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  Hoffman Kept Woman
Year: 1970
Director: Alvin Rakoff
Stars: Peter Sellers, Sinéad Cusack, Jeremy Bulloch, Ruth Dunning, David Lodge
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Miss Smith (Sinéad Cusack) boards the train after waving her fiancé (Jeremy Bulloch) goodbye, but as he walks away, she looks upset for reasons that are more pressing than simply thanks to her going to see her grandmother and leaving him behind. This is indeed the case, as once on the train, she manoeuvres herself into the carriage on the parallel track and is soon making good her escape, taking a taxi to an apartment block in a well-off part of London where someone she has recently had to reassess her opinion of resides. He is her boss, Mr Hoffman (Peter Sellers), and when she shows up at her door he is delighted to see her - and quickly resorts to making sexual advances.

When the sexual revolution occurred in the late nineteen-sixties, it was all very well to be young and enjoying the benefits of the Pill and a more liberal attitude, but what if you were no longer in your twenties, or even your thirties, and beginning to wish you had been born somewhat later to get up to all those activities society was telling you was not for your participation as you were past your prime? Men in particular felt this longing for getting off with a dolly bird - or going further - and as they were the ones with disposable income, the entertainment aimed at them grew more explicit; this film, on the other hand, was fairly chaste, no matter how sleazy the dialogue got in places.

It was drawn from a novel by Ernest Gebler, who not only had adapted it here, but had done the same for an hour-long television play a few years earlier, that starring Donald Pleasence and Judy Cornwell. You imagine if this was a story worth telling, conveying in in a format that stretched out to nearly double the length of that TV episode was perhaps not the best way to go about it, and sure enough there were scenes that served no purpose other than to pad out the narrative and make Miss Smith's ordeal drag on even further, so that she is in Hoffman's company for almost a week. Quite why she is subjecting herself to this is not apparent until we are in the second hour.

Although we can guess her captor has some power over her amounting to blackmail, when this is confirmed we have already spent far too long with the heroine's psychological torture that she must give up her body to her boss lest the police get involved with her fiancé's affairs. She spends so much time fretting over what Hoffman has in store for her that the film grows actively unpleasant to watch, as what we are seeing amounts to a punishing prelude to rape, and the fact that we are supposed to eventually find him as sympathetic as her is troubling, to say the least. Nevertheless, this has a cult following of those who relish Sellers in a serious role - though it was billed as another of his comedies - which is not an opinion that was shared by Sellers himself, who detested the entire production.

Apparently, this needy, sexually frustrated creep who acts on that frustration was a character he felt to close to his own personality, and he really did not like that aspect of himself: this was the star who made brides of the far younger Britt Ekland and Lynne Frederick, lest we forget. In truth, the sexual drives of men over the age of forty are rarely depicted with the warmth witnessed in this movie, eventually at any rate, more usually either a matter of ridicule or something more sinister, and it was difficult to escape a sense of the latter with Hoffman. Some of the lines he came out with made your skin crawl: it would have been fine if Miss Smith was happy to go along with him, but for most of this she assuredly was not, and who could blame her considering the way he treated her, despite rarely laying a hand on her as she began to thaw in her feelings towards a man revealed as more pathetic than a threat. Still, not the most comfortable of experiences, and the cowering, timid, repulsed Miss Smith was a difficult image to shake. Music by Ron Grainer.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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