The Pleasure Girls aka Die Goldpuppen (Dir Gerry O’Hara, 1965)
Basic plot: Sally Feathers moves to Swinging 60’s London from the countryside to take up a career in modelling. She lodges in a Kensington town-house with friends from her school days, Angela and Dee; Dee’s brother Paddy; and two other girls, Marion and Cobber. The film follows the various ups-and-downs of their love lives over one weekend.
Cast: Nikko Stalmar – Klaus Kinski; Sally Feathers – Francesca Annis; Dee Wells – Suzanna Leigh; Keith Dexter – Ian McShane; Prinny – Mark Eden; Angela – Anneke Wills; Paddy Wells – Tony Tanner; Marion – Rosemary Nicols; Cobber – Colleen Fitzpatrick; Ivor – Jonathan Hansen.
Filming location: London – the house is 48 Lexham Gardens, W8 – and Twickenham Studios
Release date: 3 December 1965
Availability: The Pleasure Girls is available on a BFI Flipside dual format Bluray / DVD set, which has a retail price of £19.99 but currently costs £10.99 from Amazon. The set includes the alternative complete export cut on Bluray and the cut version on DVD with bonus features of the export version scenes, the original theatrical trailer and two unrelated but excellent short films (The Rocking Horse, dir James Scott, 1962 and The Meeting, dir Mamoun Hassan, 1964). There is also a booklet including photographs and articles about the film. The packaging is lovely.
The film in full – *SPOILER ALERT*:
Firstly, I should say that the original theatrical trailer and the various taglines for the film try to sensationalise The Pleasure Girls and make it sound far more shocking than it actually is – at least to today’s audience, anyway.
Here’s the commentary on the trailer:
Meet the Pleasure Girls. They came for the kicks, these bitter-sweet beauties of London’s bed-sitter land. The big city offered adventure; romance; excitement. The Pleasure Girls, they take the kicks and the shocks of big city life in their stride. Ian McShane as a young photographer; looking for a quick development. Francesca Annis as Sally; fresh and innocent. Two people with burning ambitions – in love with life and each other. To them it’s a city for conquests. Klaus Kinski as the ruthless Nikko; he had money and enemies. Suzanna Leigh as Dee – did she love the money or the man? Mark Eden and Rosemary Nicols – Pleasure Girl loves Leisure Boy. And she’s courting disaster. Tony Tanner as Paddy.
And the taglines:
- Kept in a plush pad for his desires… she played the game and paid the price!
- They made love their way… ANY WAY!!!
- Profane love was their pleasure
- The tryst with a twist… it stopped, when she stopped paying
- The boy they all liked… BUT he liked BOYS!
Well there is some truth in some of this but it’s not quite how they were selling the film…
Sally Feathers arrives in London on Friday, moving in to the Kensington town-house (which is hardly bed-sitter land) where her friends Angela and Dee already live with two other girls and Dee’s brother Paddy. Sally is starting on a modelling course on Monday morning and has just the weekend to settle in to her new home.
At the house Sally meets Paddy, Dee’s brother – he’s a very friendly man and seems to be everybody’s best friend. Sally is told that he “gives comfort to the lovelorn.” Paddy is flirty with all the girls but he refuses Sally’s offer to attend the fireworks party with her and insists that she must go without him as he has an engagement he cannot postpone. He has a friend called Ivor who is referred to as “wet” by Angela. Keith, who Sally meets later, refers to Paddy as “drippy”. It’s ironic that the one genuinely nice guy in the film also happens to be gay. The film deals with this issue very obliquely – when Sally is upset later in the film, she barges into Paddy’s room looking for comfort and sees him with Ivor; they are both fully clothed and nothing seems to be going on between them but somehow the nature of their relationship becomes apparent to Sally and she flees. She obviously feels uncomfortable at this discovery but Paddy also feels uncomfortable and wants reassurances that she won’t be writing off their friendship just because of his sexual preferences.
