Monday, March 8, 2010


In its Wikipedia entry, Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly is described as “arguably one of the great lost films of British horror cinema”. I’m here to join that argument, but on the contrary view. Based on a play by Maisie Mosco and directed by the esteemed Freddie Francis and starring the appealing Vanessa Howard as “Girly” (as the movie was known here), MNS&G tells the rather empty story about the breakdown of the British Family as portrayed by its titular members. Mumsy and Nanny look after Sonny and Girly, who are adults but still dress as school children. They all play “The Game” in which they assume their roles and all they entail. But the “children” seek out “friends” to play with, usually resulting in kidnapping and murder (or, as it’s called under the rules of The Game, “sent to the angels”). “New Friends” are often found in the form of hobos and hippies, but during one outing, Girly and Sonny discover a drunken male prostitute and his client. They murder the client and trick the gigolo into believing that he was responsible for her death, caused by an alcohol-fueled accident. Thus, he joins The Game as “New Friend”. But once he catches on to the rules of the Game, he roots around and uncovers existing tension between the quartet. After a previous “New Friend” is sent to the angels before his eyes, he starts to manipulate the family to serve his own ends. Not surprisingly, he is able to turn one family member against the other. Maybe soon, he can devise a way to become Daddy and make Girly his Mumsy.

Upon its initial release, Girly was relatively well-received by critics who found the film to be a droll satire on the crumbling moral values of stodgy old Britain in the wake of the era of Free Love. Viewers, however, were apparently too busy indulging in that so-called Free Love to be bothered with the cinema and the movie faded quickly from the marquees. In the U.S., Girly was met with disinterest by audiences and studios alike. During the “let’s get everything on video!!” boom, Girly saw an equally short release on VHS, then vanished into obscurity, relegated to slug lines in Video Search of Miami catalogs and bootleg Usenet groups. Reportedly, copies of the film were so scarce that the organizers of a 2004 Freddie Francis Film Festival (try saying that three times fast) were unable to locate a print. But nobody loves a scarce or “lost” film more than a film fanatic, and there are legions of those, so Girly was rediscovered in the intervening years. To the delight of dozens at least.

The problem with Girly lies in the fact that it isn’t very interesting. Take away the allure of Howard in her schoolgirl garb and you’re left with a lot of doddering scenes of Mumsy knitting and Nanny doting, Sonny taking pictures and Girly scampering. New Friend is hard to root for because he’s so damned sleazy, and his scene “corrupting” Girly is terribly uncomfortable because she only briefly drops her little girl guise—at the point of orgasm. So the satire is lost to an extreme “ick” factor, particularly because it’s never made clear whether Sonny and Girly are playing the game or if they’re emotionally stuck in prepubescence. So does her “coming of age” scene come under the heading of statutory rape, at least from a psychological standpoint, or are we not supposed to look that deep into it? And if the absence of a hero is the point, then shouldn’t at least one of the characters be remotely interesting?

Another problem is the length of time that has elapsed between release and rediscovery. All of this adult-as-little-kid nonsense might have been delightfully perverse in the ‘60s, but in light of horror movies like The Baby and American Gothic, among many others in the intervening years, the premise has fallen to a cliché that is almost impossible to ignore in favor of context. Combine all of this—sluggish pace, outdated relationships, uninteresting characters in an unsympathetic situation—with the washed-out and grainy existing prints, and Girly just doesn’t feel worth the time it took to hunt it down.

So does this Freddie Francis curiosity, Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly, deserve to be a “forgotten film”? No more than any other forgotten film, it could be argued. But is it one of the “great lost films”? I, for one, say no. Girly doesn’t seem lost so much as, like an adult pretending to be an unpleasant child, abandoned. Only this time, the parents are represented by any interested audience. 

(For added fun, dig around for the novel by Brian Comport! It's out of print and everything. Note, a DVD was just released this month... joy... rapture...)

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