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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS INCLUDED The devastating flip-side to Come Back Peter, this downbeat slice of sexploitation came from the camera of Donovan Winter- the one man producer, director, writer and self distributor. Winter's exploitation mode goes way back to the nudist era with World Without Shame a fascinating story of young people who left civilization to commune with nature'. Winter's signature piece remains Come Back Peter'. Shot in rough cinema verite fashion the film consists of little more than shagging between its titular hero and various dollies. Many of the sex scenes seem to have been shot with a double as hairy as a gorilla- ultimately the premise is revealed to be one big male wish fulfilment. Peter' far from being a flash hipster is actually stuck in a going nowhere job in a butchers shop- at this point the films psychedelic-era colour scheme is dropped in favour of black and white. If a bitter pill cynicism hangs over Come Back Peter then its all consuming in Winter's next film All Lovers Are Strangers which eventually did the rounds as Escort Girls in December 1974. Escort Girls actually bears more than a passing resemblance to Saturday Night Out- Robert Hartford-Davis' look as 1960's London as observed through the eyes of a bunch of sailors- here the plot evolves around the goings on at an escort agency but most of the vignettes remain symmetrically similar. Its Christmas Eve, when lonely people tend to be at their loneliest- no coincidence then that a London escort service is doing good business. The allure of a special woman on your arm (or despite the title- a special man) albeit for a price, attracts across the board types- office nerds, foreign tourists and ageing spinsters. Harvey, an American, takes his escort girl to a casino Lady Luck is with me tonight' he tells her, it will not turn out to be one of his best bets. Far removed from Harvey's world of roulette and high stakes- two creeps prop up a pub bar- their bad jokes go down as well as their attempts to pick-up women. Clueless and drunkenly sexist their night out only leaves them literally in the gutter. Elsewhere an ugly duckling girl hires out black escort Lester seemly for the sole purpose of shocking her venomously racist friends. At a party sly insults are passed between Lester and these nasty pieces of work with Lester coming out on top. The scene ends on a jarring, surreal note as we see the party guests' imaginary visions of Lester, - Lester as boxer loverman, Lester as African warrior and Lester as romantic singer. In the context of the film, escort' isn't the double entendre for what you might imagine, but sex generally ends up on the cards anyway. Despite this little joy awaits our alienated heros and heroines- Harvey becomes overheated when the girl won't give it up, and tries to assault her- but the jokes on him as a blackmailing photographer takes pictures of the whole escapade. As played out in Saturday Night Out this sex trap scenario had very post Profumo overtones but here it plays as simple 70's fleshed out luridness. Harvey leaves half naked, humiliated and allot less richer. Most unsettling is the fate that befalls Lester who ends up at the mercy of his date' who freaks out- saying she'll accuse him of rape if he doesn't make love to her like an animal. Special mention should go to the films central figure played by David Dixon a repressed clerk nearing middle age. The film tries to paint him as sympathetic but at every turn Dixon comes across creepy par excellence, in a classic example of nerd wish fulfilment his escort turns out to be a nice girl whose willing to put up with some awkward hanky panky. In the last shot Dixon emerges from his shell to slap the ass of a secretary who ignored him in the opening reel- this is Winter's idea of a happy ending. The sex scenes in Escort Girls are so repellent and unflattering they seem almost self-destructive for a film bearing that name- the big shocker is a bedroom scene between a male escort and a woman in her fifties. Her dialogue here consists entirely of put downs of younger women and what a great lover she is- yet the scene is repulsively shot in a way that only suggests the ridiculing of a narcissist. For a man who only made a handful of films, Winter crossed swords with many people- no one made films that rubbed up London film critics the wrong way more than Winter- who wasn't about to hide either. In 1978 he sued big company EMI for dumping his would-be class conscious actioner Give Us Tomorrow at the bottom half of a double bill- he won, but never made another film again. Despite its sexpo roots, an intelligence is at work in Escort Girls which does say quite a bit about the psyche of people desperate enough to pay someone to be around them (sexual or otherwise) - allot of telling dialogue is based around the imaginary lives they dream up for their escorts to use in polite circles tonight you're a writer, it sounds more intelligent'. For all this though, so much of Escort Girls just seems like the product of a negative frame of mind, everyone appears either hateful or pathetic and an endless parade of stagey scenes simply depict people being miserable, going through misery and mostly ending up in a state of more misery- the cynical Seventies indeed. Then and now Escort Girls is no ones idea of a good film and even less anyones idea of an entertaining one, yet it exists for better or worse as proof positive that British sex films weren't always sweetness and light, and no film loudly makes that more clear than Escort Girls.
gavcrimson's summary is full enough that there is little to add to it;
except to comment that there are so many films of this nature which are
conscientiously dishonest that it comes as a shock to realise how easy
it would have been to show these stories as they really are.
London's miserable weather is captured to perfection, so is the dirtiness of the city, how lonely it is, and how no-one ever seems to be at home there.
this is a peculiarly muted film, and i don't really know of anything else quite like it; but people who see it on the title (or for the photographs on the publicity)are going to be as disappointed as the characters in the script.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
ESCORT GIRLS is a British slice of grubby sexploitation from
one-man-band Donovan Winters, who wrote, directed, and produced the
thing. Winters once had an acting career of sorts in the 1950s before
turning his hand to such exploitation fare as SOME LIKE IT SEXY and
GIVE US TOMORROW, and ESCORT GIRLS sees him weaving together a number
of sub-plots based around the theme of escorts, both male and female.
What becomes quickly apparent watching this is just how depressing a film it is. It seems that all of the main characters are lonely and lacking something, mainly human company; they're using escorts out of desperation. As such the frequent sex scenes feel grubby and tend to use actresses who are either middle aged or not particularly attractive, no offence intended to them. It's hard to imagine this succeeding as a work of titillation akin to the softcore porn genre with its idealistic portrayal of beautiful women.
What ESCORT GIRLS does work as is a time capsule of '70s values and ideals. The viewer is treated to many scenes of London in all of its grubby glory, and the contrasting lives between the working and middle classes. Many of the scenes feel very dated, particularly in regard to the racist retorts aimed at a black escort and the later jaw-dropping fantasy scenes of him in full tribal regalia. Latter scenes of desperate middle-aged women seeking the company of young men feel very sad indeed and leave a depressing aftertaste in the mouth. It's hard to know what Winters was aiming to achieve with this film.
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