Cobber, the Australian flatmate, is a very peripheral character but what we know about her ties in very much with the theme of the film, which seems to be that the girls are all looking for wealthy men to pay for an expensive lifestyle for them. Cobber wants to be an actress so is taking elocution lessons (which don’t appear to have worked at all) by day and works at the Crazy Horse Club in the evening where “she seems to meet loads of rich men”. We discover that she used to date the photographer Keith but she dumped him because he was not rich enough for her. She’s now dating someone called Peter. When asked “Peter who?” she simply replies, “Peter E-Type”. That says it all really.
Marion, the only other flatmate Sally has not met before, is a typist and we’re told that “she’s a nice kid, actually, but she’s very unlucky with the men.” She is dating a man called Prinny who claims to be descended from Polish nobility, “a long way back”. He is sexist, argumentative, aggressive and basically no good but Marion continues to date him anyway. Her flatmates do not hide their disdain for Prinny – in fact he appears to be widely disliked and derided wherever he goes – and yet Marion does not let this bother her. As Keith says of Prinny, “He’s no gentleman, the Prince.” Although Marion is not dating for wealth like the other girls, Prinny appears to be dating her for her money instead. He is always cadging cigarettes and never takes Marion on dates, presumably because he does not have the money to do so. Instead they stay home and he gets her in the family way. When Marion tells Prinny she is pregnant he is not best pleased and insists that she gets an abortion, which will cost £50. He has no money to pay for the abortion and Marion has very little herself so he forces her to pawn a brooch that her grandmother gave to her even though she does not want to do so.
She tells Prinny that the doctor says they should forget the abortion and “try and make a go of things”, but this idea does not appeal to him at all so he takes the brooch out of Marion’s bag and says he will get the money they need for the abortion and then save up to get the brooch back. But Prinny does not pawn the brooch, he takes it to Nikko and asks him if he knows anyone who would buy it; Nikko buys it for his girlfriend for £105. He then goes immediately to the casino and gambles all the money away, plus more besides. The other men at the gambling table refer to Prinny as the Prince of the Ponces. Later, in return for a bounced cheque, Prinny gets his comeuppance. When Marion discovers what has happened to her brooch and that Prinny has lied to her, she tells him that aside from the money he also put her on the gambling table and he lost. She has decided to have the baby anyway, without Prinny, and later turns him away when he arrives at the house asking to come in to get away from some men who are going to cut him up.
Angela, Sally’s school friend, seems to be a beatnik in training. Although attractive she does not appear to do too well with the men and is something of a peripheral character to the story. In one scene she has been stood up by a date and although there is a man interested in her, she refers to him as The Old Sport and tries to avoid him. She tells him she won’t be attending a party as she will be “washing her hair”, when really this is because she does not want him to tag along. This does not stop her, however, from accepting the drinks he buys for her.
Dee, Sally’s other school friend, is very glamorous (played by Hammer House actress Suzanna Leigh).
Despite the fact that she is dating Nikko, she says she should get a job at the Crazy Horse cabaret club like Cobber so she can meet loads of rich men. When Angela tells her that this sounds “awfully mercenary”, she says that when she marries it will be “for love AND money”. Angela is not the only one who thinks Dee is motivated by money, Keith, who is a fairly astute judge of character, says, “She picks ’em like a water diviner… Dee knows [Nikko is ruthless], only she’s money mad; she’ll sit with him every night in the casino, and every time he wins he’ll give her a few chips.”
In the next scene, we discover that what Keith says is the truth, as Dee takes the chips Nikko gives to her and cashes them in. But when Nikko offers to buy her a mink coat she refuses saying she does not want to be “minked up like a tart” and would rather have a car instead. However, later in the film, when she encounters Nikko’s drably dressed wife at the hospital she is indeed wearing a mink coat.
