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Jackie D. Broad
Room 36 has taken ten years to reach the screen and during that time has suffered one calamity after another from the withdrawal of the specialised black and white film stock, to the processing lab burning down not to mention the death of a cast member. Yet the creative team who gave us the cult classic The Revenge of Billy the Kid have managed to get their low budget black comedy film noir a West End premiere and nationwide cinema release in spite of it all.
In a dilapidated and sleazy Paddington hotel where the rooms are infested with cockroaches and the residents are as unsavoury as the staff, a hired hit-man with a fetish for obsessive cleanliness awaits a rendezvous with a lady MP and a roll of microfilm in room 38. Meanwhile, in room 36 next door, an obese travelling salesman and part time transvestite is expecting a prostitute. When the number on the door of room 38 is damaged by feuding newlyweds (the husband portrayed by Jim Groom, in a Hitchcock-like director's cameo) the prostitute goes to the wrong room and confusion ensues.
Though its low budget origins are clearly obvious, Room 36, has humour, charm, intelligence and laughs aplenty. As you'd expect from the writers of Revenge of Billy the Kid (in which the eponymous hero, sired by an inbred farmer who impregnates his nanny goat, wreaks revenge on his human family) there is plenty of lavatorial humour and filthy fun.
Visually, the movie is a pastiche/tribute to Hithcockian noir thrillers of the 40's and David Read's black and white cinematography does an excellent job of recreating the gritty, moody look of the period and emphasises the squalor of the hotel and its characters. There's also an original score, by Scott Benzie which echoes the atmospheric movie music of the era and adds to the tension.
Paul Herzerg is a sexily menacing presence as Connor, the hit-man, and Portia Boorof, as Helen Woods MP, undergoes a gripping transformation from naive victim to violent avenger. The supporting cast includes such British film veterans as Brian Murphy, John Forbes-Robertson, John Cater and the late Norman Mitchell (to whom the film is dedicated). But, a special mention must go to Frank Scantori as the grotesque yet ultimately lovable travelling salesman Richard "call me Dick" Armstrong. With a penchant for wearing women's undies and the personal habits of a farmyard animal, Dick is hardly an appealing character yet Scantori manages to imbue the repulsive individual with warmth, humanity and subtlety. His denouement is a comic triumph and, the night I saw the movie, received a round of applause.
Director and co-writer, Jim Groom understands how to bring a story to life making the most of the cinematic form. It's a highly visual film. There is, in fact, not a lot of dialogue and much of the plot is moved along by what we see rather than what characters say. He does an excellent job of conveying the atmosphere of Midlothian hotel with its walls so thin that you can hear a fart two floors away and creaking bed springs announce who's sleeping with who. There's a fabulous use of off screen noises - traffic sounds from the street, overheard music, TV from neighbouring rooms, guests singing in the bath - and it all adds to the atmosphere of claustrophobia and squalor.
It might not be the most polished film you've ever seen but it offers plenty to entertain and amuse and, in spite of its budget it does so with originality skill and style.
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