This breezy, effervescent, brash, smart, over-the-top film was a real breath of fresh air for me when I saw it again in the summer of 2015, after tracking down the OOP US DVD at a surprisingly reasonable price. I had previously seen it in 1987 on Channel 4 as part of a series of Swinging Sixties films and took a dislike to it for some reason. Now I think it’s absolutely fabulous.
What impressed me about the film is that Michael Winner edits the film to razor sharpness throughout. There‘s no dead weight, no gristle, no waste. This zippy style suits the brutal, thuggish nature of some of the action. The film never really seems to settle down, except perhaps when Oliver Reed – playing disenfranchised advertising filmmaker Andrew Quint, who has taken a job in order to (hopefully) reacquaint himself with his integrity – and Georgina Elbin (Carol White), who works at his old friend’s literary magazine, visit Cambridge. Winner, no doubt proud to be an alumnus of his old university, offers plenty of scenic splendour, complimented by Frances Lai’s lush music. The viewer is led into thinking that Reed and White will eventually enter a romantic relationship (apparently, they were at it hammer-and-tongs during shooting, much to the chagrin of White’s husband); after shooting of the film was finished, Winner got the two actors to come back and shoot an extra scene in a laundrette that was inserted quite early on in the film in order to strengthen this assumption. However, as those who have already seen the film will know, things don’t quite work out for them as a couple…
This brings us on to the film’s censorship problems. Universal didn’t like the scene which suggests that Reed is performing cunnilingus on White, complemented with a shot of a tin of white paint spilling onto the floor (bravo, Mr Winner!) and concocted some sort of subsidiary in order to release the film. It is also notorious for featuring the first use of the word ‘fuck’ in a (mainstream, at any rate) feature film, ejaculated (so to speak) by Marianne Faithfull’s rather superficial dolly bird character near the end of the film. Winner, however, had to acquiesce to the whims of the BBFC by obfuscating the offending word with the sound of a car-horn (reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard’s Made in USA, in which Faithful also appears – it is amusing to note that Godard inserted the words ‘fuck‘ and ‘cunt‘ into his two late-60s British films One Plus One – that‘s Sympathy for the Devil for those of you in the cheap seats – and British Sounds, commissioned for London Weekend Television, who took one look at it, had a panic attack and deemed it unsuitable for broadcast).
Marianne’s fruity mouthful is part of a most fascinating sequence in the film, which is the commercial that Reed has made to spite his boss (an advertising tycoon, played by Orson Welles). It’s ironic that Welles is cast as the very same type of person who would have approved the butchering of The Magnificent Ambersons, that kind of ‘You’ve got to give the people what (you think) they want’ mentality. Quint drags footage of Hitler mouthing off, concentration camps (Winner was never altogether au fait as regards the concept of good taste) and Hiroshima – as well as, interestingly enough, a pivotal scene from earlier in the film that he wasn’t actually present at – into this attempt to make a fool of his loathsome, tyrannical boss (the advert culminates in a scene which looks as if it could have come from Godard’s Weekend or One Plus One, as leggy ladies smiling vacuously in a car junkyard throw the product they’re ostensibly advertising – a Japanese Super 8 camera – into a garbage grinder which is operated by a surly, unshaven Quint. One is tempted to analogise Quint and Godard, who was gradually becoming sick of ’commercial’ cinema and looked to far-Left politics in an attempt to regain his integrity). However, things do not turn out quite as he had hoped…
Winner said that he got the title from a lackey on one of his earlier films, giving the fellow a small sum of money as a reward, and that he didn’t know what it was supposed to mean. I think that an early scene, in which Reed attends a social gathering which turns nasty, could conceivably give meaning to the title, however.
So, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll never forget I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isname. About as far away from Ken Loach (White prioritised Winner’s film over one she was to make with Loach, calling him a ‘cunt’ in the process; good on her, I say) as you can get. And that can only be a good thing, eh, chums?