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In a Prague shop, an assistant has been carrying on an affair with the dishonest, married manager. An emotionally repressed auditor with domestic problems of his own uncovers serious stock discrepancies. A test of loyalties and a questioning of values concludes in tragedy. Written by
90 Degrees is a strange, if excellent little film which sees Zulu's James Booth appear in what could easily be a work from the Czech new wave, and indeed some viewers might find the British accents of the cast (some apparently dubbed, some not) a little disconcerting in the context, although it is done well. It's a modestly scaled tale which is by turn sexual, claustrophobic, and tragic, a title pretty obscure these days but which ought never the less to be better known as it rarely takes a foot wrong. Although Booth looks a little out of place in his European environment, he turns in a characteristically chippy performance as the scoundrel womaniser Vorell, but he is almost upstaged by the dour inspector Kurka (Rudolf Hrusinsky), whose humourlessness is surely inspired by that of contemporary communist functionaries, as well as the performance of Anne Heywood as the doomed Alena.
The 90 degrees of the title of course refers to more than just the sweltering heat of the year, it also invokes the sexual tensions which run throughout the film (most notably in the 'coffee wiping' stock room scene near the beginning). Vorell and Alena, as well as Kurka and his wife, are essentially two aspects of the same game; ultimately Vorell's replacement of tea-filled liquor bottles in the stockroom is a much a betrayal of empathy as is Kurka's replacement of marital warmth back at home with the coldness of duty. Down the cast list is Donald Wolfitt, no barnstorming from him here though, and one eventually wonders why he accepted such a supporting role. In some ways this is The Shop Around the Corner but a year after and with adult themes. Those familiar with Prague will also relish the backgrounds. Altogether this can be highly recommended as a forgotten bywater of British cinema. There is some fleeting nudity.
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