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A satisfying 'little' film
on 14 May 2013
All the Right Noises is one of those nice `little' films that used to get made in the UK in the late 60s and early 70s because UK cinemas were still required by law to show a quota of local films, most of which would be relegated to second features or quickly disappear after being booked for a slow week. It was especially unlucky to be shelved for a couple of years by 20th Century Fox and then released the same week as Love Story, ensuring it was gone and forgotten within a week despite some good reviews. So forgotten, in fact, it doesn't seem to have turned up even on late night television and until the BFI's Bluray and DVD release seems to have remained almost completely unseen since its brief theatrical release.
The premise - a married stage electrician has an affair with a 15-year-old actress - and the presence of Gerry O'Hara, director of The Bitch, behind the camera imply sleazy exploitation (`Is 15½ too young for a girl? Is one wife enough for one man?' screamed the poster), but instead it's a nicely underplayed slice of life that avoids the opportunities for titillation for something more naturalistic and underplayed. The underage angle is downplayed in favor of something more non-judgmental, although the absence of drama or melodrama until the last half hour works slightly against it - there's little tension in the relationship until that point and no real consequences, just recognisably human characters falling in and out of a relationship as they lie to themselves, which probably limits its appeal.
O'Hara's directorial resume is pretty undistinguished at best, but he was one of the top assistant directors in the business and, working from his own script, shows an unfussy craftsmanship that never gets in the way of the story or characters and shows a surprising strength with his cast. Which is a good thing, because what carries a movie with a plot this slight are the performances. Tom Bell, a fine actor with an unfortunate tendency to burn his bridges for no good reason, is in his element here, creating the kind of ordinary guy you recognise from real life and managing to make him interesting despite having no big dramatic scenes to show off with. A surprisingly appealing Olivia Hussy gets the showiest part as the object of his affection but never oversteps the mark, managing to seem spontaneous without being precocious, and the two work well together: there's one morning after scene that's surprisingly charming. Although it's a thankless part, Judy Carne is so good and completely believable as the wife that it's a real pity she never got more chances before her career self-destructed. Robert Keegan also impresses as Bell's down on his luck father and there are supporting turns from a number of familiar faces like John Standing and a very young Lesley-Anne Down.
It's a minor film that never really amounts to much, but it mostly hides the low budget well: O'Hara only really stumbles in the clumsy camerawork and editing in the onstage musical numbers in the show that brings the two together. While it never really makes you care much about any of the characters, it does feel true to life in all its unsensational lack of glory, ending not in tears or tragedy but with the dishes getting washed. Whether that's a good thing simply comes down to personal preference, but if you're in the right mood and not expecting too much it's surprisingly satisfying. Sadly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, the picture quality is not particularly good, looking like it came from a soft 16mm print. There's not much detail, particularly where there are blacks or shadows in the image, so there's no real advantage in picking up the Bluray, although it is currently cheaper than the DVD in some outlets). The only extras are an excellent booklet on the film (it turns out Nic Roeg's help and contacts were instrumental in getting it made), a short film O'Hara and Bell made a couple of years later, The Spy's Wife, which also features Dorothy Tutin and Vladek Sheybal, and some unedited footage of an interview with an awkward Olivia Hussy and her forgotten Romeo and Juliet co-star Leonard Whiting (cue one painfully prophetic question about unknowns being cast in major films only to never be heard of again!).