Sunday, 30 December 2012

Retro Review: Keep It Up Downstairs (1976)

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Made to cash in on the successful British TV series, Upstairs Downstairs, this 1976 British sex comedy tells the story of the Cockshute family, whose fortune is dwindling so much that they have had to get rid of the family jewels ("the glories of our past are now paste") and are at risk of being evicted until obnoxious Snotty Shutteworth (the fabulous Willie Rushton) comes up with a plan - allow him to move in, and they can all stay. This suits the family fine, despite some reservations that it may upset their rather unusual routine. The servants, headed by butler Hampton (Neil Hallett, Virgin Witch, Groupie Girl, Can You Keep It Up For A Week?) seem to be up to all sorts of shenanigans with the masters.

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The youngest of the bunch, Peregrine (Jack Wild, the Artful Dodger from the musical version of Oliver!) is more interested in inventing down in the basement and even spurns the advances of his sex mad step-mum, played by the glorious Sue Longhurst. They come up with a plan to marry him into some rich family, and invite them around. Francis (John Blythe) and his wife Daisy (Diana Dors) who just so happens to be a former showgirl who Hampton recognises. With them all there, and the nuptials all but arranged, they come up with a better plan - steal their jewelry in the middle of night, but things go awry when the midnight liaisons start, but could Peregrine's latest invention, a pliable rubber sheath be the key to a change in their fortunes?
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Full of familiar faces, and shot on location at the grand Knebworth house, Keep It Up Downstairs is a fun, if not quite hilarious film. Some amusing double entendres and visual gags and some surprisingly good acting. A cut above the usual 70s fare, largely down to the period costumes and the impressive cast.

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francoise pascal sex comedyThe lovely Françoise Pascal (The Iron Rose, Burke and Hare) appears as Mimi, the French maid and steals the scenes she is in. While she (apparently accidentally) slips a nipple out in one scene, she was adamant not to reveal anymore (despite having done photo spreads in some top shelf publications; she later said she was fed up of titillating men) and one scene involves her having to bend over out of a window, and have her bare behind seen to from the inside (giving Françoise the attention is Simon Brent, who was the lead in her first screen role, Norman J. Warren's Loving Feeling). Mary Millington, who appears as another chambermaid, provides Françoise's rear for this shot, amusingly as it doesn't match with Madame Pascal's Mediterranean complexion. In her fabulous autobiography, As I Am!, she tells how she asked Mary about her choice of career, "Why Not? My body is beautiful and sex is healthy" was the response. Françoise's next major project was the hit UKTV show, Mind Your Language. A show I remember watching at 7/8 year old, and loving. Barry Evans, himself a veteran of my beloved 70s sex comedies starred as the hapless adult eduction language tutor. I've just managed to purchase the complete series (3 seasons) on DVD, and look forward to re-watching soon.
Also appearing are Carmen Silvera ('Allo 'Allo), Aimi MacDonald (Vampira), who sadly keeps her clothes on, and some of those "I know their face" actors, Julian Orchard (Carry On Henry) April Olrich (The Skull) and Peter Halliday (Virgin Witch, Madhouse). It benefits from a great script by Hazel Adair, who also wrote (under the name Klaus Vogel) Brit horror Virgin Witch as well as co-producing it and Can You Keep It Up For A Week? Using her real name was a considered brave, as of course, women don't and can't think of any saucy or sexual. The director was none other than Robert Young, who had made the brilliant Vampire Circus for Hammer and went on to make the classic House of Horror TV episode, Charley Boy as well as the rather awful A Fish Called Wanda sequel, Fierce Creatures. He directs the romp well, the late night farce moments especially, making it far easier to watch than some of the genre, although reports from the set were that the actors had no idea what was going on from one day to the next! The film has disappeared from view, however. A late night screening on Channel 5 in the UK or second hand copies of the old VHS being the only chance to catch it, which is a shame as it's certainly better than a lot of the films that were re-issued in the "saucy 70s" DVD boom.
7 out of 10
The NETWORK DVD release has now been released, and I'm happy to report that, like their recent releases of The House In Nightmare Park, Spanish Fly and Konga, the results are brilliant. Transferred from the original elements, and presented in both it's theatrical ratio (1:66:1) and as-filmed 4:3, the film looks stunning, especially after having to put up with a dodgy VHS transfer previously. Although There was one scene (the first scene with Willie Rushton) which demonstrated a strange colour fluctuation, nothing too annoying - but noticeable. The film still holds up as a saucy postcard type comedy, helped by it's brilliant cast, especially Sue Longhurst (why she is not billed higher I don't know). A highly recommended release of a film from a time when British cinema had a sense of humour. DVD: 8 outof 10
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  1. One of those rare moments I can say I have actually seen this Martin. Hoooorah! VHS video made me so happy.

  2. I don’t know if I’m the first to pick up on this but the full frame 4:3 version of the film included as an extra on the DVD release does contain more nudity in the under the table sex table scene than the main 1:66:1 aspect version on the DVD, due to the fact that the 4:3 version favours the top and bottom of the screen whilst the 1:66:1 versions favours the left and right and thus crops off some of Millington’s ‘downstairs’. As good a reason as any why British sex comedies should be released in both 4:3 and 1:66:1 versions.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Well spotted! Love your blog by the way