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Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report: “Percy” (Thomas, 1971)

I see that at least one blog—not one specifically about movies—has been conducting some poll about the "Worst Movie Ever," or some such, and has, in so doing, engendered a lot of not-quite-argument in the interest of one-upsmanship, as is usual in such cases. Like my young colleague Vadim Rizov, who waxes eloquent on the subject in a recent review of the South by Southwest festival favorite Best Worst Movie, I've reached a point where the contemplation of bad movies for amusement's sake starts seeming a bit of a waste of time, if not a downright decadent practice.
Still. Because with ledes such as that one, there's always a "still." My interest in the 1971 British film Percy, such as it was back in 1971, when I was a little over 11 and hence automatically nearly morbidly interested in every R-rated movie that came down the pike, was revived recently through my researches into the Boulting Brothers' thriller Twisted Nerve, the Region 2 UK DVD of which was reviewed in this column back in December of 2008. One of the most impressive aspects of Nerve was its very raw performance from Hywel Bennett as a psychosexually confused young man who uses an elaborate identity subterfuge in order to pursue his erotic obsession with a young librarian played by Hayley Mills. Three pictures (including an adaptation of Joe Orton's Loot) later, Bennett turns up in this farce. Which was, if I recall the American reviews that attended it when it opened, definitively the Worst Film Ever as of mid-March of 1971.
The picture was slaughtered for both its vulgarity and dim-wittedness. The premise alone, penis transplantation, was bad enough. But apparently the execution was way, way off as well. "But...but...but..." thought little me as I read the notices, " has a soundtrack by The Kinks! And the Kinks are really great and! How dumb can this movie be?"
Almost 40 years later, through the miracle of the Digital Versatile Disc, I was able to find out. Pretty damn dumb. The picture begins with a mild satire of British television censorship of the time as a transplant expert played by Denholm Elliot storms from an interview show set over all his mentions of penises and vaginas are bleeped out. Seems he's perfected a method of putting one member where another man's once was, and all he needs to prove he's perfected it is to find both a donor and a man in need. Yes, the idea does sound forced, does it not? (Cut to: waiting room full of sad elederly men volunteering to recieve new goods.) Soon after Ms. Elke Sommer looks into the camera (it's not an error or a self conscious moment, the POV is of her angry husband), the good doctor's wish is fulfilled, as a lothario unwittingly leaps from a high window, naked, and crushes chandelier-carrying yob Bennett. Bennett's package is conveniently crushed, while the jumper's apparently humongoid member has survived without a scratch.
Now, vulgarity and stupidity notwithstanding, you can see that Percy might have had the makings of an at least amusing not-very-good sex farce. Consider the Hands of Orlac-style possibilities, with a penis that can't control itself. Sew the polymorphously perverse, ahem, head of a Marquis deSade onto the breadbasket of Cotton Mather, and watch the awkward fireworks! Imagine the character slapping the thing on a table, Milton-Berle style—not for the entertainment of his fellows, but just to force it to behave! Think what Peter Sellers could have done with such material!
But no. After some predictably naughty bits involving a stripper/nurse and such, Percy devolves into a tired, but no less stupid or vulgar, tale wherein the organ recipient is compelled to research the life of his unwitting donor, falls in love with the lothario's mistreated wife, and learns the value of you-know-what-ogomy. Not that I personally have anything against you-know-what-ogamy. It's just not what I go to see penis-transplant films for.
The aforementioned Kinks soundtrack is rather equally priggish, kicking off with the treacly "God's Children" (as in "we-are-all"), and moving on to the equally no-shit-Sherlock sentiments of "Animal in the Zoo." The stripper/nurse scene is accompanied by a loungy organ-combo treatment of "Lola," which is novel enough. The film is directed by Ralph Thomas in what one might call foursquare Carry On style. As it happens, Thomas was uncredited on the actual Carry On films he did direct, and is better known for his work on the nearly-equally-popular (in Great Britain, at least) Doctor In/At pictures. He was also the father of Jeremy Thomas, the daring and industrious producer who's worked extensively with the likes of Bertolucci and Cronenberg.
The picture, which I would recommend only to period aficionados and Hywel Bennett completists (and the actor has built up a considerable resume, mostly in television of late; his last movie was Roland Jaffe's very unfortunate Vatel), is on Region 2 DVD from the British concern Cinema Club.
Hey Glenn buddy, Enjoying your blog as always and notably the Percy post…as a Kinks fan I sought the tawdry thing out for years before stumbling onto it (double-billed with El Gato Fritz) in Durango, Mexico. I won’t debate your tough take on “God’s Childen”, etc., but can we spare a little tenderness for the crumbling confection that is “The Way Love Used To Be” and the brief, goofy Elvis impersonation of “Willesden Green”? Hardly flawless stuff, but reliably…kontrary.
Percy is, if not quite the Citizen Kane of 70s British sex comedies (which I believe were a Tory plot to sterilise the working class), at least a cut above (ouch) such true horrors as The Amorous Milkman, Not Now Darling, Confessions of a Taxi Driver (Confessions of ANYTHING, in fact)… David McGillivray, the world’s greatest expert on the Brit-sex-com, describes it as a genre which has failed to produce anything of any artistic significance whatsoever, which only SOUNDS harsh… when you look at a few of the things you realise he’s being generous.
Maybe it’s the quality of the computer on which I’m reading this, but … what exactly is that black thing in front of the lower half of Hywel Bennett’s gob in the window photo? All sorts of interesting possibilities come to mind, of a sort that I daren’t admit to imagining.
Isn’t it his shoes which he’s carrying in his teeth?
this is an amazing sit-came through mr.wong greetz
I actually wrote the liner notes for the Anchor Bay DVD release back in 2001. Sorry to see it’s gone out of print (Lionsgate owns in now – part of the Canal + catalog), though, yeah, it’s not that good.

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