UK / 64 minutes / color / Danziger, MGM Dir: Godfrey Grayson Pr: Edward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger Scr: Mark Grantham Cine: Jimmy Wilson Cast: June Thorburn, Pete Murray, Noel Trevarthen, Jan Holden, Peter Butterworth, Guy Middleton, Mary Laura Wood, Patricia Plunkett, Derek Blomfield, Jill Melford, Totti Truman Taylor, Catherine Ellison, Bruce Beeby, C. Denier Warren, Viola Keats.
An unusual UK B-feature made by the Danzigers, whose imprimatur had roughly the same guarantee of quality as those of firms like Monogram and PRC in the US. What’s unusual about it is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The cartoonish opening credits and the soundtrack suggest it’s going to be some mildly naughty comedy, and that’s what it reads like for the first twenty minutes or so—a sex comedy without the sex, so to speak—but thereafter it rather abruptly becomes darker, albeit no more plausible. It’s held together by good performances from Thorburn, Trevarthen, Blomfield and Butterworth—not to mention a startlingly powerful cameo from Plunkett, making the best of a workaday screenplay—while almost foundering on the performance of Murray as a sort of downmarket Frankie Darro.
Buzz (Pete Murray) is cocky from the outset.
Terry Kennedy (Thorburn) runs an above-board male-escort agency. Actors Steve Walker (Trevarthen) and Buzz Jenkins (Murray), proud of their small parts in Kiss Me Quick, Pauline but currently “resting,” are accepted onto her books, as is a man called Jack (Blomfield). Soon they’re all regularly employed at £5 an evening, plus expenses.
Terry (June Thorburn) explains to her new recruits that there’s to be no nooky on the job. (I’m here all this week, so . . .)
Before long the cocksure Buzz’s regular “date” is myopic, manifestly available society type Nadia Summers (Melford), while Jack’s regular “date” is an older, aesthetic woman, Marion Daley (Keats). Another socialite, the vampish Elizabeth Quinn (Holden)—“granddaughter of Sir Andrew Quinn”—selects the fresh-faced, nicely spoken Steve with increasing frequency, and it takes no detective to recognize that, initially cool toward him, she’s now taking a shine. This causes minor difficulties, because he’s not remotely interested in her but is very much interested in Terry—even though Terry explains to him that “I’m a career woman. There’s no time or place for anything else in my life.” Of course, it’s pretty blatant she’s as keen on Steve as he is on her.
Jack (Derek Blomfield) listens intently to the “escort training” offered by Terry (June Thorburn).
We know that Elizabeth’s motive for hiring an escort is nefarious because, each evening after he drops her off at her apartment, she takes a phonecall from what’s clearly a conspirator.
People assume that Steve (Noel Trevarthen) is the new beau of Elizabeth (Jan Holden) . . .
. . . but in reality his heart already belongs to Terry (June Thorburn).
Then, one evening while Steve waits in the living room for her to finish putting on her makeup in the bedroom, someone strangles her.
Like an idiot, Steve assumes the cops will stitch him up as the obvious suspect and so doesn’t phone them. He cleans off every surface he can remember touching, and scarpers off into the night. What he doesn’t reckon with is that the building’s porter (Warren) knows him by sight and in fact spotted him arriving this evening. Soon Scotland Yard, in the shape of Inspector Bruce (Butterworth, a face instantly recognizable to any devotee of the Carry On movies) and Detective-Sergeant Moore (Beeby), are on Steve’s trail. Meanwhile Terry, Jack and Buzz—and even Nadia and Marion—do their very best to help as he tries to identify the real killer.
Inspector Bruce (Peter Butterworth) is on the case.
Middleton, who’s a Leslie Phillips type, and Wood play Arthur and Barbara Vickers, two old friends of Elizabeth’s, while Plunkett plays Eldon Baker, a onetime club hostess, now unemployed because of her alcoholism, who used to work at the nightclub Vickers owns.
Two of Elizabeth’s dear friends, Barbara (Mary Laura Wood) and Arthur Vickers (Guy Middleton).
There’s nothing special here, and the production values are about those of a 1960s TV soap opera. (Matters weren’t helped for me by the fact that I was watching a poor copy, clearly taped from the TV, that I found on Jimbo Berkey’s site, here.) Nevertheless, the movie fills its allotted hour amenably enough, and the twist at the end—as the real killer is unmasked—is quite genuinely, if only mildly, surprising, while the occasional glaring plot hole is easy to forgive. Thorburn and Trevarthen are always a pleasure to watch, and Melford does her level best in a losing cause to look unattractive.
Terry (June Thorburn) learns of Steve’s “little problem.”
Murray’s the grit in one’s KY Jelly, though. A Londoner, he affects here the same phony “mid-Atlantic” accent he’d deploy in his later career as a radio DJ and minor TV personality. The role of Buzz, a smug, none-too-bright jerk who thinks he’s God’s gift to women, seems tailor-made for him, and this is not a good thing. On occasion Butterworth seems not to be acting when he looks as if he’d like to clock him one. Murray’s acting career is largely forgotten these days; after it was over he went on to become a very successful middle-of-the-road radio DJ before eventually, in 1983, being fired by the BBC for producing, live on air, a Rush Limbaugh-like smear of the UK’s Labour Party, then locked in an election battle with rightwinger Margaret Thatcher’s Tories. Since the BBC does its best to maintain political neutrality, this was a terminal move on Murray’s part. It seems he was so up himself he thought he was too big a name for the corporation to fire. Wrong.
A stunning cameo from Patricia Plunkett as a spurned woman lost in a swamp of booze and regrets.
It’s tempting to compare Escort for Hire with the roughly contemporaneous EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERIES series, and certainly there’s the same sort of cheapo attraction. For the first one-third or so of its fairly meager running time, though, this is a very different beast, having a flippancy the EWM movies never had, but thereafter the comparison becomes reasonably valid. An interesting curio.