Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tiffany Jones (1973)

Directed by Pete Walker
Starring Anouska Hempel, Eric Pohlman, Damien Thomas
Rated R
UK

“If the fuzz pick me up, I'll get busted for pushin' porn!”

TiffanyJonesFrontIn 1998, Anouska Hempel bought the rights to Tiffany Jones, effectively stymieing any further releases of the film in the UK. ‘Why? What could possibly be scandalous enough?’ you might ask. Well, as far as I can tell, it’s because as the titular character she shows her boobs and Hempel is, as of 1980, married to wealthy insurance tycoon Sir Mark Weinberg and therefore a member of high society more correctly referred to as Lady Weinberg. Or if you’re one of her high society friends, Nou-Nou.

I’m no expert on the nuances of British high society, but I gather it is considered most improper for one to have shown one’s tits in a film prior to one’s being inducted into high society. It is, on the other hand, considered entirely proper for one to use one’s excessive amounts of money for the censorship of past embarrassments.

Unfortunately, we live in a time where we have this thing called “the Internet”, which makes it really bloody hard to censor one’s past embarrassments. Especially when said embarrassments were available on VHS for 25 years.

Hempel tried to do the same thing with Russ Meyer’s Black Snake, which she also headlined. She managed to stop a UK theatrical rerelease in the late ‘90s, but the DVD rights proved unobtainable – the film is readily available as part of Arrow Films’ terrific Meyer box set.

Ol’ Russ, incidentally, wasn’t much of a fan of Hempel, who reputedly only stepped into the part after the previously booked lead OD’d. “Hempel?” he said. “Tiny tits and a big mouth. We had a stand-in for the tits and wouldn't let her speak.”

To be honest, neither film is particularly scandalous. Without the nudity, Tiffany Jones could be remade this year starring some kind of pop singer and marketed to teenage girls.

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That would actually be more appropriate, since the nudity – and don’t get me wrong here, it comes close to saving the film – is kinda out of place, considering where Tiffany Jones comes from. The film is based on a comic strip that ran in newspapers from 1964 until sometime in the ‘70s which was written by Jenny Butterworth and illustrated beautifully (just check out the line-work on the hair in the above piece) by Pat Tourret.

The strip was the story of a British girl who moved to the big city and became a model and lived the life of an empowered and successful young lady. With that in mind, it’s a little confusing as to why the movie is, basically, about Tiffany trying to bring down the dictatorial government of a small Eastern European nation.

Okay, very confusing. Utterly bewildering. Fucking mystifying, in fact.

Tiffany’s still a model in the film, as the pre-credits introduction reminds us. While filming a commercial on a floating bed in the ocean, she has to dive off it as it begins to drift out to sea. “Who'd be a model?” she says awkwardly to the camera, sitting soggily on the shore. “I would!”

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Following the credits, in the nation of Zirdana in Eastern Europe some rebels are sneaking around the office of the nation’s dictator. Along with a bunch of other files, they find a picture of Tiffany, though they’re unsure of who she is.

Back in London, Tiffany is wearing a towel at home with boyfriend Guy (Ray Brooks) and flatmate Jo (Susan Sheers), although Guy pretty quickly leaves because, I dunno, he and Tiffany apparently have a relationship that doesn’t involve kissing or touching or talking or hanging around each other at all. So Jo and Tiffany just watch the news together.

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There’s an interview on with the visiting President Boris Jabal (Eric Pohlman) of, you guessed it, Zirdana. “That man has cruel eyes,” says Tiffany.

“He's rather sexy, I thought,” chimes in Jo.

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Jo has pretty low standards, I guess.

The action moves to the president’s temporary British lodgings, where it turns out he’s also trying to find out the identity of Tiffany. Somehow – it’s not really explained – he does and his underling approaches Tiffany’s manager to set up a meeting under the pretence of a photo shoot.

Tiffany is driven to the mansion and is brought in to see the president, who orders her to take her top off and then confesses that he’s obsessed with her while he holds a candlestick.

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He’s also not real good with the romancing. “Come, kiss your president!” he demands.

“You're not my president! I have a monarch!” Tiffany says, patriotically. He gets the idea that she’s not going to have sex with him there and then, and invites her to the opera the next night. She agrees, puts her top back on and leaves.

While she’s heading off an old woman protests the dictatorship by jumping on the moving car.

