The Young Playmates / Au Pair Girls / Mother’s Helpers (1972/1973) **½
Like most Americans of my generation, I expect, I had never heard of an au pair until 1997, when one of them got her face all over the news media by killing the baby she was supposed to be looking after. And frankly, it still boggles my mind a little that “imported nannies young enough to be worth having an illicit affair with” are a thing that needed a name. Verily the rich do not lead the same lives as you and me. They must be less obscure a phenomenon in Britain, though, because one of Tigon’s early-70’s sexploitation movies played at home (and in other parts of the Commonwealth) as Au Pair Girls, even though the natural target audience included few people who might imaginably avail themselves of such a service. Here, on the other hand, it was called The Young Playmates, 1973 being a good 24 years before Louise Woodward brought the term and the practice to greater visibility.
Imagine for a moment that a Daniel White Eurosmut score got knocked up by the theme song to “Three’s Company.” The resulting shame baby would be the opening credits music to The Young Playmates— and you’re going to hear every bar of it twice before the titular girls’ airplanes have all finished landing at Heathrow Airport. Five would-be au pairs show up for placement through the Overseas Employment Agency, but we’ll be concerning ourselves with only four of them. And although their stories are intertwined throughout the film, I’ll be dealing with them separately, as if The Young Playmates were an anthology. It’ll be more coherent that way, and it isn’t as though any of the girls will cross paths again, anyway, until they all wind up back at the agency for a conclusion much weirder than anyone involved in making this movie seems to have realized.
Danish Randi Lindstrom (Gabrielle Drake, from Suburban Wives and Commuter Husbands) is assigned to the home of a tycoon named Wainwright (John Le Mesurier, of Jabberwocky and Eye of the Devil). She never even makes it there. That’s because Wainwright sends his impossibly accident-prone son, Stephen (Richard O’Sullivan, from Horror House and Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow), to pick her up. First the pair get stranded by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere when Stephen’s car blows a tire. Then they have to spend the rest of the day in a farmer’s barn, waiting for a tow and a tire change, the local mechanic having quite a backlog of work at the time. A series of erotic slapstick mishaps in the barn results in Stephen losing his keys and Randi losing her clothes— and without the keys, they can’t get into the trunk to access Randi’s baggage for replacements, even after the mechanic drops off the car. Stephen keeps a spare key to the ignition hidden under the running board, but of course cars in those days had separate keys for the trunk. The increasingly flummoxed Stephen and the butt-naked Randi will spend the rest of the night driving around in search of a way to render her presentable to the elder Wainwright.
Television-obsessed Swede Anita Sector (Astrid Frank, from The Disciplined Woman and The Resort Girls) has no trouble getting to the house where she’s supposed to work. Malcolm (Johnny Briggs, of Man About the House and Secrets of a Door-to-Door Salesman), one of the regular employees at the agency, has the hots for her, and gives her a ride out in the hope of parlaying it into a date that night. Anita agrees to go out with him, but first she has lots of household havoc to wreak. Mrs. Howard (Daphne Anderson, from Night Creatures and I Want What I Want) is thrown only a bit off her game by the girl’s complete lack of boundaries or body shame, but Mr. Howard (Geoffrey Bayldon, of The Monster Club and Asylum) just about blows a gasket when he comes home from work to find Anita soaking through the floor of the upstairs bathroom thanks to her carelessness with the shower massage head. Anita causes a different kind of havoc on her date. Malcolm likes to gamble, but Anita turns out to be luckier at roulette than he is. He’s the kind of guy to get annoyed by that. He gets even more annoyed, too, when he gets up to withdraw some more cash, and his date catches the eye of the Sheik El Abab (Ferdy Mayne, from Frightmare and Conan the Destroyer). Malcolm can’t compete with that, and Anita is too clueless to realize that there’s a competition going on in the first place. Eventually, Malcolm storms off, leaving Anita in the care of the amorous sheik.
The Chinese Nan Lee (Me Me Lai, of She’ll Follow You Anywhere and Jungle Holocaust) finds herself in a situation that plays like a precognitive cross between Private Lessons and that notorious Richard Pryor travesty, The Toy. Her employer, Lady Tryke (Rosalie Crutchley, from Creatures the World Forgot and The House in Nightmare Park) has her hands full with her drunken, senile husband (Harold Bennett, of The Ups and Downs of a Handyman and Games that Lovers Play) and her emotionally stunted, socially retarded son, Rupert (Julian Barnes, from The Devil’s Widow and Pacific Rim). The old lady has no one to blame but herself for the latter hassle. She wants Rupert to be a world-class pianist, and every aspect of his upbringing has been subordinated to that goal. But now that he’s almost ready for the conservatory, it’s dawned on Lady Tryke that her son really ought to have some idea what to do with a girl. Thus Nan Lee. Lady Tryke is too proper to come right out and say this, but it’s more or less literally Nan Lee’s job to have Rupert fall for her, and to divest him of his virginity while administering a crash course in inter-sex social graces. The girl does as she is implicitly bade, and on some level the affection she expresses for the overgrown child is even sincere, but once she has actually taken Rupert to bed, she’s too disgusted with herself to remain in Lady Tryke’s employ.