All this said, Dee does appear to genuinely care for Nikko and encourages him to give up his line of work after witnessing a set-to with a rival gang; she also wants him to make a honest woman of her by divorcing his wife and marrying her. Dee comes to Nikko’s rescue twice and then when he is in hospital, wounded after the second attack on him, she says she loves him and would never leave him, not even if he was broke because she now realises what she could have lost. So although Dee does seem to be the minked up tart she refers to, she is a tart with a heart after all.
Nikko, as he’s played by Klaus, we’ll save for later and take separately…
Sally is “fresh from the country” when she arrives in London on Friday afternoon, declaring herself to be “on the career kick, no time for love.” Friday evening she goes to the fireworks party.
At the party, she meets Keith who is a young up and coming fashion photographer; Sally is hoping to become a model. Keith is a little direct for Sally’s tastes and as he seems to know everyone from the King’s Road, he has already formed an opinion of them and offers it up willingly, “Come inside and I’ll mark your card.” It has to be said that aside from the comment he makes about Paddy being “drippy” (he’s a bit embarrassing and annoying at times with his over-enthusiastic twitterings but that’s the worst thing you can say about Paddy), everything else he says about everyone else is true.
Despite taking offence at some of Keith’s comments, Sally cannot help but be interested in him (back in those days Ian McShane was actually quite a looker, so it’s hardly surprising). Nonetheless, Keith has a (brief) history with Cobber and the other girls do not take his work seriously (Dee asks how he’s doing with the passport photographs). He is also a bit persistent in his requests to go home with Sally. In fact, it all seems a little crazy that they met on the Friday and are both declaring love for each other on the Sunday. When Keith arrives to take Sally out for a drive in the countryside on Sunday it is an unannounced visit despite that fact that she had said she would be unavailable on the Sunday; Keith does not want to take no for an answer. But he has to – at the end of the night he puts the pressure on again, saying that although he loves Sally he cannot wait to spend the night with her and so she storms off upset. Paddy tells Sally that if Keith really cares he will be back and he is right as Keith redeems himself when he arrives on Monday morning to drive Sally to modelling school. There is hope… It is also noticeable that Keith takes Sally “the country girl” out to the country for a drive – the characters in the film are all said to want to “see life” in London and yet Keith is taking her away from that life, perhaps because the life they are surrounded by in London is at times sordid or at the very least not ideal. Keith is probably hoping to protect and shelter Sally from that side of Swinging London, whilst at the same time trying to get her to come home with him!
Klaus plays Nikko Stalmar, a wealthy landlord involved in a rent racket, letting run-down properties to poor immigrants. Nikko wears sharp suits and smoking jackets and has a beautiful central London apartment where he entertains his glamorous girlfriend Dee.
It’s implied that Nikko has a wife and family living in a house in Mill Hill (North London) where he returns at the weekends. Otherwise he spends his time collecting rents from his tenants along with his henchmen and a big dog. Nikko says he is addicted to gambling and maybe that’s true – when he’s not at the casinos with Dee on his arm, he plays the slot machines in the bars they frequent.
But he also gambles with his own life as he is constantly under threat from rival gangs and from his tenants who are fed up of the menacing way in which their rent is extracted from them. Nikko narrowly escapes attack when Dee drives him to safety on one occasion. On the second occasion he is not so lucky and is jumped by a gang who have come to see him “on behalf of the tenants” at the garage where he keeps his car.
He manages to escape the gang initially but is found hiding under a car and is beaten up and whipped.
Luckily for Nikko, Dee again comes to the rescue looking for her ring which she believes she has left in Nikko’s car.
She raises the alarm when she discovers the garage attendant tied up behind the counter. The gang flee and Nikko is taken to hospital for treatment with Dee accompanying him.
When Nikko was attacked the first time, Dee asked him to get out of the business – she seems to know the nature of Nikko’s business – and he says that he intends to do so and will leave his wife for her but asks her to move in with him in the meantime. Dee refuses this offer as she says that her parents would not approve of her living with a man out of wedlock.