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Next day, Tiffany is on her way out to another job when she unexpectedly runs into Guy in the hallway of her house while topless. They have a short polite conversation and then she heads off to her photo shoot.

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Turns out it’s just another ruse though, and the man who booked the session is actually Prince Salvator (Damien Thomas, Twins of Evil), the son of the murdered King of Zirdana. He does at least take a couple of pictures anyway, while sitting in a throne.

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Turns out the King was murdered, of course, by the president, and the Prince wants Tiffany to help him back to his rightful place as head of Zidana. She pretty much just takes his word for it. Why not, right?

She heads along to the opera with the president – even though it’s Guy’s birthday, the poor bastard – and then heads back to the mansion afterwards to eat some chicken. The president once again throws himself at/on her, but she admonishes him for his behaviour.

“Boris, don't spoil my admiration of you,” she says. “I know it's not the real you. Only fascist pigs and bourgeois people behave like that.”

Then she heads off again, driven by the president’s double-chinned chauffeur.

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Turns out he’s not who he says he is either. He’s working for the Zidanian rebels, who are undercover in London as kitchen workers. They strip her and tie her to the kitchen table and threaten her if she doesn’t reveal her connection to the president.

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“If you refuse,” their leader says, “Stefan here will ladle the consommé julienne onto those naked shoulders of yours until you tell the truth.”

She tells them the truth, but they don’t really believe her. Eventually, she’s left alone with Georg (Geoffrey Hughes, Onslow from super dull British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances) - the fat, stupid one – and manages to convince him to let her go.

Meanwhile, Jo and Guy are at home wondering where she is, but not really wondering too hard. Actually, they’re just having a cup of tea and some cake, which is probably what all British people do when they’re worried.

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Tiffany – wearing a chef’s uniform – heads around to see the Prince and has a bit of a nap there. She also passes on some information she found out about an arms deal that the president plans to attend. Together, they cook up a plan: Tiffany will send the rebels to the arms deal, while she detains the president at a model’s union picnic.

She also goes to the arms dealers and pretends to be a prostitute and sets up a meeting for later that night, after the arms deal. No idea why.

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So, the president turns up to the picnic at the appointed time. He’s not there for long before all the girls start taking their clothes off. What follows is a good five minutes of ‘70s British nudity, which is always great. In fact, it’s the highlight of the entire film and there’s cake and boobs and everything. Everything!

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Eventually they convince the president to strip down too, and feed him grapes or something. While this is happening, Guy surreptitiously takes pictures of the whole thing.

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Meanwhile, Tiffany steals his uniform and hands it off to the rebels, who use it to impersonate him at the arms deal. They organise to meet the arms dealers at an air strip later that night to hand over payment. Unfortunately, the president manages to get the information about this deal out of his chauffeur.

Tiffany turns up to meet the arms dealers, along with the Prince, who’s dressed as a woman. Then she makes out with the Prince in a phone booth after she calls Guy to tell him to bring the pictures of the picnic.

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Everyone – seriously, pretty much the whole cast of the film up until this point, with the sad exception of the nude models – turns up to the airport. The Prince grabs a plane and heads back to Zindana with the incriminating photos, and the president and the rebels rip Tiffany’s clothes off and chase her around the air strip.

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Tiffany goes home and goes to bed. The end.

If the above sounds like a series of events that just keep happening at random, then I’ve conveyed the way the movie works pretty authentically. Tiffany takes absolutely everything in her stride and doesn’t really react to anything. Even the fact that she’s successfully brought down an oppressive dictatorship doesn’t have any effect – she literally just goes to bed. It’s all very odd, and a complete mess.

Director Pete Walker was better known for horror films like Die Screaming, Marianne and Frightmare. The scriptwriter, Alfred Shaughnessy, was better known for dreary TV period drama Upstairs, Downstairs. So it’s probably not entirely surprising Tiffany Jones turned out so badly.

The problem really seems to be that Tiffany Jones has absolutely no idea what it is – saucy sex comedy? Spy thriller? Romance? It doesn’t do very well at any of them.

But then, why aim for sex comedy and spy thriller when the comic strip was an uplifting squeaky-clean affair about a girl wearing nice clothes and hanging out with her flatmate and boyfriend? Baffling.

Frankly, Lady Weinberg can bloody keep it. No one’s missing much with this off the market.

- Alistair Wallis

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