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.