Wednesday, 28 October 2015

No.85. Peter Sellers - THERE'S A GIRL IN MY SOUP (1970)


After the uncommercial dark comedy of HOFFMAN, Peter Sellers returned to mainstream box office success with this feather-weight fun based on Terence Frisby’s stage play and directed by Roy Boulting. It already had ‘form’ as a long-running smash hit in the West End starring Donald Sinden and breaking theatre box office records

Sellers whips up an easy soufflĂ© of charm as Robert Danvers, a middle-aged wealthy bachelor about town, high-profile celebrity gourmand and TV star of his own cookery programme. He’s also an inveterate seducer of young women, only interested in one-night stands and a simple goodbye the morning after. What gives him appeal is his charm and a way with witty ripostes at deserving targets. We see both qualities in action from the start as he attends a society wedding, demurely batting away the photographers’ shifting of attention to him. He surveys the bride lasciviously: “So pure, so virginal..,” The reception guests are a dreadful assortment of horsey Hooray-Henrys, whose snobbery he can’t resist puncturing. When one condesdendingly asks him if he has a real job aside from his TV show, he replies “I perform abortions, didn’t you know?” Later, he gets the bride alone upstairs where we discover they had a past relationship which he escaped from, as he ‘mounts’ a re-offensive and has his way with her again on today of all days, melting her with a well-used line “My God, but you’re lovely…”. He even beds a second lady, a very young lovely Gabrielle Drake the same night. This is a man who is utterly confident in his prowess and carefree nature.

Danvers’ lifestyle is about to be challenged though, when he heads to a dull party with his friend Andrew (TV comedy actor Tony Britton, a cosy counterpoint of domestic happiness to Danvers). Instead of going in, he is distracted by Marion (Goldie Hawn), a young American standing outside a much livelier party downstairs. He likes what he sees and turns on the charm to take her back to his place – and this is where things don’t quite go according to plan. Hawn is marvellous at subverting the fluffy blonde stereotype she could play to perfection in films and TV’s kooky LAUGH-IN. Here, instead of immediately going to bed with Sellers, she returns his questions with the same, and systematically de-constructs his seduction technique point by point, which dampens his ardour and takes the vain wind out of his sails. As the scene plays out though, we realise that her armour of world-weariness about men doesn’t protect her from being routinely “passed around” by her boyfriend. Danvers retires cock-blocked to bed, leaving Marion alone and forlorn.

Against his better judgement, the next day Danvers finds himself taking pity on Marion and helping her move out of the flat shared with her boyfriend, a muso lothario snug fit for Nicky Henson. It’s entertaining and revealing seeing the two men vying for Hawn, with Henson hypocritically taking pot shots at Danvers’ motives while the latter tries to ignore the age insults.

Marion and Danvers embark on a whirlwind romance in France, helped by a cunning trick of hers to ‘accidentally’ spill wedding confetti from her purse to gain them preferential treatment at the hotel. Her naivete in other ways creates some embarrassment though when she swallows instead of spits every glassful offered to her at an upmarket wine tasting event, wrecking an expensive wine rack of vintage bottles. Danvers is forced to carry her back to their room, along the way attempting to give an autograph to an intrusive couple in the elevator with Hawn fireman’s lifted over his shoulder. When the husband hopes his ‘daughter’ feel better soon, Danvers soothes his stung vanity by retorting: “It’s my son actually. I’m rather worried about him”.

The couples’ dalliance has repercussions though when even back then, the paparazzi were in force, snapping them dancing together honeymoon-style. On their return home, they are besieged by speculative journalists asking when they were married – and strenuous denials won’t wash when there’s a scoop to be had about this famous bachelor finally becoming tamed. The tension rises even further when Marion decides to return to the bad-boy rock musician.  Uncharacteristically, Danvers suddenly proposes marriage, violating his singleton ethics to keep her with him. Equally out-of-character, it is Andrew who comes up with the modern idea of Marion sharing herself with the two men, much to Danvers’ shock and eventual bemused possible agreement. Marrion giggles out of the door, now in the power position of choice herself, a rare comeuppance for Danvers. He is left bemused at the turn of events and somewhat emasculated, until Andrew’s French au pair calls and his seducer spark returns. He preens himself in the mirror, affirming ”My God, but you’re lovely…”

THERE’S A GIRL IN MY SOUP is a harmless, fashionable and sweet dessert for Sellers (and Hawn) fans, easy on the palate and featuring bonus cameos by Diana Dors as the battle-axe apartment block owner’s wife and John Comer as her suffering husband, as well as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him intro cameo for Christopher Cazenove.

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