Color, 1974, 111m.
Directed by Stuart Cooper
Starring John Hurt, David Warner, John McEnery, Raymond Platt, Rosalind Ayres
BFI (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL)/ WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Color, 1974, 111m.
Long before he launched his HandMade Films label and became something of a British indie revolutionary, late Beatle George Harrison financed this oddball twisted ‘70s comedy under the banner of Apple Films, an offshoot of his band’s record label that was used for such better-known films as Let It Be and The Concert for Bangladesh. Adapted from a ’65 stage play by David Halliwell, the film retains original leading man John Hurt as Malcolm Scrawdyke, an art student kicked out of school who decides to rally his friends into a new organization called the Party of Dynamic Erection. Their foes: the “eunuchs” of conformity around them who are, you know, just trying to keep all the kids down. Among his followers are aspiring writer Dennis Nipple (Warner), who finds himself torn as Malcolm’s rhetoric expands into potential terrorism and a ghoulish mock trial.
Shot in limited stark locations with only a quintet of principal actors, Little Malcolm rests entirely on the shoulders of its able performers. Hurt obviously has the real grandstanding role here, full of pontifications used to mask the impotence which becomes more and more apparent as the film goes on. Warner is excellent as well, while the supporting cast includes such familiar faces as John McEnery (Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet) and Rosalind Ayres (From Beyond the Grave) as the lone female and a crucial part of the surprisingly brutal climax. While director Stuart Cooper mostly stuck to TV after this (including the mammoth A.D. miniseries), a couple of significant names behind the camera include cinematographer John Alcott (A Clockwork Orange and The Shining) and a very minimal music score by the late, great Stanley Myers, who scored everything from Schizo and The Deer Hunter to most of Nicolas Roeg’s later films.
As usual, the BFI release of this film as part of their formidable Flipside series comes with both Blu-Ray and DVD versions included, though the former is definitely the way to go if you can play it. The transfer is about on par with other films in the series: very film-like and detailed, with a sometimes rough but genuine appearance that looks like actual celluloid without much digital tinkering after the fact. It looks like a mint ‘70s print from start to finish, which is wholly appropriate.
Optional English subtitles are also included for the mono audio, and the thick insert booklet contains a new essay on the film by Yvonne Tasker, a 1975 review by Gordon Gow, a Q&A with Cooper about a number of issues (potential censorship of the ending, working with Harrison and Alcott, and the process of adapting the play), new essay appreciations by director Mike Leigh and John Hurt, bios of Cooper and Halliwell, and essays about the two bonus shorts included as well. The first of these, “Put Yourself in My Place,” is a 25-minute character study from 1974 with Judy Geeson (Goodbye Gemini) as a wife involved in a depiction of a world in which men and women’s power roles in society are reversed, and “The Contraption,” a short and eerie little 1977 number from director Richard Dearden with Richard O’Brien (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as a man working on a mysterious object with a unique function in his basement. Both look very good considering their rarity and age and make for fascinating, wildly unexpected companion pieces to the obscure but certainly worthwhile main attraction.