Review: Deep End (1970)
Creeping about the West End in search of film obscurities being something of a hobby of mine, your pal Scenester fair leapt out of his office at 5.30 one chilly Monday evening, throwing his coat on as he did, to make his way once more to BFI Stephen Street, for a screening of Deep End, a forgotten gem from 1970. I confess to not having heard of this film before, although I am at a loss to say why, in view of the gritty subject matter, year of production, authentic London locations and strong cast.
The list of films dealing with society's changing sexual mores, young and older people and their contrasting attitudes to sex is a particularly lengthy one, but I can safely say that this one is a real oddity, even by the standards of the time.
The story concerns Mike, (John Moulder-Brown) a young lad who has started work in his first job as a public baths attendant, in an age where the 'baths' were not simply for swimming, but were also to bathe in, there still being people who did not have the luxury of a bath in their own home. Mike is a pleasant sort, but very inept and shy with girls, and the fact that one of his co-workers is the sexy Susan, (Jane Asher) means his hormones are running crazy.
Susan introduces Mike to the seedier side of bath house life, where attendants can earn a few tips doing 'favours' for their customers. Mike's complete lack of experience leads to many embarrassing moments, including one with a notable cameo role for Diana Dors as a buxom matron, who projects all manner of football-related fantasies onto Mike whilst she paws him into submission.
The baths are frequented by a long succession of frustrated women, scruffy men and schoolchildren, the latter being of particular interest to a lecherous teacher (Karl-Michael Vogler) whose bottom-slapping and 'come hither' behaviour would earn him an appearance in court in these more protective times. Mike, of course, only has eyes for Susan, and has determined to disrupt her relationship with her soon-to-be fiance (Chris Sandford, a face no doubt familiar to almost everyone reading this article, such was his ubiquity in 60s and 70s films and TV). His farcical attempts to split the two lovers up only serve to make Mike more miserable and Susan more attached to her man.
The lengthy scenes where Mike follows the couple around town, first to a cinema showing a truly hilarious excuse for an adult film (little more than some poor quality dominatrix spouting pseudo-scientific babble in an elegant house), and later on to the inevitably expensive nightclub, well beyond Mike's modest means, are spellbinding for their shots of the streets, cafes and people in their late 60s/early 70s finery. Mike ends up eating more hot dogs than could ever be healthy for a body, served by the ever-present Burt Kwouk, during his long waits around Soho to catch a glimpse of the seductive Susan, always accompanied by her fiance. If this is all beginning to sound like 'Here we go round the bike sheds' or 'Carry on up the S-Bend', I would stress that the scenes with Mike going through adolescent agony and frustration are handled with a great deal of sensitivity, even when Mike kidnaps a cardboard cut-out that looks like a scantily-clad Susan, from outside a strip joint. And is if to compound his misery, he is forced to hide out in a prostitute's 'workroom' to evade the strip-joint owner’s heavies. His awkwardness in front of the ageing pro, one of her legs in plaster, summons up pathos as well as hilarity in roughly equal measure.
As our hero tries and fails over and over again to get something more than Susan's attention, the film starts to take a surreal turn, with Susan losing the stone from her engagement ring in the snow. Their eccentric method of retrieval staggers the viewer, as does the fate of our two leads. To tell you any more of the plot would be plain cruel. I will however mention that the shots of London just after the glad-tide of the 1960s had receded are a joy of discovery, the clothes on the backs of our actors are a reminder of how good even everyday store clobber could be then, and I am sure I wasn't the only one whose eyes were on stalks throughout the film, at the ethereal beauty of Jane Asher, with or without her clothes.
This expertly-restored film will be getting a 'selected cinemas' release from 6th May, and I hear the Flipsiders have come up with a very special treat for us at their screening at the NFT on 4th May. We'll have to sit tight until July for the DVD/Blu-Ray release for this one, but I'm sure you’ll agree it’s worth it.