Monday, March 30, 2009

What's Up Nurse! (1977)

Directed by Derek Ford
Starring Nicholas Field, Felicity Devonshire, Julia Bond
Rated R

"You stupid girl! I told you to prick his boil!"

From everything I've read about the man, writer/director Derek Ford was a perpetually horned-up pussy-hound who made sexploitation movies mostly because it afforded him easy access to tender young flesh. Starting with 1969's This, That, and the Other, he spent nearly a decade cranking out low-budget sex-coms like this one, including several with wife-swapping themes, a topic the married Ford was especially interested in. In fact, Ford's wife Valerie sometimes served as his assistant director, shooting hardcore inserts in their own home to tag onto racy "European" cuts of his films. This would certainly account for the brevity (77 minutes) and choppy editing of What's Up Nurse!. Not that it matters, really. The what-the-fuck editing job only adds to the movie's grimy, bedraggled charm. It is clearly the work of a man who likes tits and laughs, and pretty much hates everything else.

Everything about What's Up Nurse! is half-assed, including the title. Where's the question mark and the comma? Say it loud with the exclamation point. It makes no sense. Also, it's not even about nurses. There's three nurses in the film, but two of them don't even have names, and none of them have a significant role. I am sure there's some method to this film-title madness, but I am not privy to it.

The film opens with a train ride. Olivia (the incredibly named Felicity Devonshire) reads The Story of O and occasionally fondles herself. She's sharing a seat with a dashing young doctor, Robert 'Sweeney' Todd (Nicholas Field), who cannot help but notice the pretty blonde with the wandering fingers. Naturally, he introduces himself. He tells her he's a doctor, about to start an internship at a local hospital.
"Seeing as you're a doctor, perhaps you can help me. I have a little problem," Olivia says. "Can I show it to you?"
He agrees to look at it, whatever it is, and she starts walking over to the bathroom.
"Are you coming?" She asks.
"Very nearly," he cheekily answers.
They crowd into the bathroom and she yanks her shirt open as the infectious psych-pop theme song ('The Love Bug', by Tony Burrows) kicks in.

The two attempt to make sweet 70's love while the train barrels down the tracks, but the young doctor finds himself in a delicate predicament.
"I'm...I'm stuck!" He says.
"Yes, well, that's my problem!" the girl tells him.
They call for help, and the creaky old ticket-puncher shows up.
"Oh dear," he says. "I hope you haven't been like that since the train was in the station."
At the next stop they call for an ambulance, and the still-stuck couple are whisked off to a tiny hospital, Banham on Sea General. They get wheeled in, and a ditzy nurse (Julia Bond) takes a look under the sheet.
"Are they Siamese twins?" She asks.

Grumpy Doctor Ogden (John LeMesurier, RIP), called away from his golf game, prepares to separate them via an injection of some sort, and grouses about being disturbed on his day off.
"I'm on my own," he snorts. "It's awfully difficult, because this idiot intern hasn't arrived yet. There's no sign of him at all."
"Well," the young doctor stammers, "That's the thing, sir. I am your intern. I'm Dr. Todd."
Doc Ogden is suitably outraged. It gets worse, however, when he finally gets an eyeful of the blonde with the convulsive vadge.
"Hi, daddy!" She says.
"I see you've met my daughter Olivia," says the mortified Ogden.
Ha ha, what a mix-up!

After he's finally released from Olivia's iron grip, Dr. Todd heads over to his new home, a furnished room in the home of sexy widow Helen Arkwright (Angela Grant). After meeting a neighbor who spouts an amazing, innuendo laden monologue about the comings and goings of all the boat-loving folk in their seaside neighborhood ("You know that young fisherman down at number 13, well, last night was trying out his dinghy for size, to see if it was big enough..."), she points him towards the Cleopatra, the yacht Helen owns. After dumping a bucket of water on his head, she invites him on board and then seduces him.
"There's a storm brewing," she says. "Should we lower the main sail?"
I guess if you spend a lot of time on boats, you just pick all this salty language up.
"After all," she purrs, while they roll around on the floor, "I did invite you to come aboard."
So then he ends up falling overboard, and they have to rush him back to the hospital in an ambulance.

