Tuesday, October 1, 2013

There's Something About Mary


David Sullivan’s (The New Blue) Exciting Cinema was ostensibly created as another platform in which to promote Mary Millington's appearance in COME PLAY WITH ME. This issue - from February 1978 - shows Mary posing next to her Mercedes-Benz.

MADE by Roldvale and distributed by Tigon, COME PLAY WITH ME features - rather than stars - Britain's favourite 1970s sexpot, Mary Millington. Born into unmarried parents, and suffering low-esteem during her formative years, bisexual Millington committed suicide in 1979 at the age of 33. Described by the Sunday Mirror's Colin Wills as the "Tooting Marilyn Monroe," Mary became an uninhibited performer for magazine shoots - including her lover David Sullivan's Playbirds and Whitehouse - and the modelling funded her beloved Mother's cancer treatment. On the printed page and on screen, the 4'11" non-actress clearly rejoiced in the naked form and loved being the centre of attention. Mary was also a high-class call girl, and her list of 'conquests' allegedly included Harold Wilson. Enjoying her celebrity status and lavish home, Millington's shrewd public image shrouded her private "little girl lost" demeanor, a savage contrast that determined a fall as swift as her rise.

Latterly Mary suffered from depression, kleptomania and cocaine abuse, becoming increasingly frazzled following the death of her mother in 1976. After this, Millington's bizarre level of morbidity included taking a Mortician course, and she even considered opening a funeral home. Mary was also a long-standing campaigner against censorship, having a disregard for authority that was fueled by repeated raids of her sex shop by the Obscene Publications Squad, and pressure from the Inland Revenue. Even an amateur psychologist can see the cracks: rejected by her father at birth, and with such a gulf between the public and real Mary, the need for value to offset her emptiness was recognised by money (she once proclaimed that cashing up at her sex shops was more gratifying than any carnal activity). As Julian Upton states in Fallen Stars: Tragic Lives and Lost Careers, Millington's films "...will never stand up, but her life story is a cautionary tale with a timeless significance."

The cover to Odeon's 2010 DVD. The disc also includes a 1975 8mm short made by George Harrison Marks and featuring Mary Millington - SEX IS MY BUSINESS - and publicist John M. East's dubious 1980 documentary MARY MILLINGTON'S TRUE BLUE CONFESSIONS.

An atrocious, star-studded sex comedy set in a health farm, COME PLAY WITH ME amazingly broke box office records throughout the UK and went on to become one of the most profitable movies of the decade, strongly sold by the image of Millington - who only appears on screen for a few minutes. The film tells of Cornelius Clapworthy (George Harrison Marks, also director/writer) and Maurice Kelly (Alfie Bass), two elderly forgers flooding the UK with fake £20 banknotes. On the run from gangster boss Slasher (Ronald Fraser) and government official Podsnap (Ken Parry), the pair pretend to be musicians, hiding out at a struggling Scottish B&B run by Lady Bovington (Irene Handl). When Bovington’s choreographer nephew Rodney (Jerry Lorden) arrives with his troupe of dancing girls business picks up, as the females - vaguely under the leadership of Rena (Suzy Mandel) - decide to help out by dressing up as nurses and re-opening the Manor as a brothel, complete with topless massages.

COME PLAY WITH ME gestated from an old Marks script bullishly pushed into production by Sullivan, who at this point was keen to produce movies. By 1976 "glamour" photographer/publisher Marks had endured two obscenity trials and seen his business empire go into receivership, but initially this team-up between the British porn kings seemed amicable, especially when Sullivan gave Marks a £120,000 budget without reading the full script. When footage was shown to the producer - a tired mix of music hall and veteran performers fluffing their lines or blankly gazing into camera - Sullivan was horrified, and extra filming took place at the Mayfair Burlesque Club and his own sauna in Croydon (plus extensive scenes on and around Brighton Pier). Sullivan also ordered shooting of additional hardcore sequences for the continental version, but the strong cut was never sold and was only screened once by mistake in North London. But the damage had been done; furious at the inclusion of blue material, Handl, Bass and Fraser all made complaints to Equity. This was all priceless publicity for a film which stands as one of the most bafflingly popular motion pictures in history, a triumph of marketing over content.