Adventures of a Private Eye
Once dubbed the ‘King of Sexploitation’ by the tabloid press, Stanley Long was the godfather of the British sex film. Starting out with 8mm striptease reels in the 1950s before moving into nudist documentaries, Long went on to produce and direct a string of extremely popular X-rated movies which told tales of wife swapping, groupies and other saucy goings on. He reached the pinnacle of commercial success with this trio of incredibly successful ‘on the job’ sex comedies.
Adventures of a Taxi Driver, starring sitcom actor Barry Evans, set the template with the antics of a cabbie who ‘gets more than his fare share’. Securing international distribution – as well as becoming the most successful comedy at the British box office in 1976 – it prompted two sequels, each featuring more of the same but with a different lead actor (future hit-record producer Christopher Neil).
Boasting supporting casts which burst with top-tier British acting talent – including Harry H Corbett (Steptoe and Son), Diana Dors (Berserk), Judy Geeson (Inseminoid), Suzy Kendall (To Sir, with Love), future musical theatre sensation Elaine Paige, and former Doctor Who Jon Pertwee – the Adventures series represents British popular filmmaking at its most unashamedly cheeky.
Indicator continues through Stanley’s Long’s Adventure films, presenting the second film, Adventures of a Private Eye, on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. The film is currently only available in Indicator’s box set Stanley Long's Adventures: A Seventies Sex Comedy Threesome. The disc is region free.
Compared to the previous film, Adventures of a Taxi Driver, the presentation looks sharper thanks, mostly, to the film elements. Technical limitations on the previous film led to the decision to film in 16mm, which led to a grainier, rougher looking film. 35mm film stock was used for this one and this detail alone leads to a cleaner image with a less coarse grain pattern.
Unfortunately, this improved aspect ends up more clearly exposing the weaknesses of what is an older master, a fact that could be overlooked in the previous film's presentation. To its credit, the master does a moderately fine job rendering grain; it’s a bit smudgy but rarely comes off all that blocky or noisy, and the presentation still has a decent enough film texture to it. Unfortunately, it has trouble when it comes to rendering the finer details and tighter patterns, leading to shimmering effects and jaggies, especially notable in a cross-hatching pattern of one character’s jacket. This leads to a more digital looking image.
Though it’s clear some restoration work has gone into this the elements still show their age, with pulsing and flickering being the most obvious and clear drawbacks. The colours also lean cooler this time around, at least compared to the previous film, with a heavier teal bias. I don’t think this is ultimately too big a deal and doesn’t lead to any other issues, black levels still looking fine.
In all it ends up being a mixed bag, better in some areas, not so much in others, but still perfectly fine for the film.
As with the previous film the lossless monaural soundtrack is what it is, a product of its time and budget. Music and some background effects sound fine with adequate fidelity, but dialogue comes off flat. At the very least, damage is not an issue.
Director Stanley Long records another audio commentary, as he did for the previous film, though this one proves to be a bit more disappointing. The track for his previous film, when you ignore some comments (like a bitter tirade later on), was a wonderfully informative and entertaining one that delved into the structure of this series of films and others of its ilk, which proved far more fascinating than I would have ever expected. There is some of that here since this film relied a bit more on a central story due to the “private eye” aspect of it, so things had to be a bit more “believable,” or at least flow more naturally, but despite that aspect and the film being his favourite of the three, as he claims, he seems less invested this time around, which leads to more dead space and fewer interesting comments. He does talk about replacing actor Barry Evans with Christopher Neill and all that came with the change, and the track picks up a bit during the last act when he talks about some technical details like the film’s photography, but outside of the casting change I can’t say I found this track anywhere near as engaging or interesting as the prior one. I still have to listen to the one for the third film, but my expectations are now lowered as I suspect Long covered most of what he wanted to with the first track.
Also presented as an alternate audio track, and a more engaging listen, is the second part of the BEHP interview with Long, recorded in 1999 and running over 92-minutes of the film. This section is supposed to focus on his work between 1963 and 1970, though falls out of that at times, like when he talks about his RAF experience (though in relation to another topic). It’s here he talks about his television work and the move from black-and-white to colour, before getting into some of his low-budget work, including his involvement with the film London in the Raw, and sharing his concerns around censorship. I ended up finding this portion of the discussion to be more engaging than what was found on the previous disc.
The disc also features a new interview with filmmaker and author Simon Sheridan, who built a friendship with Stanley Long while researching for a book around British sex films, Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema. He recalls first meeting the director and the conversations he had had with him through the years, which ranged from anecdotes about Diana Dors to setting up his own distribution company. The disc then features a 16-minute super 8 version, version like this being what one could call early period home video \releases, though with the film severely trimmed down to fit on one reel. I was expecting it to be just a montage of the film’s nude scenes but I was surprised to see this wasn’t the case with only a couple such instances remaining, this cut seeming to show some modest concern in telling something that resembles a complete story. A trailer and a gallery featuring production stills, lobby cards, posters, and home video covers closes things off. That gallery also features the cover of a novelization, and I would have loved to see more of that.
In an interesting addition Indicator also includes the 16-minute short film Can You Keep It Up with This, That and the Other for a Week? Made in 2004 by Jan Manthey and starring Diana Manthey and Vic Pratt (and I assume the latter is the same Vic Pratt that contributes writings to a number of BFI home video releases), the film is a homage to British sex comedies, the same kind represented in this box set, and features a window cleaner getting into his own unlikely and "sexy" adventures, which only get worse after professor Gaylord (yep, that’s the name) overexposes him to rays from his “sex ray machine,” making him insatiable to everyone that crosses his path. It’s incredibly low budget and clearly made with friends, with that latter aspect meaning one shouldn’t expect any kind of nudity, but for all its shortcomings the film captures the spirit of those sex comedies, if nothing else. Of course, whether one will consider the film good or not will probably depend on one’s tolerance for films like this. I thought it was “cute” in spirit but that’s about it. The film also comes with an audio commentary featuring Pratt and the Mantheys, the group recalling the shoot and some of the dangerous situations they probably put themselves in. There's also a small photo gallery documenting the production.
Not a bad batch of material overall, the inclusion of the short film being an amusing one, but the commentary proved more disappointing and uninvolving this time around.
A weaker commentary makes the supplements a bit more disappointing this round, but the presentation, despite the shortcomings of the master or materials, is still better than I was probably expecting.