Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Roy or Wendy ? Girl stroke boy ?

Gender reversal and transgender movies have mainly been played for laughs, and have provided some actors with their most successful roles .... think Dustin Hoffman as TOOTSIE in '82, or Robin Williams as MRS DOUBTFIRE in 1993, going back to 1959 Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis had to be filmed in black and white (to Marilyn Monroe's annoyance) and decked in 1920s fashions to pass as Daphne and Josephine in SOME LIKE IT HOT (still the best comedy ever), then there was MYRA BRECKINRIDGE
  .... plus of course cross-dressing has been a comedy staple since FIRST A GIRL and the original VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA (see 1930s label) in the 1930s, the era of the music halls and OLD MOTHER RILEY, and Julie Andrews had her last big success with VICTOR AND VICTORIA in 1982. 
The subject has hardly been treated seriously until TRANSAMERICA, and of course Glenn Close labooured over ALBERT NOBBS (above), where she was quite convincing too (2000s label), but back in 1972 there was I WANT WHAT I WANT, hot on the heels of the gender bender comedy GIRL STROKE BOY in 1971 - I caught that during its brief run as it starred my great favourite, Joan Greenwood. Interesting to catch both these latter two now on dvd ...

The early '70s was that field day for tacky comedies or dramas in British cinema, we have already looked at DORIAN GRAY, GOODBYE GEMINI, BITTER HARVEST, ALL COPPERS ARE, THE NIGHT DIGGER, MY LOVER MY SON - see British/Trash labels

This is a serious drama, though still rather tacky with that early '70s look, produced by Raymond Stross (sometimes known as the poor man's Carlo Ponti) and starring his wife, Anne Heywood. 
Anne's usual glamour
Heywood was a beauty queen who was popular in the 1950s in British Rank Organisation movies - here she is (above) with Belinda Lee in the 1957 DANGEROUS EXILE, and she was Michael Craig's wife in the good 1959 comedy UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS, in 1967 she was a sensation in THE FOX, one of the first films to depict lesbian relationships, where she and Sandy Dennis are happy until Keir Dullea comes calling ... She also starred opposite the likes of Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Stanley Baker, Richard Todd, and played meaty roles like a raped wife, a lesbian (daring at the time) and now a transexual ...
Here is the blurb:
Based on the sensational best seller I WANT WHAT I WANT helped pave the way for the release of many other films dealing with transvestite and transexual themes. (just like VICTIM paved the way for gay rights then ...?). Acclaimed British actress Anne Heywood stars as Roy, a young English man who works at a real estate agency and lives with his widowed father (Harry Andrews). Roy's existance is a fight against loneliness as he is obsessed by a secret desire that no one understands. After a violent clash with his father, Roy takes a room in a seedy hotel and slowly adopts his new identity as a woman. Psychologically and physically he becomes a female named Wendy Ross, and in turn falls in love with a man. Directed by theatre director John Dexter, I WANT WHAT I WANT offers a hard-hitting portrait of accepting one's own identity and finding happiness.

Well, yes, Roy/Wendy then moves to a house run by Jill Bennett (no less) where she is accepted as female, Wendy has a lovely room in typical 1970s style where she is happy sewing and running up outfits, very flouncy dresses with lots of ruffles, and she wears lots of make-up too, trowelling on that blue eyeshadow .... in fact she looks too feminine. Luckily he/she does not have to work, as her mother left her some money. The girl next door is none other than Sheila Reid (now Madge in popular tv series BENIDORM), and Miss Bennett is nicely tart as usual. Michael Coles is the other man living there as he and Wendy become aware of their feelings - which leads to that confrontation resulting in him beating her up and she reaches for a sliver of broken glass ... all ends happily though as Roy is now completely Wendy, happily gazing at her new passport for "Miss Wendy Ross". Paul Rogers is good too as the understanding doctor she visits. Harry Andrews more or less phones in his standard bully performance as the father, 'The Major', who catches Roy in full drag. 

Heywood (now in her 80s and retired in California) is indeed mesmerising, but the problem with a woman playing a man playing a woman is that Roy looks like a pretty rather effiminate male, who finds it fairly easy to dress like a woman and wear high heels, whereas if a real man was playing Roy it would make it harder for him to look and pass as female ? Roy does not even have to shave much, if at all ... Its certainly a fascinating film to see at this remove, and maybe should not have been overlooked at the time. Heywood should certainly have been considered for major awards. The film avoids sensationalism, showing from a legal standpoint, "Wendy" does not exist, so finding work would be difficult as she cannot provide identity papers. Without a strong central performance it would not work at all, but Heywood is never less than compelling.

PS: Also today I opened the new BFI programme for April, to see praise for Anne Heywood in a 1962 thriller they are reviving: THE VERY EDGE, with Richard Todd and Jeremy Brett: "What is remarkable and unexpected about the film, however, is Anne Heywood's transition from a 'Stepford Wife' to a woman who is determined, literally, to stand on her own two feet..  Sounds promising ...

No such praise for GIRL STROKE BOY, a cringe-making so-called comedy, from 1971. The only thing in its favour it that is has a last leading role for the marvellous Joan Greenwood, whom we like a lot here. This was produced by Ned Sherrin who was one of the best and better known gay producers on British television, and this was one of his cinema efforts, from a play called "Girlfriend". 
We focus on a dotty older couple, Lettice and George, who live in the country as their son Clive Francis is paying them a visit with his West Indian girlfriend Jo. Clive has never seemed interested in girls before so they are naturally delighted, as we watch them get ready - cue lots of funny business for Joan and that great actor/farceur Michael Hodern as George. His reactions including stunned incredulity are a joy to see, and Joan of course is in her element, with that voice and vocal inflections of hers. Add in the young Patricia Routledge (later Hycinth Bouquet) and more laughs are guaranteed.

The young couple look suitably hippieish, but Jo - played by Straker (later Peter Straker) - is so obviously male that one wonders what planet the others are on.  Since they - and we  - never discover if it's a boy or a girl that their son has brought home, they don't know if he is gay or straight. Its all terribly dated now of course, but thats the charm here. Its a demented comedy of gender confusion and was one of the first British films to portray a gay relationship and is an almost forgotten minor gem from the dark ages of British cinema. At least it tried to push boundaries unlike charmless dated unfunny piffle like PRUDENCE AND THE PILL!

Next: finally on dvd, our 1962 favourite: THE CHAPMAN REPORT, plus reports on ONLY GOD FORGIVES, DJANGO UNCHAINED, THE GREAT BEAUTY, THE LONG GOODBYE and GRAVITY on Blu-ray, and more impersonations with BEHIND THE CANDELABRA and BURTON AND TAYLOR, another Ruth Roman double-bill and more delicious Trash classics.

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