A timely BFI release this, and almost an addendum to their fascinating Joy Of Sex Education DVD released in 2009. Timely because in the UK right now there's an unchecked rise in sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, causing much hand-wringing from government departments about how best to educate the masses whilst also minding the pennies. In 2004, money for campaigns and modernisation of clinics was allocated but it eventually went to pay off debts and fill funding gaps from overspending on hospitals, drugs and GP services. The UK has been rather ramshackle when it comes to giving sufficient priority to sexual health services and education, with governments often getting caught up in moral and ethical questions over whether its campaigns and sex education policies advocate promiscuity in teenagers, offend particular faiths, parents and teachers. All this whilst the country goes into sexual meltdown in the face of a rather typical pruriently British attitude to all things to do with sex.
Getting off my soapbox, let's go back to 1963, when That Kind Of Girl was released. The attitudes towards sex and sex education have changed, it has to be said, and subjects such as sexually transmitted infections aren't as crudely articulated as they are here within this rather strange format of public information film meets sexploitation shocker cobbled together by those great purveyors of British exploitation, Robert Hartford-Davis, Michael Klinger and Tony Tenser. And throw in a fascinating record, whether completely accurate or not, of London nightlife and the emergence of the politically earnest younger generation that culminates with director Gerry O'Hara filming sequences on the hoof during an actual 'ban the bomb' march.
What irks me about That Kind Of Girl is that in its sensationalist marketing, and as essayist Cathi Unsworth points out in the script too, the central character Eva, a heavily accented Austrian 'blonde bombshell' working as an au pair in London, is portrayed as a slut of the highest degree, no better than a dirty street walker it seems, because she just happened to have caught VD from a rather horrible man, Elliot Collier, who then continues to torment the poor girl, after a failed attempt to rape her, via a series of malicious phone calls. Poor Eva is actually the innocent here, thanks to O'Hara's directorial skewing, sucked into what the film clearly considers is the licentious, sexually immoral underbelly of London. Obviously, she got what she deserved because she looks like Brigitte Bardot, flirts a lot, goes to seedy jazz clubs and dances the night away. As the film attempts to label her a pox ridden whore, you actually come away feeling very sympathetically attached to Eva rather than repulsed. Margaret Rose Keil makes Eva an attractive, innocent character and her acting ability, whilst limited, is sufficient to carry the film.
The moralising tone is also continued through the subsidiary characters that Eva meets. She gets friendly with a librarian Max, inviting her on a 'date' to the 'ban the bomb' march. This means that not only is she in danger of being subjected to some heavy petting from Max but she's also going to have to put up with several middle class campaign bores in NHS specs, roll neck sweaters and sandals who dismiss her lack of social conscience with 'if she's representative of the post-war generation then god help us all!'. Charming, especially as they underline the attitude behind what could, to all intents and purposes, be a running joke in the film where Eva is constantly nagged about Hitler.
Later when Max discovers that Eva may have passed syphilis onto him, his rather cocky attitude that he's learned all about STDs from library books is shot down in flames by the doctor he visits. He also imperiously underlines the film's hectoring moral tone about Eva and the dangers of casual sex with the classic line, 'You wont catch me with that kind of girl!"
The subject of sex before marriage is carried by two other characters, Keith and Janet. A young couple determined to marry even against the wishes of Janet's parents. After an argument, Keith picks up Eva after she's taken her Bardot looks and slingbacks away from the 'ban the bomb' march and heads for home. They enjoy a spot of skinny dipping in the Thames and inevitably some of that lethal casual sex that the film is clearly salivating over whilst wagging its moral finger at you. Janet decides that the only way to keep her man is to give her untouched body to Keith, get pregnant and present her parents with a fait accompli.
Alas, the spectre of VD now haunts the couple and they both have to attend the 'Special Clinic' after Eva herself is diagnosed and has to send letters out to the charmed circle she's infected. Janet's line, as she nervously approaches the clinic, sums up the unintentionally hilarious guilty pleasure of the film, as she announces, straight-faced, 'I've never been in to tell a doctor I'm an unmarried mother who has VD before.' Linda Marlowe as the terror stricken Janet and David Weston as Keith are a definite plus in a film that certainly has its heart in the right place in trying to cut a swathe through the misinformation about sex and STDs that was probably an utter mystery to most young adults in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mind you, as all of this earnestly plays out Malcolm Mitchell's jazzy soundtrack does tend to overstep the mark. The scoring, whilst enthusiastic, is not entirely appropriate as the film reaches its dramatic emotional moments only to be undermined by music that is clearly signaling you to forget the onscreen tension, knock a few drinks back and cut a few dashes on the dance floor.
For the most part it gets its messages across in an entertaining and dramatic way, despite damning the central character Eva for her innocent good looks and charm, but for the scenes in the Special Clinic the script drops any pretension at being 'the shock film of the year' and crudely turns into a Chumley Warner-style black and white government information film in which thesp John Wood, playing the Doctor, gets very high handed with all the characters, and laughably, after Keith has been sent away with a flea in his ear, tries not to look directly down the camera lens as he trots out the appalling implications of contracting syphilis amidst a swathe of government statistics. He's joined by a slightly sinister looking sister who tuts and shakes her head in agreement.
Away from the unintentional hilarity, Elliot Collier's obsession with Eva is quite a striking dramatic touch and, although it seems to suggest syphilis makes you go crazy enough to repeatedly make obscene phone calls to blonde bombshells, O'Hara evokes some genuine tension and enough compassion that you're actually very pleased when the police drag Elliot out of the phone box and bung him into the back of a police car. Eva is supported throughout her dilemma by the parents she works for, the Millars. Thankfully they are sympathetic to her troubles despite having to take their child for testing and Sylvia Kay, as Mrs. Millar, is terrific. David Davenport, as Mr. Millar, does pompous quite well but my concern was that he was so wooden that he might set himself on fire with the pipe he's constantly chewing in some of his scenes.
The icing on the cake is O'Hara's assured handling of all the elements, making a decent fist out of a rather dreadful script, and capturing much of the London milieu in crisp black and white photography that looks rather splendid here in high definition. As part of this time capsule, he also squeezes in scenes set in the legendary Sombrero club in Kensington and Latin Quarter in Soho, complete with a stripper bumping and grinding in the background. BFI seem to be on a bit of a mission to unearth O'Hara's films and, as well as this new release, we've also had the excellent All The Right Noises in the last batch of Flipside releases. He will of course be remembered for The Bitch, rather unfortunately, but let's hope the BFI see fit to release The Pleasure Girls or The Brute in their efforts to explore the neglected gems and oddities of British cinema. That Kind Of Girl, his first directing assignment, is thoroughly enjoyable, benefits from its Blu Ray presentation with a stunning picture, and shows that in many ways we have come very far in our attitudes towards these issues whilst also illustrating a government's problematic inability to educate young men and women despite the multiple media platforms available to it.
- The People at No. 19 (J.B. Holmes, 1948, 17 mins): an intense and effective melodrama which explores the themes of adultery, sexual hygiene and pregnancy from the perspective of an earlier era
- No Place to Hide (1959, 10 mins): a snapshot of the ‘Ban the Bomb’ march to Aldermaston
- A Sunday in September (1961, 27 mins): a compelling Granada documentary, directed by James Hill, about a nuclear disarmament demonstration in London, with Vanessa Redgrave, Doris Lessing and John Osbourne
- Robert Hartford-Davis interview (1968, 14 mins): That Kind of Girl's producer discusses his film career and production methods in one of Bernard Braden's Now And Then interviews
- Extensive illustrated booklet featuring essays from novelist Cathi Unsworth and director Gerry O’Hara