What's Up Nurse! has this odd habit of slipping between narrative-driven comedy and pure slapstick, and you never really know which you're getting from scene to scene. For example, after Todd gets wheeled into the hospital, Carthew the ambulance driver (Graham Stark) stands there in the hallway, cracking walnuts.
"You're making a mess on the floor!" Snaps Matron (Kate Williams), the head nurse.
"Well, I'm quite fond of me nuts," he explains.
And then the other nurse pirouettes through the frame.
"I thought I told you to stop pirouetting!"
Every so often, weird shit like that happens.

Dr Ogden is, of course, annoyed that he's been called in for more of Todd's bullshit.
"You needn't have come in," Dr Todd tells him. "It's only a mild concussion."
"More's the pity," snaps the doctor, and then storms off, leaving the slightly concussed doctor in charge. A guy shows up in the emergency room with a jam jar shoved up his ass, so Todd and Carthew use plaster of Paris and a broom handle to get it out. They milk this lame gag for a lot longer than you'd think. Eventually, the guy ends up rolling down a hill on his gurney, a broom handle sticking out of his ass. He crashes into a guy holding a sign that says "The End is Here".

And so on. There's a fairly awesome scene with a group of girls tossing a ball around in the nude, but it takes a while to get there: a patient comes in suffering under the delusion that he's swallowed a live frog. Matron tells Todd he comes in regularly with the same complaint. They usually just give him a sugar pill and send him on his way. Todd figures he can cure him once and for all by pretending to do a surgical procedure on him to remove the phantom frog. They put the man under, but now Todd needs a frog. First he goes to the local pet shop, but the owner is no help, and tries to sell him a stuffed owl. Next, he decides to go to the source, heading down to a local creek and wading around in the mud looking for frogs. That's when he runs into the naked girls. They think he's a masher, and call their boyfriends, who beat him with sticks and drag him off.

Oh, and then a monkey shows up in the emergency room. And then a constipated gay guy shows up. The gay gets an enema and passes out, and the monkey gives the doctor the slip and ends up blowing the gay guy. At this point, I no longer have any idea what the fuck is going on.

Helen is launching a new boat, so she invites everyone on board for a party. Carthew brings a dropper full of drugs to dose some blonde's drink, but Nurse Julia grabs it out of his hand and gulps it down. Naturally, she ends up performing an impromptu (and impressive) strip tease.

Through a series of ridiculous circumstances, Todd and Olivia end up picking up a yacht for Helen in France and sailing it back to England. Olivia tells Todd the boat is "self-navigating", so they spend all their time fucking in the cabin. Amazingly, they do not get stuck this time, which prompts Todd to propose to her. Olivia gets so excited she sets up some flares, which causes an explosion, blowing them both off the boat. And then it sinks. They're rescued by a bunch of Indian dudes who were stowed away in the yacht.

I am not sure why - it was Olivia's fault, after all - but when they get back, Dr. Todd ends up in jail. Olivia talks the police chief into letting Todd go because they need him at the hospital, but only if he's handcuffed to a constable, which makes for a very uncomfortable scene when a lovely young lady (gorgeous Zoe Hendry, Confessions of a Window Cleaner) comes in, complaining of - ahem - chest pains, and later, when Todd has to perform an appendix removal on the guy who's boat he sank.

Everything comes screeching to a climax in one of the weirdest happy endings I've ever seen. And around here, that's saying a lot.

Like most British sex-coms from the 70's, What's Up Nurse! is full of well-known and well-respected television actors who you will not recognize unless you are actively British, but even without a working knowledge of Graham Stark's resume, this is a relentlessly cornball but often funny bit of tits-out trash that does not skimp on the skin, even in this ridiculously truncated form. The girls are all above average in the looks department - never a given in Britsploitation flicks - and Devonshire in particular stands out for her bubbly, up-for-anything personality. A Page 3 girl before she took up acting, Devonshire appeared in a raft of T&A flicks between '71 and '78, including Intimate Games (1976), Secrets of a Door to Door Salesman (1973), and 3D epic The Four Dimensions of Greta (1972). Sadly, 1979's Sex and the Other Woman was her last film appearance. Sadly for us, I mean. She became a property investor and now has one bazillion dollars.

Director Ford followed this one up with What's Up Superdoc! in 1978. In 1984, he started the amazing Don't Open 'Til Christmas but quit in apparent disgust halfway through shooting. Not enough tits, most likely. He shot a couple direct to video softcore flicks in the 90's, but mostly concentrated on writing erotic novels. He died in 1995. He was only in his 60's, but let's face it, the guy gulped down at least a couple lifetimes while he was here.

Availability: What's Up Nurse! is available on DVD.

- Ken McIntyre

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