“Perfect Friday” is a serviceable British crime caper movie from the pens of screenwriters Scott Forbes (who wrote the play on which Peter Collinson’s ‘60s thriller "The Penthouse" was based) and Anthony Greville-Bell (whose way with sharp humorous dialogue also graced his screenplay for Douglas Hickox’s "Theatre of Blood"), and was the fourth feature to be directed by the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Peter Hall -- released in 1970. There’s nothing all that unusual or out of the ordinary about the basic set-up here; this is essentially fairly traditional subject matter, handled in a light and frothy manner with some likable performances at its centre and a jaunty score by jazz legend John Dankworth buoying the process along. There was also a much more austere and sedate ‘classically infused’ alternative score composed for the picture which is also included on the Network Blu-ray and DVD as a secondary audio option, bringing a much more arty and ‘sophisticated’ air to proceedings and probably suiting more the somewhat Nouvelle Vague inspired directorial flourishes brought to the table by Hall.
The plot involves three unlikely co-conspirators, felicitously brought together for the purpose of committing the perfect crime when jaded pin-stripe deputy under manager Mr Graham (Stanley Baker) calls upon his two most charismatic acquaintances -- foppish Old Etonian and penniless aristocrat Lord Nicholas Dorset (David Warner), and his glamorous shopaholic Swiss bombshell wife Britt (Ursula Andress) -- to help him rob the metropolitan bank at which he himself has worked ever since leaving school, in order to relieve it of the now laughably measly-seeming sum of £300,000!
Essentially a three hander, despite occasional experienced support from the likes of T.P McKenna who plays Graham’s immediate superior at the bank, Mr Smith; and Patience Collier as the impoverished down-at-heel accomplice couple’s elderly, lace-endowed landlady-cum-housekeeper (whom they both refer to throughout simply as ‘nanny’), this 1970 release feels like it belongs more amongst the movies of the early part of the previous decade with its commentary on the unravelling of class divisions which took place briefly in ‘60s London during that period when aspiring working class go-getters on their way up began to meet and party with aristocratic socialites on their way down -- especially in its tart portrayal of the raffish lordly scoundrel Dorset, and its representation of staid but resentful middle management types such as the character played by Baker, who’re seen populating the glass partitioned cubicles which make up the antiseptic office space of the bank that Graham works in day in, day out looking like a caged laboratory mouse.
Baker, renowned for his hard-boiled cop and bullish gangster roles but by this point in his career vainly attempting to cement some previous success as a producer (particularly with the classic Zulu) just as the bottom was starting to fall out of the British film industry, plays against type in affecting the world-recognised but by this period clichéd city gent look -- with his neatly clipped moustache, spectacles, brolly and bowler hat combo. Behind the bland exterior he presents to the world though, Graham (a repressed-looking bachelor) is desperate for fulfilment, and seeks excitement in the thrill of outwitting the fiendishly tight security measures so stringently adhered to by his complacent, golf-obsessed superiors at the bank (the branch manager affects a familiar tone when addressing him, but clearly has no knowledge and even less interest in Graham’s life outside of office hours), concocting a complex plan that relies on subverting the regular cash inspection procedures formulated by head office and carried out with dull regularity by similarly officious inspectors. For his plot to work, Graham will need the help of accomplices who cannot be linked directly to him, and who will also be willing and capable of carrying out complex orders that involve multiple disguises, split-second clockwork timing, coolness under pressure and sleight-of-hand.
This is no finely wrought suspense thriller though; for the majority of the run time Hall presides over an amiable character study, enlivened more by the sparkling Wildian wit of its dialogue and a tricksy chronological structure that anticipates more the kind of non-linear storytelling techniques essayed by Quentin Tarantino over two decades later in “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” than it is does the gritty, tense stand-offs usually to be expected in the heist movie genre of this period. Graham’s first clandestine meeting with Lord ‘Nick’ in the medieval section of a London museum kicks off the movie with a scene shot like a stylised pastiche of expressionist silent cinema -- all slanting light and long shadows -- giving the sequence a faux-sinister air of menace. From there, the movie segues into a series of encounters between various combinations of the three main characters, involving them in various subterfuges. David Warner’s pampered louche aristocrat; Baker’s sly and meticulous banker turned crook; and Ursula Andress’s sexy Swiss fraudster, on the run from a possessive first husband are all equally untrustworthy. During these various episodes, flashbacks, sideways digressions and parenthetical interruptions of certain scenes result in the viewer being invited constantly to reinterpret the nature of the relationships between three people whose association appears to be entirely built on their attempts to deceive each other: Graham first meets and becomes enamoured of Britt after she sweet talks him into giving her a banking lone which turns out to be needed only for a luxury shopping spree in order to help her maintain her wardrobe standards during a time of great financial stress for herself and her aristocratic husband. Graham begins an affair with her (involving surprising amounts of nudity from Andress) and manages to persuade Britt to involve her untrustworthy husband Lord Nicholas Dorset in his scheme, while letting the coiffed and manicured velvet-clad aristo believe that he had been approached first with the details.
