‘Adventures of a Taxi Driver’ or — The (Just About) Bearable Being of Lightness?
Stanley Long’s ‘Adventures of a Taxi Driver’ (1976) is not a great movie by any criteria. However, it does possess a few merits although we have to tread carefully in attempting to accurately identify them as these merits fall into three distinct categories that can still be easily confused and/or muddled. They are as follows -
1/ Inherent merits. These are merits the film genuinely contains.
2/ Inadvertent merits. Merits unintended by the filmmakers but which objectively exist anyway.
3/ Projected merits. These are merits I, myself, have unconsciously projected onto the movie despite the fact there is absolutely no merit to these, well, merits (when I start comparing Long’s directing to the work of legendary French filmmakers Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin you’ll see what I’m getting at).
But first, like stripping off a pair of Y-fronts thus allowing us to frolic about naked, let’s get the negatives out of the way so we can enjoy ourselves unhindered.
Yes, this is a naff, flimsy, cheap, tacky, dated, not very funny, not very sexy, leery and occasionally grimy little flick (the film has the veneer of a rusted Chopper bike that’s been pulled out of a scum-filled canal). Technically the film can feel and sound flat and lacklustre which augments the cheapness with the De Wolfe library music either providing some whimsical charm or ramming that cheapness further home. The biggest issue though is — if you’re not interested in a movie about a sex-obsessed taxi driver running about with his bum out to begin with then why the hell watch this at all? What’s the draw here… if any? And I mean besides the tits and bums.
So let’s get onto those merits.
The inherent merits might seem flimsy but they’re vitally important, specifically the fact that this is a not a totally unbearable watch. In fact, it’s kinda fun. It’s not, and I repeat, not technically side-splitting and I never laughed out loud once but I smiled constantly during it and was never bored for a moment, something that I could never say about, say, ‘Jurassic Park Dominion’ (2022). Sure, nearly all the jokes revolve around Barry Evans’ taxi driver, Joe North, going back to some housewife’s for some nooky only to be interrupted by her husband before anything sexual happens which is a seriously repetitive format, but the format is fun and I found myself looking forward to these sequences and wondering at what point the inevitable, oblivious husband would appear, and who’d be playing him.
Another merit is the acting which is hugely appealing across the board and with the film boasting a cast consisting of Diana Dors, Henry McGee, Brian Wilde, Judy Geeson, Liz Fraser, Ian Lavender, Robert Lindsay and Ingmar Bergman’s daughter, Anna. Although it is Adrienne Posta as North’s long-suffering girlfriend along with Angela Scoular as a frisky, posh house-wife who really steal the show with two seriously peppy, sharp and energetic performances (I could’ve listened to them deliver their dialogue all day).
The inadvertent merits primarily consist of this movie being one massive time capsule of 1970’s Britain and it is absolutely fascinating to behold. It’s literally a window into another world that no longer exists except from the in memory of those of a certain age. I found myself getting sucked in by the decor, the furnishings, crockery and wallpaper until I was mesmerised.
Which brings us to those projected merits. The big difference between Stanley Long’s ‘Adventures…’ films and the ‘Carry On…’ movies is that Long was also his own lighting cameraman and boy, can you tell. His background in documentary films exploring the seedy nightlife of London is fully evident here because ‘Adventures of a Taxi Driver’ has a real loose and fast feel to it and I love that in a movie. The film was shot on 16mm so Long could fit a small camera into his taxi which leads to some really quite impressive night scenes, specifically the one with Liz Frasier in the back of North’s cab as they drive around London at night with the distant mutli-coloured lights forming an hypnotic, and aesthetically alluring, background. It’s the sort of deftly handled vérité style of filmmaking that if this was French and had been directed by Rouch and Morin you’d have cineastes giving it a standing ovation for its dazzling realism. At least, that’s what I was thinking.
I was pleasantly relieved at how bearable I found ‘Adventures of a Taxi Driver’ was to sit through. It’s not particularly hilarious, is profoundly of its time and cheap as hell yet it’s never mean-spirited, has tremendous pacing and despite all the nudity never feels uncomfortably or terminally sleazy.
This is one of those movies where the expression “it could’ve been worse” isn’t a criticism or even damning it with faint praise but is practically a ringing endorsement.