By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Executive blackmails a secretary.
Janet (Sinead Cusack) is engaged to be married to Tom (Jeremy Bulloch), but tells him that she must spend a week away while visiting her sick grandmother in another city. Yet what she really does is go to the residence of Benjamin Hoffman (Peter Sellers). She has no love for him and there’s a wide age difference between the two, but Hoffman is blackmailing her in hopes that, if given enough time, that she’ll fall for him and leave her fiancée, but she resists his advances and when she threatens to leave he comes up with another plan to keep her there.
This unusual movie was based on a TV-play broadcast in 1967 in the UK that starred Donald Pleasance and Judy Cornwell. It had been written by Ernest Gebler and titled ‘Call Me Daddy’. When it received much acclaim it convinced Gebler to turn it into a novel, which was called ‘Shall I Eat You Now?’ and published a year later. When the response to that was positive Alvin Rakoff, who had directed the TV version, then decided to turn it into a feature film.
Having a movie centered around only two characters and take place almost entirely in one setting is usually a recipe for a static disaster and I felt this would’ve worked better as a stageplay, which Gebler eventually did turn it into in 1975. However, the initial mystery involving what Hoffman is blackmailing Janet about, who otherwise comes off as this innocent wide-eyed young woman who you can’t imagine could’ve ever done anything that wrong to be blackmailed in the first place, is what held my interest and kept me watching.
A lot of the credit to what keeps this movie watchable also goes to the two stars. Cusack, who is the wife of actor Jeremy Irons and the daughter of legendary performer Cyril Cusack, is fantastic especially with her constant shocked and perplexed expressions, which makes the movie consistently amusing. Sellers is excellent as well in his one and only serious turn. Initially he had wanted to give it his patented comical touch and using an Austrian accent, but Rakoff convinced him to play it straight and the result is a surprisingly dark, creepy performance, which made me believe he had untapped potential to being a memorable film villain had he wanted to be.
My grievances involve the character motivations which are poorly fleshed-out. Initially I thought Hoffman was blackmailing Janet over some wrongdoing she had done and was desperately trying to cover-up, but instead it was a crime committed by her fiancée Tom that Hoffman became aware of. If this was the case then why didn’t she alert Tom about what Hoffman knew? If she’s going to be marrying him then she should want to let him know if someone like Hoffman has it in for him. The two could’ve conspired a defensive strategy against Hoffman in an effort to turn-the-tables, but in any case there was no rational reason why she should keep it a secret. Again, if it was something she personally did that could’ve made her look bad in Tom’s eyes I could understand, but this other scenario just doesn’t make much sense.
Having her end up rejecting Tom and going back to Hoffman and becoming his girlfriend was equally ridiculous. It becomes quite obvious that Tom was not right for her, so dumping him was fine, but she didn’t have much in common with Hoffman either. The way he manipulated her should’ve been a red flag and unless there’s some weird quirk with her character that never gets explained the eventual love angle twist is pretty stupid and ultimately makes this film, despite the great acting, a rather pointless experience.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: July 16, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes
Director: Alvin Rakoff
Studio: Anglo-EMI Distributors
Available: DVD, Amazon Video