Henry Buchanan, an English schoolmaster, comes to teach in a small Canadian town. His outspoken views on the evil of the approaching World War II causes a ripple in the small town, and when it is discovered that he was a conscientious objector in World War I, the citizens of the town are outraged. But it's his friendships with both the enigmatic rich recluse Mrs Boswell and Clarissa, the daughter of the town's most prominent citizen, that will get Henry into the most trouble of all... Written by
I'm a big fan of Brit director Alan Bridges, from his top-notch TV work (including an adaptaton of Bergman's THE LIE) to relatively unsung feature films. This is "one that got away", a 1977 movie never booked anywhere near me.
I did get to see theatrically several near-classics, my favorite being THE HIRELING, for which Bridges coaxed best-in-career performances from both Sarah Miles and Robert Shaw. Similarly, Susan George in his OUT OF SEASON was très magnifique.
His ability to present sexual repression on screen is also evident in RAGTIME SUMMER aka AGE OF INNOCENCE. Shot at an actual school in Lakefield, Ontario, the British-Canadian co-production (perhaps a tax shelter project, most of which got perfunctory releases) limns the story of repressed small-town folk in the academic community.
David Warner, acting at a level worthy of his various Peckinpah turns, rides into the film on a motorbike, not unlike his career-making starring debut as MORGAN! He's new teacher Prof. Buchanan at the boys' school, but his status as conscientious objector in The Great War (film is set in the '30s) turns him into a pariah once the word is out via a letter stolen from his rooms by one of the boys.
Film will no doubt live in cinema history (if it ever gets discovered in the first place) for its early-on lengthy topless scene by Honor Blackman, playing socialite and MILF Mrs. Boswell. Long a fan of Honor's I was needless to say thrilled to see her go softcore (after so much THE AVENGERS and GOLDFINGER teasing), and was quite surprised in retrospect to see her resemblance déshabillé to soft porn icon Marsha Jordan.
Warner becomes romantically involved with Blackman, but the film takes a real turn with the appearance in town of young ingénue Trudy Young, daughter of a local magnate. I had a crush on Trudy 40 years ago when she made a splash in the first Canadian films to play regularly in my hometown of Cleveland: starring in THE REINCARNATE and WINTER COMES EARLY. For AGE OF INNOCENCE she resembles Susannah York -another favorite of mine! The period look and archaic morays are well-depicted, leading to drunken violence and a very melodramatic climax that I won't spoil.
Problem for me was not the careful build-up or the shocking apex scene to the drama, but rather a hurried denouement. Bridges and his 1-shot scripter Ratch Wallace (Canadian actor of many a Paul Almond movie) tie matters up too swiftly and neatly, spoiling the subtlety and impact of what's gone before. Donning the hat of a prospective distributor or exhibitor, I can extrapolate how this final 5 minutes could kill one's interest in handling the movie -hence its shelving.
Nevertheless, with this wonderful cast (sole mistake being the wasting of Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell in a nothing "Canadian content" role) and some interesting twists and turns AGE OF INNOCENCE is worth checking out.
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