Two British comic film legends cross swords in a continental comedy romp which sees a different kind of love bug hitting the isle of Menorca in this digitally remastered release of the 1975 movie Spanish Fly.
Sir Percy de Courcy (Terry-Thomas) – a total and utter cad and bounder of the highest order – is trying his best to eke out a living on the Mediterranean island, having bought up 100,000 gallons of cheap plonk, which he is attempting to palm off on the locals as being of the finest quality. Having tried various ingredients to improve the taste, some insects accidentally end up getting in the mix, making the doctored wine into a veritable love potion.
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An old public school rival of de Courcy‘s, Mike Scott (Leslie Phillips), ends up on Menorca, having accompanied a group of nubile young models to oversee a photo shoot set up for the lingerie business he co-owns with his domineering wife (Sue Lloyd). Discovering the potential aphrodisiac qualities of de Courcy’s vino, and given his own longstanding trouble in the trouser department, he strikes a deal to buy the drink in bulk. However, the bug-laden beverage might have some unforeseen effects…
British cinema in the 1970s appeared to be going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, at least in terms of its comedy output. Having relied for most of the previous decade on a risqué and suggestive sense of humour, akin to that famously found on seaside postcards, the Carry On-style innuendo was finally giving way to something less veiled, and far bawdier. Where once it was enough to hint at lewdness with just a nod and a wink, now it was de rigeur to have in front and centre, right in your face, so to speak.
Whereas sauciness was once the order of the day, now it was full-on raunch and nudity which were en vogue. One of the earliest examples was the Confessions Of… series, starring Robin Askwith. Around the same time, the sexploitation flick Eskimo Nell pioneered the ‘celeb sex comedy’, featuring the likes of Roy Kinnear, Christopher Timothy, Anna Quayle and Christopher Biggina. The genre continued to grow during the ‘70s, with further releases, like Come Play With Me, and the Adventures Of… series.
Even the Carry On films had to move with the times, seeing 1976’s Carry On England having the first unexpurgated and full-on topless scenes, before the franchise finally imploded with the awful mess that was 1978’s Carry On Emmanuelle, a spoof of the 1974 softcore feature film Emmanuelle, which starred Sylvia Kristel. The age of (relative) innocence looked to be a thing of the past, with the 1960s’ permissive society having finally caught up with Britain’s filmmakers, taking a cue to flash as much flesh as possible.
As such, there is still an awful incongruity in seeing the likes of Terry-Thomas and Leslie Phillips being right in the midst of such lewdness, with the material veering more toward the adult than we were perhaps used to seeing them in up to that point. Both tended to be rakish, debonair and suave in their on-screen personas, although in Phillips’ case perhaps the transition had begun with his starring role in Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s BBC sitcom Casanova ‘73.
The chief joy of Spanish Fly is seeing the interplay between the duo, having them verbally jousting and sparring, trying to desperately get one up on each other throughout, and the old school tie not doing anything to cover up all the love lost between the characters from their schooldays. Both Terry-Thomas and Leslie Phillips light up the screen, particularly in the scenes they share together, and one cannot help but feel the pair would have been ideal casting in a film such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, had it been made sooner.
Sadly, the script is not the finest material, and the finished movie has its fair share of knockers (not all of which are seen being paraded about on screen). In a newspaper article, the venerable film critic Barry Norman described Spanish Fly as being perhaps the least funny British film up to that point. It certainly cannot be reasonably argued that the film’s script is particularly sophisticated, but what manages to keep it all together is the undeniable rapport and chemistry evidenced between the two leads, who assuredly commit themselves with great gusto.
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While nothing can be done to spruce up the script, the film itself has been given the finest loving attention for Network Distributing’s Blu-ray release, and the picture looks pin-sharp and pristine. In fact, we get both widescreen and full screen ‘as filmed’ versions on the disc. The special features are, perhaps understandably, a little on the light side, but it does seem rather a shame that there is no contribution from the thankfully still with us nonagenarian Phillips, who would no doubt have a few corking anecdotes to share.
While perhaps more of a table wine than the finest vintage, Spanish Fly is an interesting piece of curios, featuring two icons absolutely giving it their all, and proving to be greatly entertaining in the process. As far as it goes, there are most definitely no flies on them.
Spanish Fly is out now on Blu-ray from Network Distributing.