Sunday, 8 March 2020

Deep End (1970)

Deep End
I have arrived at another diversion from the Book I follow (the Danish edition) and the full, official List. Where the Danish List have included the Swedish “En Kärlekshistoria”, it replaces the movie “Deep End”. My personal opinion is that the Danish editors could easily have found a better movie to ditch as “Deep End” is one of the better movies of 1970 so far.

For a period where oddness seems par for the course, “Deep End” is a an odd movie, but unlike most of the other odd movies I have watched it works to the benefit of the movie. This movie stands out because of this oddness.

“Deep End” is a movie written and directed by Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, who at the time hardly spoke English. It takes place in England with an English cast in the principal roles, but is filmed by a German crew, mostly in Munich. This strange mix comes through in the tone of the movie that is unlike any other English movie I ever saw.

The 15 year old boy Mike (John Moulder Brown) starts working at the Deptford public bath as a bath attendant and is immediately take by the older, but still very young and pretty Susan (Jane Asher) who is working as his counterpart in the women’s section and instructing him in his job. Part of this job is to “attend” some clients of the opposite sex, providing sexual favors. Mike is an innocent and completely inexperienced boy and is quite taken aback by the advances of these older women. He is also too young to know what to do about his infatuation with Susan.

Susan is a flirt. She has a fiancé whom she is half serious about (despite a lot of bickering), she has an affair with the older swimming teacher, a dirty old man who loves to touch up girls inappropriately, and she willingly offers services to the males clients in the bath. Mike, she leads on with one hand and puts off with the other and Mike is very confused and frustrated.

What starts out as an innocent infatuation soon darkens into obsession and madness as Mike completely looses it and that is the drama of the movie.

What makes this movie work so well is the innocence and likability of Mike. He seems to be such a good boy and therefore it hurts so much when he loses it. He is going places where you scream “DON’T!”, partly from shared embarrassment and partly because his lack of filter makes him do deeply counter productive things, such a follow Susan and her fiancé into a cinema to touch her up or follow her on the Underground with a huge cut-out of an almost naked lady who may or may-not be Susan. Even in his maddest endeavors he remains this sweet and innocent boy that we really want to like.

“Deep End” also doses a large amount of dark humor into the ongoings. Not so much gags as absurdities such as the older woman (Diana Dors) getting off on pulling a desperately fighting Mike into her oversize bosom, or the sausage vendor who sells a lot of hot dogs to Mike with the same ridiculous routine and having so good business of it that he end up offering him hotdogs for free. The humor has the effect of making Mike’s plight even more painful to watch rather than distracting from it and so it serves the movie perfectly.

There is a lot of nudity in “Deep End”, which makes perfect sense because it is a story about sexual frustration and madness, but where an ordinary British movie of this period would likely hesitate on the issue, “Deep End goes all in. My guess is that this is the Skolimowski / German production influence and rather than being put off by it, it is clear that the movie needs this to have the right impact. My favorite example is the porn movie Susan and her fiancé is watching. This is such a ridiculous and funny and actually rather innocent affair and I could not help laughing, but it also demonstrates the pedestal on which the young boy is placing sex and Susan in particular.

The only drawback is that I found the decent into madness too sudden and too desperate to be fully believable. This may be a very young and inexperienced boy, but I believe most young men would have filter enough to stop themselves from going this far.

It is a minor objection though and on the whole, I would recommend this movie.


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