The plotting and planning involved in the prospective robbery extends to the many ways in which each man tries to cross and double-cross, undermine and deceive the other, as they secretly each vie to usurp the affections of money-loving Britt by separately making plans to abscond with her and the cash after the heist has been accomplished. The denouement at Heathrow airport is skilfully executed even if it is rather predictable, and the details of the actual heist itself -- with all the suspenseful false starts, unforeseen circumstances and near misses characteristic of the genre – are expertly relayed, the full details of the plan only being revealed to the viewer as the scheme unfolds. Andress is stylishly decked out with a great wardrobe and is visually stunning throughout, appearing in a succession of striking costumes and with a dainty white sports car -- zooming around an overcrowded ‘70s London in some period street scenes that look guerrilla shot, showcasing a plethora of middle-aged shoppers openly staring into the camera lens.
Best of all is David Warner’s performance: coming between two great films the actor made with Sam Peckinpah -- the offbeat comedy Western ”The Ballad of Cable Hogue” and the controversial “Straw Dogs”, where he would again meet up with TP McKenna -- this makes for an enjoyable change of direction and illustrates Warner’s versatility. Here he starts off looking like a cross between Jon Pertwee’s dandy third Doctor and a blonde haired, moustachioed Peter Wyngarde circa his portrayal of Jason King: a bored moneyless fop who nevertheless retains an impeccably garish dress code. Btitt memorably refers to him as ‘a divine bastard’ at one point and he attends his inherited seat at the House of Lords wearing a flamboyant, crush velvet, powder blue three-piece-suit -- with his feet planted nonchalantly up on the leather benches! Graham’s plot involves Dorset having to don various wigs and disguises in order to pass himself off as a replacement cash inspector, and that in turn enables Warner to almost completely transform his physical bearing as he affects the persona of a faceless bespectacled banking drone from head office in order to gain access to the securely guarded bank vault. Baker (who stayed in London for his next role in Lucio Fulci’s “A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin”) and Andress are always cool to watch, but it is definitely Warner who carries the film for me.
Some might find Peter Hall’s rather self-conscious directing style to be somewhat off-putting and pretentious as he indulges in weird camera angles and strangely edited shots that sometimes appear to break the basic rules of film grammar just for the hell of it. There are times when the tone and the style of the movie are so at variance with each other that it feels like a ‘60s Carry On heist film directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Nevertheless, this unusual artsy style is fully in keeping with the volatile, unpredictable and sly personalities of all three main players in the drama, keeping the viewer guessing about who’s really playing who and about what the outcome of their serpentine manoeuvrings will eventually be.
“Perfect Friday” arrives on UK Blu-ray in HD as part of a dual disc edition from Network Distributing that also includes a standard definition DVD presentation of the movie. The original film elements were not exactly pristine by the look of things but this is for the most part still a pleasingly sharp transfer of a film which has a fairly muted colour palette apart from the brightly coloured costumes worn by Andress and Warner at various points throughout. Extras are unfortunately rather thin on the ground, though. There’s only a German theatrical trailer and some press materials available as PDF files accessible from a computer. You do however get that alternative music score audio track mentioned earlier, which does alter the tone of the movie quite significantly at times. This is ultimately a rather inessential little British thriller and it’s certainly not in the same league as other great British crime movies from this period; but it is always engaging and nicely acted, all three leads playing beautifully off each other as Hall uses the otherwise routine genre material to indulge an offbeat experimental film style to frequently good effect.
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