casting of Christopher Neil was cleverly precise, similar in appearance and build to Evans, there was a superficial resemblance: boyish good looks and a disarmingly soft vocal delivery which defuses some of the, what should be, grating sexism. What assists the overall series greatly is a sense of balance: in the star, in the supporting cast, in the running time, the degree of nudity, the number of set-pieces, and the smile factor, or at least nearly so; and where the films don't quite match then it is made up for in other ways which then readdresses the balance. Taxi Driver and Private Eye, for example, are funnier than Plumber's Mate, but Plumber's Mate has as many smiles and runs smoother than the other two because it does not jog you as irregularly with laughter. The story of Private Eye is all over the place but it is the funniest of the three. Plumber's Mate also tries to move away from the other two by junking the asides to camera but as the final in the series and by returning to a lower budget closer to that of the first in the series it bookends the series agreeably. The commentary informs us that Long has some odd ideas as to what makes the series successful. A simple and sensible combination is the real answer. The series has balance and is basically amusing enough, naughty enough and brisk enough throughout the three. They kept it kinetic and fun.

There are more celebrities than in each film that there are in the average Water Rats stop-in and all are class acts. Adrienna Posta is a game presence in the first two films and Harry H. Corbett can be found in grand form in Private Eye. Many performers were on set for less than a day as guested in the episodic encounters. The approach can get you a gala cast on the cheap, bigger than any variety show, and is trick that is also common to anthology filmmaking. Long provides potted biographies on the well-known comedy actors when he should be recalling more behind-the-scenes tales and trying to tell us more about the lesser known character actors and starlets in the series. Long will even repeat the history on some of the returning actors, across the series and during a single commentary. Not that it is a single commentary on any of the films as, unlike the preferred approach of a single run recording, it sounds as if the commentaries on the disc are a stop/start affair which probably explains his apparent forgetfulness and repetition.

The failure to give grace to the lesser known supporting artistes is a shame because the girls who appear in the film are fantastic, real women with real bodies but often-fine character-actors too. Their comic timing was excellent but spacially it was terrible, at the tail end of the 1970s when the film industry was floundering. Today women populating a sex comedy would have perfect bodies and conform to certain beauty criteria but the variety of the women bringing the sex factor to this series are far more exciting, attractive women each of them of a singular appearance. Prudence Drage turns up in both Taxi Driver and Plumber's Mate. Stanley Long praises her but most of that seems to be in adoration of a body that is the equal of Fiona Richmond, and, unlike Richmond, Drage had more of a flair for acting.

Sometimes a briefly touched upon character is developed and portrayed to such an extent that a new film could have been shaped around him or her. I would have delighted in seeing more of Sally from Private Eye, who introduces herself in a trill, craning voice in terms of: "I'm a housewife. Quite boring really." She hides a secret. Her husband away a lot, she occupies herself with adult films at the cinema and re-enacts them with doorstop strangers. She is clearly a solid character actress, an unconventional sex star, and for most would be irresistible. I say for most because another of the differences in the middle film is the fact that the private eye does not take every libidinous opportunity that comes his way, other circumstances dominating. The actress is familiar but we are given little history by Long, only that she died prematurely (1994 on the Isle of Man).

Teresa Wood is another standout in her brief scenes in Private Eye and Plumber's Mate, most notably as the plunger girl in the latter. The tennis quartet in Plumber's Mate that find Neil in their shower room and follow it up off-camera, led by Suzy Mandel (who would shortly after emigrate to America and fall into hardcore porn like Blonde Ambition), are likely the top fantasy bevy of any British sex film... a cheeky bubbly blonde, a wiry girl next door, and two gorgeous brunettes. The fact that you never see what happens next, perpetuates that particular fantasy in every boy and man's imagination. The combinations, in number, shape and type, keep this series alive for the male audience.

Barry Evans talks to the camera, and though Christopher Neil will continue this practice in the second film in the series, by the third the asides are gone. Evans is abhorrently sexist in the first in the series, Neil almost angrily so in Plumber's Mate, particularly, disturbingly so, post-coital: as good as an "I've had you, now fuck off!" - it isn't pretty. In the middle film he is more timid and jobsworth, sometimes fleeing from the sex-starved housewives. Long takes a lot of credit for the success of the series and is still annoyed by the expense of Private Eye and comparative box-office failure, disingenuously, quietly inferring the blame to be on others. Sometimes he charges some odd quarters for the blame, like the boy actor who intrudes on his mother and the private eye. Long supposes the child actor's career terminated there but I believe Grange Hill beckoned.

Repeatedly, Long focuses on several visual comedy set-ups that it is his opinion are the sequences that made these movies a success when, in truth, they are often the lamest moments in the series. The real laughs, Long tells us, are visual and the gag has failed when it requires a verbal punchline. But that is crazy thinking, and disrespectful to Suzanne Mercer and, in particular, Michael Armstrong who provided the first two movies with winning dialogue. Armstrong gave good double-entendre at a time when the Carry On series had lost its mojo. Long enthuses over the boating sex episode in Private Eye, regarding it the best sequence in the film. But what Long really means is that it was the most complicated sequence to set up and has it was nearly purely visual it was therefore almost entirely his responsibility. This in a film that, in his opinion, failed financially, which in Long's opinion is complete failure. The boating sex episode that so amuses Long actually results in the dullest few minutes of the film entirely because it is only visual and not remotely funny without supporting dialogue.

Again, what a shame that Michael Armstrong was not invited to the microphone for the Private Eye disc. Long does at least give Armstrong a couple of mentions; one as a co-worker who had a talent for bringing interesting people into the production from he knew not where: people like Veronica Doran. Robin Stewart is in the same film and both he and Doran were in Armstrong's first feature film, The Haunted House Of Horror. The eight-year gap between the two films tells you something about Armstrong: he is someone who not only finds people but also retains them and their friendship. Armstrong was still relatively young and likely was in his element. Jon Pertwee plays Bob West's boss, Judd Blake, an ace private investigator and serial womaniser who he whose successes in the casebook and under the bed-sheets he would like to replicate. Armstrong, who was given his break by the producer Tony Tenser, has previously told the story of how he would enter Tenser's office, finding him and the secretary dressing. Tenser would boast about his sex drive and prowess, even flexing his muscles remarking how it his physique was not bad for a man of his age. Tenser had a big impact on Armstrong, repeatedly turning up in one guise or another in Armstrong's scripts and Judd Blake is clearly Tenser reincarnated again.

The Adventures series is far superior to the face pulling and straining of the Confessions movies. This is a tidy boxset that never seriously dredges and the three movies are easy to return to. It is just a pity that the extras are not as permitting and the commentaries not as strong and informative as they could very easily have been.
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