Carol Reed’s final feature was considered by Roger Ebert to be a “scandalously bad film”. In watching Follow Me 47 years later, in an age where romantic comedies are often relegated from the silver screen to streaming on the idiot box, this admittedly silly film feels quite refreshing in comparison to the Mickey Mouse tentpoles which have now taken over so many cinema screens. Yes, it’s a film writer ranting about the onslaught of effects-driven, cookie-cutter mega budgeters. No surprise there, says everyone. I’m sure I’ve written similar within other reviews ad nauseam. However, it’s only when watching something as fizzy as Follow Me, that I find my interest in cinema rejuvenated.
Follow Me doesn’t hold a candle to Reed’s The Third Man (1949). It’s nowhere as enjoyable as Peter Bogdanovich’s charming farce What’s Up Doc, released in the same year. Despite this, watching Reed’s direction – labeled as a pedestrian by Ebert – feels alien and fresh. Possibly because it doesn’t feel directed by committee or algorithm.
That’s not a good enough reason to enjoy a film. More of an excuse. But Follow Me, while slow to start, holds an amount of charm in spite of its inconsistencies. It’s a film that doesn’t break any new ground. Uptight businessman Charles (Michael Jayson) suspects that his wife Belinda (Mia Farrow) whom he’s only recently married is seeing another man. Triggered by jealousy, he hires an idiosyncratic private detective (Topol) to spy on his wife when she goes out for the day. I don’t feel that I need to tell readers by the end of this sentence what may occur during the film’s running time. Some of the film’s posters hint at the obvious plot which will no doubt occur.
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This doesn’t stop Follow Me from being an enjoyable diversion. Reed’s film (based on Peter Shaffer’s stage play The Public Eye) captures a London which still seems to be in the midst of a clash of cultural identity. It’s easy to see Jayson as the straight man to Farrow’s manic pixie dream hippie and a Topol who is still in Fiddler on the Roof mode. But the casting of the waif-like Farrow, only 4 years after Rosemary’s Baby is an interesting one. It’s always difficult to shake off Farrow with her well noted, stylish Vidal Sassoon haircut battling the religious old guard in one of the more prominent features of the “Hollywood New Wave”. To have her operate as a free-spirited American rolling stone who is tied down to a stiff upper lipped traditionalist isn’t overly surprising, but it is an entertaining riff on an idea that she represents this new wave of culture and push against these stuffy traditionalist values.
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Follow Me may be 47 years removed from the political climate we inhabit now, yet it’s an fascinating showcase into how “British” the British still are. The meet cute between Farrow and Jayson over bland food. The frowns shown as Farrow’s Belinda throws the talk of the death penalty back at the faces of some pompous party goers. It’s a representation of England that’s never truly gone away and still feels present despite some of today’s bitter complaints. As so many cultural exchanges have begun to feel more and more homogenous, the jarring and contrasting conversations between Farrow’s Belinda and Jayson’s Charles are genuinely engaging. While Topol is the mere frosting on this cake, cast to be goofy and quirky at a drop of a hat, it’s curious to see how his influence of the film provides an empathic glue to proceedings.
Follow Me does little to push itself ahead of the curve. It’s doubtful that anyone would think the film would be completely free of some the cultural trappings of the era. However, there’s much to enjoy in Reed’s sightseeing of a bygone London, the offbeat rhythms held by Topol as a jack of all trades yet master of no jobs, and the genteel playfulness that inhabits many of the scenes between all three characters.
This current mastering of the film is also crisp with the picture and sound playing rather well. At one-point, John Barry’s playful score hovers over the skyline of 70’s London in a similar way Krzysztof Komeda’s theme (sung by Farrow herself) does in Rosemary’s Baby, again seemingly bolstering the connection between the two films. Follow Me’s fuffy folly may not be as memorable as Polanski’s horror film. It’s certainly not Carol Reed’s strongest movie. But it’s an enjoyable diversion all the same.