‘Adventures of a Private Eye’ or — A British Seventies Sex Comedy WITHOUT Double Entendres?!
After watching Stanley Long’s ‘Adventures of a Taxi Driver’ (1976) a couple of weeks ago I compared his directing style to that of the French anthropological documentary filmmakers Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin but don’t worry, I won’t doing anything that ridiculously pretentious with Long’s ‘Adventures of a Private Eye’ (1977) but that’s only because his style this time round has more in common with Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer.
The second film in Long’s ‘Adventures’ series sticks to the established format of its predecessor only this time it’s about a private eye, Bob West (played by future Mike and the Mechanics producer Christopher Neil), as opposed to a taxi driver who constantly ends up in various “humourous” sexual escapades.
Yet what’s really fascinating about Long’s sex comedies is that writer/director Long apparently detested not only the Carry On films but double entendres too. Think about that for a second — a British sex comedy that actively avoids double entendres? I had no idea such a thing ever existed! Although this raises an interesting question — if Long’s film doesn’t rely on double entendres for its humour then what does it rely on? Let’s find out.
Good examples are the scenes between Bob and his secretary. She’s a replacement as the private-eye company’s regular one who has gone away for a dirty weekend with Jon Pertwee. After informing Bob not to sexually harass her because of the basic, primitive sexuality of her body which arouses animal passions in all men (she’s made up to look as frumpy and dowdy as possible) Bob calls her “Miss Garbage” to which Miss Garbage replies -
“It’s pronounced “Gubbage”, but you can call me Maud.”
It’s a funny line with the humour very much stemming from the phonetics of “Gubbage” followed closely by “Maud”. So there’s word play here that delights in how words sound, so it’s less reliant on ‘phwoar’ and ‘wink-wink’ jokes and demonstrates an effort towards invention that’s noticeable.
Plus, Long might eschew double entendres but he has no problem with single entendres. At one point Irene Handle pops up playing against type as a very posh spoken woman (which is in and of itself incredibly hilarious) and complaining to the police about all the sex maniacs being everywhere, including under her bed… and she’s called “Miss Friggin”.
Most of the time characters just come out and say outrageously naughty stuff directly, such as the housewife who invites Bob back to her place whilst her husband is away only for Bob to discover she’s a leather fetish, bondage dominatrix who eagerly suggests “How about a bit of ‘Last Tango in Paris’? I’ve got loads of butter in the fridge” with the heavy suggestion that that butter will be used on Bob.
Then there’s the look of the film which, like its predecessor, is absolutely enthralling as it is packed with so much period detail it’s like gazing into a fractal of endless 1970’s British period decor. It’s utterly hypnotic. This appeal extends to the directing and camerawork. In the Sixties Long was his own lighting cameraman who loved natural light and fast and quick location shooting which means although his ‘Adventures’ films look cheaper than the Carry On movies they are, by far, more visually interesting and inventive (there’s even some fantastic butler POV shots I wasn’t expecting) as opposed to a string of straight forward set-bound pieces to camera.
I smiled throughout ‘Adventures of a Taxi Driver’ but with ‘Adventures of a Private Eye’ I was regularly laughing out loud. It’s got bundles of energy, snappy pacing, some truly inspired comic performances (I adored Veronica Doran as Miss Gubbage), plentiful gags and it all climaxes with a scene that will make you never be able to view Jon Pertwee in the same light ever again. It’s worth just watching just for that alone as it’ll give Dr. Who fans nightmares for years.
P.S. For the record, this film is vastly better and WAY less problematic than Bertolucci’s ‘Last Tango in Paris’.