Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Playbirds (1978)





Playbirds is both an hilariously inept throwback to 50s B-movies like The Cover Girl Killer and the longest self promotion stunt ever from David Sullivan, pornographer proprieter of Playbirds magazine at the time. Indeed, the original title for this project was The Blue Girl (no doubt to capitalise on the double meaning of blue; blue as in police and blue as in risque) but Sullivan's then girlfriend and star of the film Mary Millington suggested he use the name of the magazine.

The story is a misogynistically simple one; someone is killing the cover girl models of Playbirds magazine. Scotland Yard in the shape of two lead detectives played by Dave from Minder Glynn Edwards and Gavin Campbell from That's Life and Lifeline, their boss Windsor Davies from It Ain't Half Hot Mum and the forensic doctor Kenny Lynch from racist 'banter' from pal Tarby, immediately suspect the magazine's proprieter; a gaudily dressed race horse owning Alan Lake (who is essentially Sullivan himself) who seems to have an unusual interest in girls, horses and witchcraft. As you do.

Quite why Sullivan thought this film was good publicity is beyond me. Lake portrays his character as deeply sleazy, the girls are treated like contemptible trash, not respected or appreciated by anyone; not the pornographers, the police or of course the killer, and they are also are shown be utterly docile, dumb and sex mad. Though he does use the film as a chance to kick the boot into the clean up campaigners of Westminster by depicting one moral crusading MP as a hypocrite who enjoys pornography himself in private.

Ridiculously the Yard - during one of their round table discussions that is supposedly in Scotland Yard's offices yet seem to be in someone's kitchen in Surrey - decide the best way to solve the serial killings is to send a WPC undercover as a willing glamour model. Even more ridiculously they allow Dave from Minder and Gavin from That's Life to *ahem* 'interview' the potential undercover girls like it was some X rated X Factor. The girls walk into one of the Yard's offices (looking suspicously like an airport or motorway stop hotel room?) and strips off for the pair, seated behind a desk and staring stony faced and clearly disappointed...before the girl walks back out into the corridor, nude! That is until Mary Millington walks in, who has previously portrayed a somewhat dissatisfied and eager to make a difference young WPC, albeit in an EXTREMELY wooden way. Clearly Millington's true talent is in getting her kit off and impressed, Dave and That's Life bloke give two yesses and send her straight through to Bonk Camp where she gets to shag Alan Lake and have a painfully poorly acted lesbian encounter that sounds like two speaking clocks getting it on.

It's obviously a weird watch with its focus on tits, murder and horses as if it were some kind of X rated Dick Francis. There's even Fawlty Towers Major Ballard Berkeley as Lake's horse trainer and a bearded paunchy Derren Nesbitt as his print man, as well as Dudley Sutton as a creepy 'end of the world is nigh' religious nutjob who is eventually arrested as the killer...only for his twin brother, who is suitably evangelical and nutty to appear in the film's final minute to strangle Mary Millington in her bath in a twist that no one expected or fucking needed.

Bizarre and yet boring, Playbirds nonetheless gives us some insight into the weird world of 70s British sexploitation.


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