Monday, 5 September 2011

The Smashing Bird I Used To Know

'The Smashing Bird I Used To Know' ('School For Unclaimed Girls' in the US) promises much in the way of simple exploitative fun: it was made at the seamy end of the swinging sixties, it's partly set in a borstal for teenage girls, and the director was sleaze-meister Robert Hartford-Davis. Despite all these ticked boxes, however, it fails to either shock or titillate, instead drifting tamely and aimlessly to a supposedly devastating but somewhat pointless ending.

Nikki (Madeleine Hinde) is a teenage girl traumatised by the death of her beloved father in a fairground carousel accident. Reaching over to comfort his young daughter, Nikki's Dad fell off his own carousel horse and under the stomping hooves of Nikki's pretend steed which proceeded to pound his head until he pulled that funny, gormless expression that equates to severe brain trauma in films like this.

All the fun of the Fair
Not now, darling, Daddy's got a Headache

Naturally, the tragedy haunts her and we join the teenage Nikki at a pretty low ebb, tossing and turning and having psychedelic polarised flashbacks to the accompaniment of Bobby William’s spaghetti western type score and the sound of her Mum shagging gigolo on the make Harry Spenton (a perfectly cast Patrick Mower).

The only bright spot in her life is her relationship with Peter (Dennis Waterman) a young man with a white sportscar and a keen sense of propriety towards the 15 year old girl (‘ere, love, not outside the school’), but this is not enough to save her when the Mower Machine flares his massive nostrils in her direction and after a vicious struggle where the viewer is on the edge of their seat wishing Mower was wearing something other than a very short dressing gown, seedy Pat ends up with a knife in his belly, triggering more psychedelic polarised flashbacks and a complete mental collapse.

Mower Deterrent

Pan away! For Christ's sake, Pan away!

Waking from her fugue, Nikki finds herself in a remand home, surrounded by a variety of equally young and obvious female stereotypes: there’s a mixed up lesbian girl, a mixed up pregnant girl, a mixed up black girl and a lot of other girls that are so mixed up that they spend all of their time in the shower or walking around with their tops off. As remand homes go, it seems pretty relaxed and there’s plenty of opportunity for the girls to frug along to groovy music, and endless chances to shower and walk around with their tops off. Presumably it's supposed to seem like a dreadful, dehumanising place, but the home actually seems rather nice, and the various examples of bad behaviour wouldn’t be out of place in a moderately raucous episode of ‘Please Sir!’.

It's all fun and games...

...but you could put quite easily put somebody's eye out.
 After a pillow fight in which some topless girls are nearly hurt, Nikki escapes and makes her way to her beloved Peter only to immediately sit on a handy rocking horse and suffer a final polarised psychedelic flashback that leads to her realise that she has issues and should return to custody and get some help. Now, if only Peter will give her a lift in his very fast sports car on the busy, winding, narrow road back to the home…

A leisurely drive.

The very definition of ‘meandering’, ‘The Smashing Bird I Used To Know’ never really gets anywhere and, after Nikki escapes from the remand home, loses all momentum completely until its hasty conclusion. That said, it's tremendously entertaining. A nice coda shows the fully recovered Mower working his murky magic on a fresh victim – the only character to emerge unscathed, like a cockroach after a nuclear blast.

Here's a clip where Nikki ill advisedly has a go on a rocking horse and flips out in spectacular fashion. Luckily, creepy Derek Fowlds is on hand to help her.


  1. "the fully recovered Mower – the only character to emerge unscathed, like a cockroach after a nuclear blast."

    a brilliant summary of how TV Times' Best-dressed Man of 1974 or so is still hanging on in 'Emmerdale'.

    The UK title I thought referred to some Swinging London Winner-esque comedy. This looks much darker (Dave Lodge killed on a fairground...)

  2. Her dad looks like a younger, slimmer, version of Butterfield.