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  Smashing Bird I Used to Know, The Guilty Conscience
Year: 1969
Director: Robert Hartford-Davis
Stars: Madeleine Hinde, Renée Asherson, Dennis Waterman, Patrick Mower, Faith Brook, Janina Faye, David Lodge, Maureen Lipman, Derek Fowlds, Colette O'Neill, Megs Jenkins, Cleo Sylvestre, Valerie Wallace, Lesley-Anne Down, Michelle Cook, Valerie Van Ost
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Nicki Johnson (Madeleine Hinde) is a teenage girl labouring under the weight of oppressive guilt, and every night she has nightmares because of it. When she was a child, she visited a funfair with her parents but when she took a ride on the merry-go-round with her father (David Lodge) there was a tragic accident that Nicki feels responsible for to this day and her father was killed by a wooden horse. Now she has other things to worry about, such as sleazy Harry (Patrick Mower) who is romancing her mother (Renée Asherson) but is actually, Nicki suspects, after her money...

And Nicki would be right in that assumption, but Harry has other plans as well, plans which get her sent on remand, hence the alternative title of this lurid drama, School for Unclaimed Girls - although our heroine is not unclaimed, as her mother wants her back once she's sorted her head out. Robert Hartford-Davis was our director, no stranger to exploitation movies, but this was more like a painfully sincere T.V. play which so happened to contain some mild swearing and a spot of nudity (not Nicki, though, she keeps her clothes resolutely on).

Scripted by John Peacock, who wrote a few scripts for Hammer in his time, this story exists to put poor old Nicki through as much grief as it's possble to fit into ninety-odd minutes. As if the death of her father wasn't enough to bring her down, Harry tries to rape her when he gets her alone, so she ends up stabbing him to dampen his ardour. This may work a treat and save her from a fate worse than death, but it does mean she's packed off to remand school, where she arrives in a near-catatonic state, unwilling to engage anyone in conversation.

Although sold as a typical women in prison flick, there are strong signs that Peacock wouldn't allow his conscience to map out anything so prurient, so most, if not all, the girls are sensitive types whose troubles are supposed to make us feel sorry for them. Alas, so stilted are these set ups that tedium sets in early on, only enlivened by the occasional nightmare or flashback sequence, both kinds being treated with equal sensationalism, full of crash zooms, haunted screams and solarisation effects. All of this indicates the shattered mental state of Nicki, but as she never moves on from this, the excitement is reduced to stolid indifference.

British viewers may have limited amusement spotting stars of the future, with Dennis Waterman as Nicki's sort-of-boyfriend (he has his own sports car), and Maureen Lipman as one of the girls. She has gone on record as hating this film, and when you hear the deadly dull monologue she gets to deliver detailing why her character became a lesbian (amateur psychology abounds) you can understand why, honestly, she drones on for about five minutes meaning the minor riot that snaps the audience awake once she's finished can be seen as a blessing, even if it does bizarrely feature two topless extras who don't appear anywhere else in the film. In spite of its great title, which really needed a better film, this is listless entertainment, with the hilarious "shock" ending livening up the proceedings but so perfunctory that its emotional cheapness is almost an insult. Music by Robert Richards.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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