Monday, 25 January 2010

Smashing Time
(Desmond Davies, 1967)

Brought to our screens by Carlo Ponti, a man who had lent his production muscle to “La Strada”, “Dr Zhivago” and “Blow Up” in preceding years, “Smashing Time” is an aptly named if somewhat less high-minded motion picture that follows the fortunes of Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave as Brenda and Yvonne, two naïve Bradford lasses who arrive in London in search of fame, fortune and scenes that a-swing like a pendulum do, but who swiftly find themselves lost in a wondrous dreamworld of high camp slapstick carnage, incorporating sleazy nightclubs, pop stardom, lecherous toffs, rampaging robots, ill-judged cat outfits, several marathon food fights and a Salvation Army preacher being run down by an out of control steamroller. Having moved to London under broadly similar circumstances myself a few years back, I can confirm that this is still a more or less accurate picture of life for the newcomer in our nation’s capital.

With the late, great George Melly at the typewriter, “Smashing Time” is naturally blessed with a screenplay rich in bawdy wit, gentle social satire and outright sauciness. It is also a film whose simple yet unbeatable premise and riotous visuals help to spark memories of such disparate masterpieces as Vera Chytilova’s “Daisies”, Louis Malle’s “Zazie Dans Le Metro”, “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls” and “The London Nobody Knows”. In a typical British cool malfunction however, all this primo good stuff finds itself filtered through the embarrassingly outdated and forelock-tugging, prole-patronisingly inept sub-Carry On ‘comedy’ stylings of (I’m assuming) TV director Desmond Davies.

Armed with a solid script, an amazing cast, international financing and shooting on location in one of the most uniquely exciting times/places of the 20th century, modern viewers will be ready and waiting for Davies to start socking it to us with some seriously swinging gear and freakin’ out the squares in the editing room, and so it is with frustration that we realise during the film’s opening scenes that he has his sights set more on orchestrating grimly unamusing prat-falls and crude visual gags than on revving up his camera and showing us the sights.

But you can’t keep a good film down, and by the halfway point even Davies’ artless direction has become a clod-hopping joy, with the graceless clowning only adding to the fun as new incidents and outrages pile up with dizzying speed, as Tushingham and Redgrave wreck gleeful havoc upon the decadent edifices of the permissive society in a veritable orgy of atavistic zaniness that not even the drabbest of directors could keep a lid on. And I shouldn’t really be so hard on Davies; his compositions and cutting do seem to get more appropriately lively and Richard Lester-like as the film progresses.

Writing about “Smashing Time” at length would seem a waste of time, so primal and obvious is its appeal. So in this screengrab heavy review, I’m instead going to attempt to whiz you through some of the film’s many, many highlights, with a bare minimum of commentary. Enjoy!

“So where are all these men we’re not supposed to talk to then?” – the girls arrive at St. Pancras station.

The glories of Camden Town just prior to the Summer of Love.

Yvonne soon heads off to Carnaby St…

….whilst Brenda stays behind and helps instigate this truly epic sauce bottle fight in a greasy spoon caf. It goes on for so long, accompanied by looped Benny Hill music, that I started to suspect my scheduled viewing had been replaced by some kind of highly specialist condiment porn.

“They come in ‘ere these little mods, asking for animal paws, then when yr back’s turned, a nice bit a’ skunk vanishes up their knickers” – yes, that’s this thrift shop proprietor’s actual line of dialogue. Make of it what you will.

All the same though, I wish that London still had shops that would do a young lady up like this for £1 plus exchange;

Ah, the lovely Rita. Whilst Redgrave’s character is an overbearing Miss Piggy type who bullies her friend throughout, it’s Tushingham’s performance that outright OWNS this movie.

The joys of flathunting – hasn’t changed much. “You can soak up in the bath while yer boyfriend makes you a cuppa tea”, says new flatmate Toni Palmer.

What the hell’s the story with these bloody Japanese lady paintings anyway? Forty-five years later and the city’s still rotten with them.

No time to ponder that though; robots are on the rampage at a private view gone wrong at the chic Jabberwocky gallery…

Methinks Rita looks a bit like Ann Shenton from Add N to X here.

Not for long though, as the girls get jobs in a Soho hostess club, necessitating another drastic costume change…

Ian Carmichael is a depraved aristocrat who wants to take Yvonne back to his city flat and have his wicked way with her!

Pussycat to the rescue:

Oh, what larks.

Brenda gets a job at the ‘Too Much’ boutique where she bumps into Michael York’s David Bailey stand-in photographer for the second time…

..while Yvonne ends up waitressing at the trendy Sweeney Todd pie restaurant, where she’s required to dress as a '19th Century Street Bawd';

“Sweetie, my girlfriend loves cream, but limits, hmm, limits?” – this guy only has one line, but it’s a knockout.

Seething resentment? A busy cream pie shop? How d’you reckon this one’s going to play out?


There is nothing I can possibly add to this.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Lloyd is great as pop svengali Mr. Tove – “So we’ll make a record – psychedelic but not turned on! Cellos, definitely.”

And so Yvonne’s pop career is launched, in grand Phil Spector style:

Both Tomorrow (of “My White Bicycle” fame) and cult psyche group Skip Bifferty get a mention in the credits, and bits of music from both of ‘em can be briefly heard during the film – I’m not sure which ensemble these guys belong to though.

Lynn Redgrave’s OTT performance reminds me somewhat of Divine in “Female Trouble” in places. I particularly like her insistence on wearing clothes with her name emblazoned on the front in huge letters after she becomes famous.

Brenda retaliates by hooking up with York again to become ‘The Face Of The ‘60s’;

And in keeping with Zany Counter-Cultural Caper conventions, things must naturally reach their conclusion at a gigantic party, held by Yvonne in the revolving restaurant at the top of the Post Office tower, or “London’s heaven-threatener, the scene with the built-in trip, the tower baby!”, as Tove puts it.

And I'll finish up there because I want to leave this movie with SOME surprises to offer anyone who’s inspired to seek it out. Sorry for the absurd number of screengrabs, but rest assured there’s plenty of great stuff in the movie that I haven’t photoed the hell out of, and the fact is, just about every frame of “Smashing Time” is packed with beautiful detail that deserves to be preserved for the ages. For as you will surely have realised by now, the film is a gas of cosmic proportions; a reckless outburst of happiness waiting to engulf anyone who appreciates the value of cinematic camp, ‘60s aesthetics, destruction-based slapstick, London history, and above all, Rita Tushingham. Praise be!