Bernard (Mark Burns) arrives at the apartment building of Melissa (Fiona Lewis) and meets her husband just outside. He is not best pleased to see him, and questions why he is there at all, receiving the answer that Bernard is to take his supposed niece Winnie (Beatie Edney) out for a day at the beach. The husband gives him some cash to spend, but cannot hide his misgivings about letting the little girl out for a while with this known alcoholic, though as Bernard promises to be on his best behaviour to Melissa, who is also not too sure this is a good idea but needs someone to look after the child, surely nothing can go wrong?
Well, nothing except a consequence of abject despair in this, an almost forgotten little character piece that might have had a higher profile if it had been directed by Roman Polanski. Why him? That's because he wrote the script, adapting a Dutch novelist, Heere Heeresma, for a project that so the story goes he would have helmed himself if not for the tragic events of 1969 which took him away from films for a while, if not the spotlight. Therefore the onus for direction landed on his friend Simon Hesera, making his debut and practically ending his movie career with this as well, as it slipped through the cracks and wound up lost.
Well, it was believed lost until over twenty years later when it was rediscovered and offered a small re-release, so Polanski fans could see not so much what the fuss was about, but if there had been any fuss at all. In tone and design the film spoke to the character work he had been working on in the early to mid-sixties, with none of the extravagance of Dance of the Vampires or Rosemary's Baby, so it's a far lower key effort, although its effect is still alarming if you're in the right mood. It's plain to see that Bernard is tragically irresponsible and in no condition to be trusted with a child, so when we see him sneaking drinks from his sister's cabinet we worry about where this day is going to wind up.
With good reason, as in spite of Winnie being devoted to her uncle (who may actually be her father), her faith in him is misplaced. She is a poor little soul, handicapped by a leg brace and not appearing to be doted on by anyone except Bernard, and only then when he's not concentrating on fuelling his drinking problem. Her innocent adherence to the notion that because Bernard is her uncle then he will always have her best interests at heart is touching at first, but grows quickly concerning as he frequently goes off and leaves her alone in a strange place while he ventures forth in search of more drink. Add to that the fact that it pours with rain the whole time, and you're not looking at anything that could be mistaken for a laugh riot.
That said, there are parts where the story does come across as trying to be humorous, as when the most famous cast member shows up in the person of Peter Sellers. He and his old buddy Graham Stark play unlikely gay lovers running a boutique who try to chat up Bernard as he buys more booze from them, along with a shell to replace the one he bought for Winnie then had to abandon. Sellers is credited as A. Queen, but his role in this is more troubling than amusing, something which is true of the entire movie. At times Bernard is genuine in his attempts to do the right thing for his niece, such as buying her those shells or helping her on the dodgems when her feet won't reach the pedals, but the demon drink constantly distracts him, so he grows drunker, the day turns to night, and little Winnie is left to struggle with a despicable guardian who is rapidly inebriating himself into oblivion. Both Burns and Edney have a remarkable rapport with each other, which only makes the conclusion all the more bleak; it's an uneasy experience, but contrives to stay in the memory. Music by Mort Shuman.