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About Freddie Francis
A disarming story of twisted family values and mayhem, Girly (UK, 1969, originally titled Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly) remains a neglected masterpiece of black comedy. Despite a gripping narrative, a well-balanced cast, and Freddie Francis’ capable directing and unique vision, this off-beat find has yet to reach a wide audience.
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Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly
Freddie Francis began his film career as a cinematographer. He won an Academy Award for cinematography with the 1960 film, Sons and Lovers, and helped create a horror classic the following year with The Innocents, an award-winning adaptation of Henry James’ novel, The Turn of the Screw.
Following these triumphs, Francis began his prolific career as a director in 1962. With the exception of one film in 1964, he went nearly twenty years before again working as a cinematographer.
Girly frolics through demented psychological terrain explored by few films [link widoczny dla zalogowanych], and yet never loses its balance. The tone remains perfectly pitched between the innocence of childhood and the tenacity of evil, thanks largely to a stellar performance by Vanessa Howard.
Francis went on to shoot a number of highly successful films, several of which garnered him prestigious award nominations. He won a second Academy Award for cinematography with the Civil War epic, Glory (1989).
Brian Comport's screenplay (and novel) is based on the play Happy Family by Maisie Mosco. The story follows Girly (Vanessa Howard) and her brother Sonny (Howard Trevor) as they engage in their usual games, luring stray men home to become “friends.” What seems like innocent fun soon gets more and more depraved as Girly and Sonny have their way with their unwitting victims. Mumsy (Ursula Howells) and Nanny (Pat Heywood) supervise and ultimately become entangled in the proceedings as one of the captives (known only as “New Friend,” convincingly played by Michael Bryant) turns the tables on the perverse family.
Amazingly, Francis had given up on film and television after directing almost thirty films (most of them B-grade horror flics) and about a dozen episodes for various television shows between 1962 and 1977, when budding filmmaker David Lynch beckoned him out of retirement to create the stunning black-and-white cinematography of The Elephant Man (1980).
According to the Times Online March 22, 2007 obituary for Freddie Francis (1917 – 2007), Girly was one of “the few films with which Francis was completely satisfied.” Indeed, there is much to appreciate here for anyone interested in black comedy, cult classics, or British oddities of the late 60’s.
Unfortunately, Girly barely played in British or American theaters. As star Vanessa Howard lamented in a 1971 interview, the film “disappeared without a trace [link widoczny dla zalogowanych]!” Almost forty years later, copies of Girly are still a rarity. (Old VHS editions can be found circulating online [link widoczny dla zalogowanych], and a VHS transfer has been made available on DVD by 5 Minutes To Live, an independent outlet known primarily to cult film buffs.)
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