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Stand Up Virgin Soldiers!

***
1977

‘…a missing-in-action British film that somehow connects the classic British war movie into the prankster vibe of Animal House and Porky’s…’

My long suffering reader will note with alarm that I’ve found yet another dingy cinematic recess to excavate; British military sex comedies of the 70’s anyone? My interest in playwright Peter Nichols led me to Privates on Parade, which in turn sent me back to two Leslie Thomas adaptations, 1969 hit The Virgin Soldiers, and this widely forgotten sequel from 1977. The Virgin Soldiers is probably best remembered as the debatable debut of David Bowie, but the semi-autobiographical details of military service, casual racism and sexual misadventure seem to have stopped either of these films from having the vaguest of commercial half-lives.

For a film to accumulate less than five reviews from public and critics combined on imdb over four decades, there’s quite a bit of merit in this Norman Cohen production, produced by Ned Sherrin. Any movie featuring Robin Asquith seducing Pamela Stephenson under the nose of Irene Handl might be expected to have a household name and reputation, but not here; the levels of racist and misogynist content are impenetrable at times. Nigel Davenport returns as the same tough sergeant as in the first movie, with support in terms of Callan/Equaliser star Edward Woodward. And yet I’m always up for a film that largely focuses on identifying the culprit behind the theft of John le Mesurier’s stamp album.

Unfortunately, for a film with some choice elements, the crime sheet is equally long. The treatment of women is hateful, from Stevenson’s quick-to-undress bimbo to Miriam Margolyes as a beastly blind-date. This seems largely due to the project being refitted as a vehicle for the questionable talents of Asquith, briefly a box-office star on the back of the hideous Confessions….films. His romping scenes drain any goodwill from the project, which does rise to some decent action highlights, and a few deft comic touches.

Would a full frontal nude scene from Warren Mitchell, Alf Garnett in sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, sweeten the deal for you? Nor for me either, and yet Stand Up Virgin Soldiers! is a missing-in-action British film that somehow connects the classic British war movie into the prankster vibe of Animal House and Porky’s. While repellent in many, indeed most aspects, it’s a cultural artefact that’s worth a look for sheer obscurity.

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  1. The original Virgin Soldiers was considered groundbreaking for young lads like myself since it was mostly about lads not much older than myself. It had a good cast and was well done. But unless you were a fan of the Confessions series, you would give this a wide berth.

    • I’m planning a trip back to see the original. But Roy’s comment in this was educational; we shouldn’t discount the source material as a first hand account of real life historical events. The Asquith factor bins the credibility here, but there are some genuinely good moments…

  2. I hate to spoil the fun with some less comic observations. I haven’t seen this sequel to the original Virgin Soldiers (1969) and it doesn’t sound promising but I want to ‘stand up’ for the original and the novels of Leslie Thomas. I can’t remember if I read the novel before the 1969 film but I liked Thomas as a writer, not just for his National Service experiences, but also the later novels.

    You mention Bowie who was uncredited in the film but the young lead was Hywel Bennett who was becoming a film star at that point, though it didn’t last long and he eventually became better known for his TV appearances. I always liked him. The cast was stuffed with great British character actors, several typed by their roles in war/military pictures.

    Both the 1969 and 1977 films, as well as being ‘military sex comedies’ (a category I hadn’t previously considered so thanks for that) were also part of an important genre cycle of National Service films. I think modern audiences are sometimes unaware that the UK had National Service up to 1963 and that young lads were sent out to fight colonial wars against very effective guerrilla forces. The cycle includes comedies (e.g. Carry on Sergeant, 1958 and the ITV series, The Army Game 1947-61)) and serious dramas (e.g. The Bofors Gun 1968). Your review of Stand Up for Virgin Soldiers! suggests that the racism and sexism of the film make it impossible to watch now. You may well be right but a serious study of how National Servicemen have been represented is an important project and would include every such film, even those as crass as this sounds. I worry that even discussing these films about naive lads who found themselves in Malaya (or Korea, Egypt, Aden, Cyprus etc.) might be seen as part of the current ‘Culture Wars’ launched by the Tories and preventing us facing issues properly. This is, after all, a tale about ‘Empire’, but not the one that the right-wing press want to engage with.

