The times they were a changin’ in the interval between the dawn and the sunset of what would later come to be known as the “swinging ’60s.” In 1960, young Hayley Mills was the appealing, 14-year-old child star of the Walt Disney family hit Pollyanna and 38-year-old Kingsley Amis, already established as one of England’s most admired comic novelists and poets, published a well-received book concerning the rock and a hard place that is the meeting of a spirited young woman determined to hold on to her traditional values of celibacy before conjugal consummation and a randy bloke equally committed to sexual dalliance without commitment. By 1969, The Parent Trap and Whistle down the Wind favorite Mills had become a striking young woman who’d graduated into adult roles that explored romance in The Family Way (1966) and A Matter of Innocence (1967), and the freer thinking of the era regarding sexual mores, first thought daring when covered in Amis’ book, now seemed ripe for film adaptation. Thus, Take a Girl like You (1970) came to the screen with a chipper, coltish Mills cast as Amis’ object of affection, suburban schoolteacher Jenny Bunn, who draws the attention of fellow educator and rumpled but charming ladies man Patrick Standish, incarnated by the simultaneously attractive and brooding Oliver Reed, who’d already proven to ’60s moviegoers that he could menace (The Curse of the Werewolf, The Shuttered Room, Oliver!) and carouse (The Girl-Getters, The Jokers, Hannibal Brooks) with the best – and even do both spectacularly well that same year in Ken Russell’s acclaimed filmization of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love.
In the strikingly nimble hands of phenomenal wit and opera/theater artist Jonathan Miller (Beyond the Fringe, which also came to life in 1960) as director (his only theatrical feature), Take a Girl like You became a breezy yet still emotionally layered examination of whether or not good-natured yet principled Jenny’s desire to make the end of her virginity a meaningful experience and obsessed yet unprincipled Patrick’s addiction to no-strings sex can find a middle ground that resembles authentic love. Christian Lorentzen’s 2015 analysis of Amis’ prose for The Daily.com observes: “‘In those days, there were good girls and there were bad girls,’ said the late Mandy Rice-Davies, the model and nightclub dancer at the center of the 1963 Profumo affair, Britain’s first modern political sex scandal. ‘Good girls didn’t have any sex at all, and bad girls had a bit.’ Jenny is one of those good girls, an endangered species in this novel, and as for Patrick: ‘Trying not to be a bad man took up far more energy that he could, or was prepared to, spare from trying not to be a nasty man, a far more pressing task, especially this last year or two. Not only that: all this moral business was poor equipment for one barely into his stride on the huge trek to satiety.’ Jenny is both object and obstacle in Patrick’s quest. On their first date they reach ‘the stage of oh please and no please and then oh and no.’ Jenny enforces her noes with firm grabs of his wrists and a hard pull of the hair on the back of Patrick’s head. ‘That was a bit unnecessary, wasn’t it?’ he says. She replies, ‘It seemed pretty necessary to me.’ This dynamic is sustained until the novel’s end: Will Jenny give in? Will Patrick be patient? Will he propose marriage? Will he bugger off? Or will he take what he wants by force, his nastiness finally getting the better of him?” Adapted for the screen by another British multihyphenate, musician/critic/art historian George Melly, this battle of wills and feelings takes place among a colorfully drawn and expertly cast circle of acquaintances, including a particularly cutting Noel Harrison as Patrick’s wealthy best friend Julian; John Bird and Sheila Hancock as the Thompsons, not only Jenny’s landlords but also the cautionary portrait of a soured marriage; and Ronald Lacey as Graham, a Scotsman with a good soul and below-average looks who feels the sting of female rejection with eloquent wit and a poignant resignation. On the richly diverse musical front, Stanley Myers provides a supple, jazz- and pop-infused score, and the soundtrack offers three catchy tunes performed by The Foundations (Take a Girl like You), Ram John Holder (Somebody’s Somebody) and Harmony Grass (It Takes a Lot of Loving). Cheeky, politically incorrect and endearing despite its sometimes snarky gender attitudes and beautifully shot by the great Dick Bush (Tommy, Yanks, Victor Victoria),Take a Girl like You is – courtesy of a decisively grownup Mills and Reed – very well worth taking up on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray June 19. Preorders open June 6.