Freddie Francis had a long and prosperous career in the cinema, learning many areas of filmmaking by cutting his teeth as a stills photographer, clapper boy, camera loader and focus puller; he also worked on training films while in the army.Garnering enough experience led him to become a camera operator on films as diverse as The Tales of Hoffman (a favorite of George Romero’s and Martin Scorsese’s), Twice Upon a Time, and Beat the Devil.He also worked as a cinematographer on The Innocents, Night Must Fall, The Elephant Man, and Dune, while scoring two Oscars for shooting Sons and Lovers and Glory.In the midst of this, he managed to find time to direct more than his share of thrillers in the 1960’s and 1970’s, chief among them The Brain, Paranoiac, Nightmare, The Evil of Frankenstein, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and The Creeping Flesh.Most genre fans grew up seeing these films on late-night television or on weekend broadcasts, and they all have appeared on home video in a variety of different formats.
One of Mr. Francis’ most elusive titles is the bizarre, black comedy Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly, released Stateside simply as Girly in 1970.Now available on an all-region NTSC DVD by the fine Scorpion Releasing, which has also brought us Sweet William, Cheerleaders Wild Weekend, Say Hello to Yesterday, and The Last Grenade to name a few, Girly, Based upon Maisie Mosco’s stage play Happy Family, is an obscure and fairly macabre tale of a brother and sister (Howard Trevor and Vanessa Howard) who suffer from a form of arrested development at the hands of their crazed mother (Ursula Howells) and equally batty nanny (Pat Heywood) who treat the twenty-somethings as if they were still toddlers.Mumsy and Nanny refer to Sonny and Girly (who both wear school uniforms that they clearly are too old to be wearing) as their "darling loves" and smother them with creepy affection.They play in schoolyards and zoos, looking for “new friends” and rope them into their staged games by kidnapping them and taking them back to their enormous house (in reality the Oakley Court Hotel in Windsor, England) to incorporate them into their day for fun.Among these “new friends” are men they refer to as “soldier” and “number five” who are both held prisoner.An unfortunate couple (Michael Bryant and Imogen Hassall) is fooled by their childish charms and the woman meets her untimely demise through an “accident” that Girly blames on the man. The poor guy ends up at their house with his girlfriend’s body dumped in a chest.In order to stay alive, he’s forced to be polite and made to ask, “Please may I have some bread, Mumsy?” and “Please, may I be excused?” prior to using the water closet which is outfitted with an artificial toilet that houses a jack-in-the-box.Any attempt to flee the premises is met with stern warnings of being “sent to the angels” should such further actions occur. Michael Haneke more than likely took a cue from this film when he made both versions of his film Funny Games which were far more gruesome and tragic.
Vanessa Howard is quite fetching as the titular character.Bearing a striking resemblance to Alicia Silverstone, her relationship to her brother is borderline incestuous and, in a scene that pushed the boundaries of censorship at the time, inevitably becomes involved with the “new friend” and aware of her sexual powers as she achieves an orgasm, the evidence of which is relegated to the changing expression on her face, the only image that fills the frame.Watching the film, one begins to wonder: are the children really crazy, or are they just complying with Mumsy and Nanny’s craziness to avoid a fate similar to that of their “new friends”?
This era in filmmaking was replete with similar yarns of families gone crazy: The Mad Room, Goodbye Gemini, What’s the Matter With Helen?, Who Slew Auntie Roo?, and Girly is no exception. It has an almost fairytale feel about it, and some of the sets look similar to Who Slew Auntie Roo?The film is definitely worth owning, as Scorpion Releasing has been putting out some truly great titles (a future film on their agenda is Nickel Mountain, the 1983-filmed drama with Heather Langenkamp which I thought I would never see on DVD).
The transfer is quite good, and the extras are a nice lot.First up is an onscreen interview with writer Brian Comport who speaks for roughly half an hour. There’s also an audio interview with the director, an alternate title card, a theatrical trailer, the Spanish language trailer, the TV spot, and trailers for several other films released by Cinerama.The DVD cover art features the original American one-sheet artwork which consists of uncredited models staging a scene that does not occur in the film.