    • Great comment, many thanks. My (long gone) dad was amongst those who did National Service, and perhaps my love-hate relationship with this genre (Get Some In tv show too) springs from that. This review could have been ‘no award’ on my ratings system, but ends up as a three for the reasons that you suggest. Even after being bent to accomodate sops to Asquith’s audience, there is some kind of integrity here, and exactly as you suggest, because the point is to capture and evoke a shared experience that men had of National Service. As noted in my review, it was the more respectable Privates on Parade that brought me to this film, and this is a tough watch at times due to unquestioning adaptation of squaddie humour. But Thomas probably did deserve better, and I would totally encourage and support the collection and re-assessment of the “British military sex comedy’ for a number of reasons, precisely because it’s been airbrushed out of our new PC history.

  3. Afternoon everyone. Sorry for the late comment – had… business to attend to.

    And why are you reviewing this? What motivation did you have? It’s called Stand Up Virgin Soldiers!

    • lateness excused. The UK deeply in mourning right now, so thought this would cheer up the populace.

      • Deep mourning? No offence to ‘Big Ears’, but I think everyone’s taking it a little over the top. I mean, people die everyday! You don’t have the same programme on BBC One and Two to honour him. I need variety.

        • We’re playing Heaven by Brian Adams three times an hour on national radio. When we were losing 1800 people a day, no reflection of that reality at all, but when a member of the royal family dies, then it’s a week-long competition to show who can be the most hysterical.

            • Absolutely, what the NHS need is a clapping PR stunt or maybe a fundraising effort by pop and soap opera stars. They certainly don’t need an actual pay rise to help them put food on the table…we’re getting clear instructions on when we can or cannot mourn. I’m sure the royal family will be given on the spot fines if more than six of them turn up at the funeral…

              • Ah, what a beautiful country we live in. But aren’t Scotland leaving in 50 years or something? Lucky you. Do you perhaps have a spare room, or attic, or basement even, I could inhabit? Alongside Fraggle’s Fiat 500, I could make a lovely life for myself.

                • We’ll be leaving in ten minutes if the London-centric media keep spewing this royalist guff at us while we’re still unable to visit a shop for anything but groceries. You could share our shed with Shedley the cat if you like, is fragile selling you her car?

                  • Afraid I’m anti-cats, so the shed can’t do. It’s either me or the cat – your move. And Fraggle says she’ll only sell it to me when petrol and diesel cars are made illegal, and I reckon we’ll have had the Armageddon by then, so no such luck.

                    • Great, Shedley is watching Stand Up Virgin Soldiers! on a loop, so be prepared for some old school comedy!

                    • Shedley will help clean out the rats and mice, but your in your own in terms of entertainment; Shelley’s way or the highway! Where are you moving from?

                    • Rats? Mice? Shedley? Oh well. I can handle it. I’m moving from a little dusty bunker down in Juarez – also has rats, but no mice. I think it’s common knowledge that I’m on the run. You shielding a fugitive doesn’t change our agreement, right?

                    • Shielding a few. Shelley’s taste is influenced by Alex’s well known perverted blog, so that can’t be helped. No hot water, no roof, your meals will be put in a bowl and left at the door. Any questions?

                    • Hope you like Belgian boom rave! You don’t have to ask if they’re nice, it’s more about whether they let you live or not…

                    • I can get used to Belgian boom rave, as long as they mix a little Austrian in too. I think I’ll just have to swoosh them with my natural charm, wit and charisma. I can’t see how they won’t like me.

                    • Great, sounds like a good match, I can hear Shedley sharpening her little machete already! You’re in!

                    • True Crime is closer to what will happen here once Shedley’s gang smell fresh meat…

  4. OMG this should never be resurrected, more tacky than a rubber tree. I wiki’d Asquith to see what became of him and surprised to see he’s had a full thespian career performing in as much dross as possible. Yuck. And nope.

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