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When I was a kid, the appearance of the American-International logo before the credits of a movie was virtual shorthand for low-budget, sensationalistic exploitation. Rarely was I disappointed and rarely did I care. For an adolescent with a taste for something beyond the dogs, children, cowboys, and smirking smut of so-called "family entertainment," American-International's dedication to jumping on each and every youth-propelled bandwagon in the pursuit of a buck made A.I. the answer to a preteen's prayers. One movie that eluded me back in 1969 was "Two Gentlemen Sharing," a film starring British actress Judy Geeson, for whom I harbored a crush since the time she boogied with Sidney Poitier during the finale of "To Sir, with Love."
The film had a misleading ad campaign that made one think that the two gentlemen of the title were sharing the comely Geeson (forever saddled with the poor-man's Julie Christie identification even here) when in fact what the gentlemen are sharing is a London apartment and a twin case of identity confusion.
One gentleman is an effete, caucasian ad-man eager to rustle the stifling confines of his upper-class upbringing and who may or may not be a repressed homosexual (Robin Phillips), the other a veddy veddy British Jamaican attorney (Hal Fredeick)ambivalent about his identity in a society that would prefer him to be either militantly black or to assimilate completely. The two struggle throughout to find themselves in a kind of sexually/racially tinged "The Odd Couple" that also includes girlfriends, fiancées and nosy landladies.
How Geeson fits into all of this makes her little more than a plot device. Her presence and Frederick's superficial resemblance to Sidney Poitier (he seems to be sending up Potier's then-controversial, non-threatening black man persona) has the effect of hearkening back to her character in "To Sir, With Love," and giving the film the feel of being a sequel of sorts. In any case, the film (which never gels as either social drama or character piece) is well served by her beauty and intelligent acting style, such that one wishes she had a more substantial role, given her billing.
"Two Gentlemen Sharing" doesn't exactly tackle the topics of identity, racism, integration, homosexuality, class bigotry and permissive sexuality , but they are all present here, and for a 60's film, many of the points made (and all too quickly abandoned) are still very relevant.
In true American-International fashion, a great deal of character and plot get jettisoned so as to allow more time for the sensational, and the film treats us to two rather protracted party scenes that bear all the worst trademarks of A.I. films: too much of everything.
Looking at this film now, some 40 years after its release, it is striking how much it feels like a time capsule look at an era long gone. Also, one notices how frequently the filmmakers commit the usual crime of engaging in the very racism and stereotyping that it purports to expose. Overall "Two Gentlemen Sharing" muddled as it is, has its intentions in the right place and is a tad courageous for it.
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