Georgy Girl has swingin' London written all over it, with the overcast streets seeing plenty of 'youthful' antics like running in the rain and making emotional scenes in front of strangers. A vehicle for the talents of English star offspring Lynn Redgrave, the movie tries far too hard to make her loveable but succeeds in most of its aims - we care deeply what happens to this 'ugly duckling' who doesn't fit into the fashionable mod landscape.
In 1966 London's Mod bubble was just entering its second full season. That was the year of Richard Lester's strongest youth comedy The Knack ... And How to Get It, which codified Lester's oft-copied techniques of jump cutting, eccentric dialogue and semi-improvised horseplay for instant imitation by American copycats The Monkees and You're a Big Boy Now. Italian director Silvio Narizzano soft-pedals the editorial trickery but sticks with the familiar Mod trappings, especially in Alan Bates' sprightly and spirited boyfriend character. Bates is fast with a snappy line of dialogue and prone to antic bits of business with his leather cap. The emblematic scene for this kind of film is a display of self-humiliating public theatrics, preferably with a romantic bent. In The Knack it's a taste of guerilla theater as two excited youths roll Rita Tushingham around the streets in a bedframe. For this film, Bates pursues Redgrave through the streets and hotel lobbies, going down on one knee to loudly propose and threatening to strip naked unless she hears him out.
Georgy Girl has a strained balance between realism and flat farce that is repeatedly rescued by the talented cast. James Mason (inexplicably nominated for a Supporting Oscar) is basically a dirty old man with designs on his butler's daughter; he's the least amusing character and functions to perform a convenient monetary rescue at the film's end. Bates buoys his Mod character without much effort and squeaks by on charm alone. The surprise is Charlotte Rampling, who captures perfectly the dismay of a flighty charmer disgusted at the idea of becoming a baby factory. She doesn't know what's worst about pregnancy, looking "like the back end of a bus" or "having nothing to do at night." The best material shows her rage at the whole motherhood situation while Redgrave and Bates get into the excitement of having a baby. In later films like The Night Porter Rampling would later shrink into a skeletal creature; here she looks a lot healthier.
Lynn Redgrave is a fine central character even if made to dress like a truck driver to live up to the dowdy unattractiveness demanded by the script. Everyone makes cruel jokes about her looks, and the way she rejects a (horrible) hairstyle and a party dress makes us think that the same material a few years later would fit a character who discovers she's a lesbian. But Georgy just wants to be loved, even if she feels unfit to play the girly role. Unlike the hapless Toni Collette in Muriel's Wedding, it's other people who pressure Georgy to be more feminine. She seems to be happiest when inspiring the tots in her preschool activity class.
In an effort to launch Redgrave as a personality the film tries too hard to present her as a combo Chaplin / Giulietta Masina clown for all occasions. The lowpoint is a vampy gag song she croons in a tight gown and overdone eye makeup. It's not meant to be successful but just seems too embarrassing - it doesn't make sense when James Mason's distracted millionaire isn't offended. Neither does his obsession with Georgy. If he really wants to buy a mistress he could do much better. Mason's attraction (with her father's approval) seems entirely sick, especially when Mason reminds us so much of Humbert Humbert in Lolita.
Georgy Girl's later chapters play out like a revisit to Dr. Seuss' Horton Hatches the Egg, with surrogate mother Redgrave being the one to make an emotional bond with the baby while Rampling returns to her happy dating whirl. The story seems destined for a negative ending in the Kitchen Sink mold, when Georgy finally plays her trump card to make a bargain for her future. Silvio Narizzano shows that his directing smarts go beyond his previous Hammer hit Fanatic (aka Die! Die! My Darling!), and the film ends on a fairly satisfactory note. For audiences fond of rigged Ugly Duckling stories, it will play as a big success.
Nowadays we suspect that most story sabotage happens far earlier in the filming process, but in Georgy Girl it looks as if the studio executives saw Narizzano's final product and decided it lacked clarity and upbeat reassurance for audiences who want their happy endings spelled out for them. Hence the addition of a bouncy, optimistic theme tune sung by The Seekers. It was popular enough on the radio to remain a familiar oldie while the movie has been largely set aside. It does add an uplift to a marvelous shot of the crying baby being given to Georgy through the window of a Rolls Royce. But the lyrics are determined to assure the audience that all is fine, Georgy's life isn't going to be perfect but she's made a wise bargain, etc. A message to every impoverished ugly duckling in the big cities: A quick deal with a millionaire is a foolproof solution to most any problem.
Columbia/Sony's DVD of Georgy Girl is a plainwrap presentation that sports a new (and ugly) Sony Pictures logo. There are no extras, but otherwise it's a good disc: An excellent enhanced transfer, clear sound. The package text misreads the movie: If Georgy "yearns for traditional life and traditional romance," she seems to reject it at every opportunity. Director Silvio Narizzano probably won't be pleased to see his name misspelled, either.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Georgy Girl rates: