The Pleasure Girls (UK 1965)

Exploitation fare with a heart

Exploitation fare with a heart

Most ‘Swinging ’60s’ British cinema focuses on male experiences, usually chasing the ‘birds’. This is hardly surprising and Oedipal narratives are still the dominant form in mainstream cinema. I stumbled across The Pleasure Girls as part of the British Film Institute’s ‘Flipside’ series, releasing the ‘untold history of British film’. This is just the sort of project a publicly-funded should be involved in, offering a great opportunity to see beyond the ‘headline’ films. I saw this on a rental Blu-ray which meant, unfortunately, I couldn’t benefit from the excellent essays that accompany the series.

The film focuses on Sally’s (Francesca Annis) first weekend in London, staying with friends before trying to launch a career as a model. The opening credits firmly root Sally in the upper middle classes, she’s from East Grinstead, thus contrasting the film with the marvellous Smashing Time (1967) which follows two northern lasses in London. Sally soon meets the apparently louche Keith (Ian McShane), a would-be photographer. Despite their social standing the ‘girls’ are all likeable and an upper-class twit differentiates them from the old upper class order.

The film was independently-made, no doubt raising money on the promise of sexy subject matter; googling ‘pleasure girls’ brings not just the film but women designed to ‘pleasure’ men. Unlike ‘google’, the film does focus on female pleasures and veers between representing ‘loose women’ negatively, one of the girls is in ‘trouble’, and the progressive representation of the gay Paddy (homosexuality for men was still illegal at the time). It celebrates Sally’s reluctance to jump into bed with Keith and their burgeoning relationship is convincingly portrayed; McShane was polishing his roguish charm and it’s not quite clear whether he simply wants to ‘get into her knickers’.

There’s an obscure sub plot concerning Klaus Kinski as an exploitative landlord who’s being chased by . . . outraged tenants I think. The film doesn’t have a strong narrative drive but presents itself as a slice of ‘swinging’ young people’s lives at the time.

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2 comments

  1. Roy Stafford

    I have the the BFI essay on Gerry O’Hara (writer-director of the film) from another BFI Flipside release entitled THAT KIND OF GIRL (1963) – a film about the dangers of VD – with a plot that involves the Aldermaston marches led by CND. O’Hara was an interesting figure in the British film industry. He worked in the industry for five decades but was unlucky and didn’t get the breaks he deserved.

    I don’t think that I saw THE PLEASURE GIRLS at the time but I was certainly aware of it. I’ve always assumed that the later BBC TV drama series TAKE THREE GIRLS (1969-72) was in some way inspired by the 1965 film but I can’t find any evidence of this.

    The rather salacious title was a deliberate ploy by Compton Films and Michael Klinger/Tony Tenser. They were known for exploitation films – ‘naturist’ films, expose docs, horror etc. – but they also produced Polanski’s UK films, REPULSION and CUL-DE-SAC and they employed good technical people.

  2. nicklacey

    I don’t know whether it’s because no one else wants Flipside on Lovefilm but I’ve had four consecutive titles now (out of 180+). O’Hara’s ‘All the Right Noises’ (1971), with Olivia Hussey and Tom Bell, was certainly worth seeing; he a thirtysomething, she a 15 year old who he thought was older. Like ‘Pleasure Girls’ the narrative lacked drive (not a criticism) and didn’t offer a conclusive resolution. It was Hussey’s first film after Zefirelli’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (1968); presumably she was doing her exams.

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