Color, 1980, 95 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Michael Chapman
Starring Helen Mirren, John Shea, Paul Angelis, Murray Salem, Jenny Runacre
Indicator (UK R0 HD), Twilight Time (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), First Run Features (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)/ WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Years before he wrote and directed the memorable art horror-thriller Heart of Midnight and essentially did some script doctoring on the astounding Color of Night, British filmmaker Matthew Chapman made his debut with this offbeat, romantic crime film that serves as a valuable transitional title in many ways. Most obviously it served as an immediate reminder of the RSC-trained Helen Mirren's abilities as an actress just as the long-gestating Caligula unrolled in theaters with her in an eyebrow-raising main role, but the film was also neck in neck with The Long Good Friday that year (also with Mirren) for kickstarting the 1980s British crime wave that would go on to spawn classics like Mona Lisa and The Krays.
The first half of the film essentially charts the love story between call girl Beaty (Mirren) and Emory (Shea), an American stagehand and electrician who works at a nightclub that also serves as a front for her line of work and other criminal enterprises. She's also a single mom with plans to get her son back to start a new life outside of the city, but when two different men come crawling out of the woodwork with different ways to make that happen, the lovers find their relationship put into very real jeopardy.
A whiplash mixture of tones, Hussy feels very much like a newcomer's film as well as a project made by an industry trying to find its way. Both Mirren and Shea are very solid in their roles and have nice chemistry together, which helps anchor things as you get dollops of gritty crime film, sudsy melodrama, gaudy nightclub ambience, and a fair amount of sex including unabashed nudity from both of the leads. That last factor led to this being marketed as a softcore film in numerous markets (including '80s cable TV), but anyone expecting a purely trashy nudie soap opera will get way more than they bargained for here. The film also boasts an early score by the great George Fenton, who would begin a short but vital partnership with Neil Jordan just four years later.
Hussy has made the rounds on video for years in various editions including a truly abysmal DVD from First Run, which should be avoided at all costs. A very attractive HD master first bowed on Blu-ray in the U.S. from Twilight Time but only features the theatrical trailer; a far more worthwhile (and affordable) option is the region-free Indicator limited 3,000-unit Blu-ray from the U.K., which looks gorgeous and authentic to the original vintage of the feature itself. The LPCM English mono track is also fine given that the original recording quality is pretty poor with reedy vocals and little range for the music for the most part. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided. A selected scene audio commentary (36m11s) with Chapman is very candid and informative as he chats about his own research and experiences in places like the club scene in the film, as well as his memories of Mirren (who was a Marxist at the time according to him). "A New Outfit" (34m12s) features Shea recalling his first feature role (auditioning opposite Kevin Kline and William Hurt for the role), the "secret" Mirren had for shooting love scenes, and his own affinity for thrillers that drew him to the material. Then actress Jenny Runacre appears in "Club Life" (5m21s) for a brief collection of thoughts about making this on the heels of Jubilee, and producer Don Boyd gets his say In "More Than Meets the Eye" (21m3s) about some of the challenges of Chapman's first-time status, the flurry of films this fell into along with Alan Clarke's Scum and various Derek Jarman titles, and a PR misstep he now regrets. In "Musical Fabric" (7m19s), Fenton notes the process of coming aboard through Boyd and had a hard time reconciling the contrasting and high-volume musical demands of the material in a limited amount of time while he was still relatively fresh out of school. Finally, an archival 2012 audio interview with poster designer Sam Peffer (3m17s) before his death covers his illustrating work including some iconic Pan paperbacks, the eye-popping campaigns for Flesh Gordon and Cannibal Holocaust, and the poster he created for this film, which pushed the cleavage about as far as it could go. The X and U certificate theatrical trailers are also included along with an image gallery of stills, posters, and pressbooks. The package also comes with the usual stacked insert booklet featuring new liner notes by Rebecca Nicole Williams, archivel text interview selections with Boyd, an overview of the tie-in novel by Rosemary Kingsland, and sample critical responses and credits.
Reviewed on October 15, 2019.