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Film director Michael Winner hasn't much of a critical reputation left these days. He survived through his latter career by making perfectly terrible Charles Bronson movies, many of them for Cannon Films. Winner's Marlon Brando movie The Nightcomers inspired the observation that he "never once put the camera in the right place". Michael Winner made tired westerns, weak thrillers and the execrable Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood, a genuine career kiss-of-death picture.
What needs to be remembered, however, is that director Winner was once regarded as a real talent, especially in three quirky youth-oriented films with Oliver Reed. Made in 1963, The Girl-Getters places Winner in the company of John Schlesinger and Richard Lester as progressive English talent bursting from of the confines of Kitchen Sink movies. The Beatles have yet to hit but The Girl-Getters is already in tune with swinging England somewhere between Teddy Boy roughhouse and fashion-conscious Mods.
The (fictional) seaside holiday town of Roxham is the target for a group of young-20 males that exploit the summer influx of single girls with their own "System". Jumping on sea-bound trains, they chat up the girls before they even reach their hotels, and then divide up the best prospects for conquest. The unofficial leader of the pack is Stephen Taylor, a.k.a. Tinker (Oliver Reed), a ruthless seducer who sweeps fresh young girls off their feet with consummate skill. Tinker is actually a local, a poor boy who scrapes out a living shooting tourist snaps -- using his camera to flirt with more young "thrushes". The willing girls don't realize that their summer dream romances will amount to little more than an overnight fling. Tinker beds Lorna (Julia Foster of Alfie), a sweet thing seemingly incapable of realizing how little he thinks of her. Other ex- Tinker thrushes aren't so amused. But one of the gang decides to quit the wild life and marry the girl he's accidentally made pregnant. This troubles Tinker because he knows his semi-vagrant lifestyle can't go on forever. Then he finds Nicola (Jane Merrow), a cool fashion model with a new Buick Riviera. Nicola is on vacation with her father (Guy Doleman) and seems amenable to a seduction, but doesn't cave in to Tinker's charms. Tinker bristles against Nicola's wealthy friends but can't help but get more deeply involved with her. He also hopes the confident Nicola will help him establish himself as a photographer in London. What Tinker doesn't realize is that smart modern girls are fully capable of beating rakes like Tinker at his own game.
Anyone seeing The Girl-Getters in early 1964 would agree that Michael Winner is a major talent. The movie has energy to spare and a playful attitude toward editing and storytelling technique that says "fresh young director". The interesting young cast resemble believable kids on the loose. The script by Peter Draper (I'll Never Forget What's 'Isname) is smart and funny but not a comedy per se. Although the story arc veers between laughs and serious content, nobody dies a horrible death and no moralistic messages are dished out. All of the actors seem very into their roles. A young David Hemmings is a new addition to Tinker's gang, who starts off shy and is soon thinking of new ways to improve "The System".
Oliver Reed's sly smile says everything. He's a cad who realizes that he's in a rut, with other cameramen poaching on his "licensed" territory and his photo studio boss Larsey (Harry Andrews) threatening to cut him off. Tinker defends his turf in a couple of very convincing fights. The girls go for Tinker in a big way, and although he resists worrying about them in the slightest, he isn't invulnerable. When the emotional Suzy (Barbara Ferris of Children of the Damned) gets drunk and wails about her desire to have children, Tinker simply tunes her out. But Nicola's aloof manner, come-on look and provocative verbal challenges keep him on his toes. Although Tinker makes a fool of himself trying to beat her Tony boyfriends at tennis, she clearly finds him attractive and takes an afternoon off to skinny-dip with him in a secluded cove. When the summer is finished Nicola has a surprise for Tinker. As her father flatly states, she's too independent and footloose to let herself be restricted in any direction.
The Girl-Getters looks terrific, with its brisk editing revealing one attractive shot after another. The cinematographer was Nicolas Roeg, just off Roger Corman's Masque of the Red Death and in the midst of his career breakthrough with David Lean and Francois Truffaut. The attractive B&W images flatter the girls and reach for interesting visual effects, yet still retain a loose "run and shoot" quality. The movie is actually better-looking and less mannered than most of Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night.
Yet Michael Winner must be credited for The Girl-Getters' lively attitude and consistently amusing performances. I can't say if the movie has been overlooked because of an anti-Winner bias or because its story isn't all that groundbreaking -- it's sort of I Vitelloni with an English cast of male rogues, or a more sexually mature Brit version of Where the Boys Are. The film may also have been considered out of date by the time of its 1966 U.S. release, at least where fashion is concerned -- the girls wear very early-60s beehive hairdos. It may not be a sprightly fantasy (Billy Liar, a working-class protest The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner or a fountain of wit The Knack: Or How to Get It but The Girl-Getters gives us an exciting taste of swingin' England.
VCI has been concentrating on interesting English imports lately, and their DVD of The Girl-Getters is one of their best offerings. The enhanced widescreen transfer is in great shape and reportedly went through a digital restoration. The sound is clear although some of the accents and faster jargon can get thick. The show might be a 25fps PAL conversion, as the given running time is several minutes short of the frequently-listed 93-minute original version. There are no signs of anything missing; the transfer on view in fact includes a couple of long-shot nude scenes almost certainly cut from American prints.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Girl-Getters rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.