I’ve been involved in re-writing a number of feature films while in production; one of them involved mention of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan characters, and I had to remove all references to this in the script to avoid paying copyright service. Which makes me wonder how this 1972 film, which features regular lifts from Peter Pan as well as the title, could possibly have been made. All proceeds from the author’s work go to Great Ormond Street Hospital, so let’s hope they made a pretty penny from Peter Collinson’s kitchen-sink thriller.
Things are grim up north, and indeed, grim everywhere else too. Brenda (Rita Tushingham) leaves her mum in Liverpool and heads for London, where she falls foul of the swinging Carnaby Street set. Weeping in the rain on a street corner, she gets a glimpse of hunky Peter (Shane Briant), and snaps into action by making feminine overtures by kidnapping and bathing his dog Tinker. When she returns the dog, Peter takes her in, offering her a room in his pad, which has gothic pillars and an ornate spiral staircase. But with drawers full of loose cash and the bodies of his previous girlfriends buried in the garden, Peter is not the man of her dreams but a serial killer who murders women who he finds beautiful. Fortunately for Brenda, he doesn’t fancy her, but Brenda decides to get his attention by transforming her looks, with unhappy results.
This is a Hammer film, but has few of the expected trappings; instead, it’s a cold, clammy view of the dangers of promiscuity, showcasing truly hideous home-decoration and florid fashions. Collinson directed The Italian Job, and seems to have made quite a career from his association with Noel Coward; here, he creates a series of jarring editing effects, each of which challenge the viewer’s patience; Leslie Halliwell’s description of the film as ‘wildly directed’ seems about right.
One bright spot is the appearance of the late, great Scottish jazz singer and actress Annie Ross; not a great role compared to her memorable stint in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, but she does her to contribute a strong song to the soundtrack. The blog doesn’t do obituaries, but Ross’s death last month left a gap. Until fairly recently, she still played a Tuesday night residency at the Metropolitan Club in New York, where she would sing for small, awestruck crowds, and chat to every patron as they left. She was one of jazz’s great voices and characters, but health issues made her unlikely to make it through pandemic times. Seeing her in movies like this, The Wicker Man and the 1978 Superman film remind us that for someone whose talent was clearly music, she had quite a film career, and her presence gives this strange, sordid little film a lift.