Virginity and its awkward termination are at issue in the fourth au pair’s story as well, but here the roles are reversed. Christa Geisler (The Amorous Milkman’s Nancie Wait) makes a stark contrast to the freewheeling Scandinavians in whose company we spend a bit more than half the film. Evidently the sexual revolution has not yet finished revolutionizing West Germany, Wolf C. Hartwig notwithstanding. When Christa arrives at the Fairfax house, she barely has a chance to unpack before Carole (Lyn Yeldham), a Swinging London libertine of the first order, pries the new au pair away from her mom (Marianne Stone, from The Vault of Horror and Beyond the Fog) for an emergency hipness intervention. At first, Christa is thrilled with the wild, fast life to which Carole introduces her, especially when she learns that her hostess is a personal friend of internationally famous hippy rocker Ricky Strange (Steve Patterson, of Sex Farm and The Nine Ages of Nakedness). She starts to get second thoughts, though, when she meets Carole’s super-creepy reprobate pal, Buster (John Standing, from Torture Garden and The Legacy). He, like the girls, has come to see Ricky perform at one of his regular venues, and Carole leaves Christa alone with him while she runs backstage to talk to the star of the show. Christa would probably balk even harder if she could hear that conversation. Virgins being an increasingly scarce commodity in Swinging London, Carole means to make Ricky a gift of Christa’s hymen. I’m sure she thinks she’s doing the other girl a favor, but it turns out Christa is not psychologically equipped for casual sex.
British sex comedies of the 70’s have at least as deadly a reputation as their Italian counterparts, and for the most part, it’s just as well earned. The Young Playmates certainly is at its worst when it tries hardest to be funny, harping lazily on the already threadbare theme of English sexual repression. Even so, the movie displays throughout a degree of professionalism and craftsmanship that took me completely unawares. The movie looks good. It’s well shot, well lit, and well acted within the broader limits permissible in low comedy. It never seems cheap or tacky, and Tigon’s usual relative savvy about youth culture is plainly in evidence. There’s even a bit of genuinely clever dialogue, and as we’ll discuss in a bit, the script is on an entirely different plane of intellectual sophistication from the typical European sex farce. And indeed there’s every reason why it should be so, because the writer/director of The Young Playmates was none other than Val Guest. That’s the same Val Guest who was Hammer Film Productions’ star director before Terrence Fisher rose to prominence, who established the studio’s personality during its noir period, and then put it on the international horror and sci-fi map with The Creeping Unknown. I had no idea he made a softcore skin flick— and to my even greater surprise, The Young Playmates wasn’t his only one.
The surest sign of the Guest touch here is the polyphonic counterpoint between the silly comedy of Randi’s and Anita’s plots on one side and the thoughtful melancholy of Nan Lee’s and Christa’s on the other. Guest was always one to write outside the usual bounds of the genres he worked in, and to slip a bit of meta-commentary in though the back door when he could. Remember his remarkably anti-heroic interpretation of Professor Quatermass, so different from Nigel Kneale’s original, which faced directly the character implications of the fact that the whole situation with the space monster loose in London was kind of the professor’s fault in the first place. In The Young Playmates, Guest delivers the light-hearted sex romp that was no doubt in his brief from the producers, but he also makes a good-faith effort to get at the psychology of the sexual revolution. While Randi and Anita could have stepped out of any other contemporary British smut comedy, Nan Lee, Christa, and Carole would be more at home in The Student Nurses or a Schoolgirl Report movie. Indeed, the construction of this film is so similar to that of the New World Pictures nurse, teacher, and stewardess movies that I have to assume Guest was at least passingly familiar with them. And it simply can’t be a coincidence that the German au pair is the one whose story looks most directly at the evolving sexual mores of young people in the 70’s. I would have preferred to see Guest given a chance to spend the whole movie aping those curiously ambitious sexploitation imports, because he’s much better at that than he is at wringing one last laugh out of his countrymen’s world-famous prudery. Still— half a loaf, right?