Spanish Fly comes to DVD

Monday, 22 April 2013 00:00
Posted in Cult Movies on DVD
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Spanish Fly comes to DVDPicture the scene.  It’s 1976, and the British cinema has become a home for mild titillation. With Page 3 of ‘The Sun’ in its heyday, mixing such study of the female form with a humour built on the foundations of male frustration seemed to be a winning recipe at the Box Office.  Marking the height, or for some the nadir, of such productions is “Spanish Fly”, now making its way onto the home market as a DVD, allowing it to be seen for the first time since its original cinematic release.

Having been remastered from original film materials, this version includes a print in the as-exhibited cinema aspect ratio. The premise declares that this is “Leslie Philips v Terry-Thomas”, with an onscreen battle of wills to see who comes out on top, in literally every possible meaning of the phrase. If you’re looking for a film that deepens the understanding of the human condition, then this isn’t it. However, if you want to see what sort of movie became the successor to the “Carry On” films, burning brightly for just a short time, then consider “Spanish Fly” as part of your education.

As noted in Ronald Bergan’s obituary of Director Bob Kellett in ‘The Guardian’, his entries in this cinematic sub-genre were ‘in the tradition of Donald McGill's saucy seaside postcards, which George Orwell had extolled as being “symptomatically important as a sort of saturnalia, a harmless rebellion against virtue”’. With nothing ‘between the legs’ on display, it really would take a huge amount of hubris to be offended by the spectacle on offer here.

Kellett also wrote this project under the alias ‘Robert Ryerson’ (Ryerson was his middle name). Despite claims made by several sources, probably all cribbing off each other, the film is not an adaptation of the 1913 German stage farce “Die Spanische Fliege”.

And so, to the duel at hand. Terry-Thomas is Sir Percy de Courcy and Leslie Philips is Mike Scott in a tale set on the Mediterranean island of Minorca. The location is used as a backdrop at every opportunity, showcasing the island and encouraging the audience, if they hadn’t already, to consider package holidays to the region.

Sir Percy de Courcy has set up home on the island, although his wheeler-dealing isn’t as good as he ever hoped it was. With debts mounting up, he invests in 100,000 gallons of local wine, hoping to sell it at a massive mark-up. Unfortunately even Sir Percy, not a wine drinker himself (preferring a G&T, most of the time without the tonic) has to admit the wine tastes rancid.

It’s up to his chauffeur and lieutenant Perkins (Graham Armitage) to find an additive that will turn the dishwater into nectar. Following extensive experimentation, he stumbles on a recipe that we later discover has its basis in mythology. By accident, a potent aphrodisiac has been created.

At this point, lingerie manufacturer Mike Scott arrives on the island to supervise a series of catalogue photoshoots. With him are models Julie (Nadiuska), Bruce (the fabulous Andrea Allen – who appeared in a quartet of episodes of UFO, three as Moonbase Operative Carol Miller), Francesca (Sally Farmiloe) and Isabel (Nina Francis). Trying to keep Scott in line from back in ‘Blighty’ is his wife and dragon Janet (a fantastic turn by the inimitable Sue Lloyd). They are committed to film by photographer Juan (Ramiro Oliveros).

Photo sessions play a large part in the movie, and are probably the most toe-curling aspect of the whole film.  The photographer is all ‘Happy Snaps’-style, shooting off something like over a hundred shots at a time without reloading, with no special lighting, reflective equipment, light meters, or anything else that would have been used by professionals of the day. Each session is shot more like a dance party than a genuine attempt to get the perfect shot!

As the wine flows, and the inhibitions fall, the sales of the tipple take off better than Sir Percy could ever have hoped. Local hostelries place huge orders, and the effect is exactly as you would expect.  Unfortunately, the whole house of cards comes crashing down once sufficient quantities are imbibed, and hitherto unknown side effects ensue.

Frank Thornton gets in on the act as Dr Johnson, but it’s the two leads who really chew up the carpets with their on-cue performances. Catchphrases-in-waiting pepper their dialogue, and their situations and characters are nothing that you’d want to aspire to. It’s a beautiful movie in terms of its settings and the ladies in frame, but it really does feel like a curiosity from a bygone age.

I would imagine that the politically correct will say that there is far too much leering done by the men in this movie, but in the end we see that it’s the women who in essence wear the trousers. For all their efforts, the blokes on every level turn up impotent.

“Spanish Fly” is out now from Network Distributing. It has a ‘15’ certificate, a running time of 97 minutes approx, and a RRP of £9.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

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