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  Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly It's All Relative
Year: 1970
Director: Freddie Francis
Stars: Vanessa Howard, Michael Bryant, Ursula Howells, Pat Heywood, Howard Trevor, Robert Swann, Imogen Hassall, Michael Ripper, Hugh Armstrong
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Girly (Vanessa Howard) and Sonny (Howard Trevor) have gone to the zoo this morning, and Mumsy (Ursula Howells) and Nanny (Pat Heywood), who they live with in their sprawling and rundown country mansion, are wondering where they've got to. They worry that the kids hardly touched their breakfast before they left, but actually they don't seem to bothered and share a sweet as they inspect the animals until a zookeeper (Michael Ripper) approaches them and inquires how they got into the place when it's not open yet, but they simply reply that it was easy. What they're really looking for is a new friend - they get through a lot of new friends, does this happy family...

Neglected at the time and barely seen since, Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly comes across as a more serious (and British) version of The Addams Family sitcom, only the laughs here are far more thin on the ground. It appears it was intended as a macabre comedy, but the results were unlikely to have many rolling in the aisles, and working from Brian Comport's script director Freddie Francis preferred to play up the chill of the English landscape, both geographical and mental. It's not a great film by any means, yet it does contrive to stick in the mind the way quite a number of English gothics did, particularly from this period.

Whether it was the relaxation of censorship or a further reaching mood of the country and the dissatisfaction the new liberation movements of whatever stripe had brought the nation, it's hard to say as they seem inseperable, but here was one of those uncomfortable family dramas that did not take place in the past, but had appeared, as if in a time capsule, during the late sixties or early seventies. The whole sixties inclination towards Victoriana for its oddities was exploited here as Girly and her kinfolk look as if they're four people out of their time, and not only because the two "children" are two adults in their twenties who are dressed in school uniform.

So the delight a certain kind of man takes in the image of the "sexy schoolgirl" type of teen is twisted here to come across as even more unhealthy in its preoccupation, although that might have been less intentional and more what strikes the viewer as Girly lures another hapless male into her clutches, and those of her family (if they even are related, which we are never sure about). The first man we see that the siblings take home is a down and out (Robert Swann) who makes the mistake of playing along with their games and comes to a sticky end in the process, predictably, but no less arresting for that when we see how these supposed relations interact, through their rules and odd, incessant rhymes.

The best performance here is from Vanessa Howard, a talented actress who left behind too few appearances before her early retirement from showbusiness. Girly is queasily coquettish, but as the film goes on she develops a split personality as she is seduced by the latest "New Friend" (we don't find out his name), played by Michael Bryant, who is held there in the mansion against his will, but has little choice as he thinks he has accidentally killed his girlfriend (Imogen Hassall) and is effectively being blackmailed to stay. This will prove the family's downfall as both Mumsy and Nanny take a shine to him as well as Girly, but grow jealous that she is his favourite. New Friend seems to think he can turn these lunatics against each other and escape with Girly, but by the end he has been infected with their madness somehow. The film struggles with some kind of allegory throughout, but frustratingly never settles on what it is sending up, if anything, and it does go on too long; for all that, it is strange enough to be memorable. Music by Bernard Ebbinghouse.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Freddie Francis  (1917 - 2007)

A much respected cinematographer for decades, British Francis made his way up from camera operator on films like The Small Back Room, Outcast of the Islands and Beat the Devil to fully fledged cinematographer on such films as Room at the Top, Sons and Lovers (for which he won his first Oscar), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Innocents (a masterpiece of his art).

He then turned to direction, mostly in the horror genre, with familiar titles like Paranoiac, Nightmare, The Evil of Frankenstein, Dr Terror's House of Horrors (the first recognisable Amicus chiller anthology), The Skull, The Psychopath, Torture Garden, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, camp favourite Trog, Tales from the Crypt, The Creeping Flesh, Tales that Witness Madness, Legend of the Werewolf and The Ghoul.

Late in his career, he returned to cinematography with David Lynch's The Elephant Man, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Dune, Glory (winning his second Oscar), the Cape Fear remake and The Straight Story, his final work and one of his greatest.

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