Although Nikko says he will leave his wife, it is not clear that he is telling the truth. This said, he does seem to care for Dee and despite all his other faults he has a good side to him and even takes her out on driving lessons so she can get a driving licence to drive the car she so desires. When Dee realises that Nikko has unknowingly bought Marion’s brooch from Prinny, Nikko says that she can give it back to Marion and that she doesn’t need to say where she got it from, that she could say she found it on the floor or something rather than revealing Prinny for the louse that he is.
It is this action which makes Dee realise how much she really likes Nikko, “You are a darling; if only people knew!” “It’s only money,” Nikko says. Which echoes what Prinny says as he gambles away the last £25 of the £105 Nikko paid him for the brooch. And also echoes what Keith says as he treats Sally to dinner, although Keith appends it with “you cleaned me out, that’s all.”
The Pleasure Girls is about money but it’s about lifestyle too and ambition and morals. It’s a great little film if you take it at face value – and it offers lovely cinematography, good acting and an infuriatingly catchy theme sung by The Three Quarters. But if you look too closely there are too many issues being covered in one short film (it’s only 82 minutes long) – slum landlords; beatniks; Swinging London; compulsive gambling; pregnancy outside of wedlock; homosexuality; extramarital affairs; sex outside of marriage – in such a way that they are only touched on in the most perfunctory way, as are some of the characters who are not very well developed. All that said, it works and it’s definitely worth a watch – and that’s not just for Klaus on this occasion!
Kinski’s acting methods:
And saunters through the film with his hands in his pockets, where possible:
My favourite screenshot is this one where he finally has to take his hands out of his pockets to make a drink – he looks like his hands are welded into the pockets!
Other information about the film: The film was shot in only four five-day weeks at a Kensington town-house as it was much cheaper to rent than a professional studio. The director thinks the entire project cost £30,000 to make. Klaus, who “just happened to be passing through town”, was paid £900 for 9 days’ work.
O’Hara said he got the idea for the film when meeting with Raymond Stross to discuss some of his scripts. Stross suggested to O’Hara that he should write about what he knew – and O’Hara was part of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ scene, spending a lot of time in clubs and discos, “regularly [hobnobbing] with the notorious landlord Peter Rachman and Mandy Rice-Davis over afternoon tea at the Kardomah coffee house on the Kings Road.” He originally planned to call the film A Time and a Place.
Once the script was completed O’Hara contacted Stross about working on it but unfortunately Stross had to pull out as he had a film lined up in America with his wife Anne Heywood; he assigned all copyright to O’Hara.
In the BFI DVD booklet, Sue Harper says in her article, Getting On With Their Own Happiness – The Pleasure Girls, that initially the director Gerry O’Hara had written a script about Mandy Rice-Davis, Peter Rachman (a slum landlord in the 1960’s who made profits by intimidating his tenants), the Profumo Affair and illegal gambling dens. The film touches on Rachmanism in the slum landlord character played by Klaus Kinski, but aside from the visits to casinos (where there was no indication that this was an illegal set-up) none of the other aspects of O’Hara’s original script remain.
The British Board of Film Censors examiners insisted that certain elements of the film be minimised, avoided or removed: showing a crumpled bed suggesting homosexuality; nudity between men; Mandy Rice-Davis; showing links between the Profumo scandal and the Royal Family; Rachmanism.
Gerry O’Hara had previously made a film (That Kind of Girl – also available as a BFI Flipside DVD, which comes with a recommendation from me!) for the production company Compton-Tekli. The company was run by Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger and specialised in exploitation films. In getting Compton-Tekli to fund the production of The Pleasure Girls, O’Hara was subject to certain restrictions and conditions.
“Klinger and Tenser were in control of the casting, and they signed Klaus Kinski on the grounds that he would bring an air of European sophistication to the project. O’Hara was dismayed to find that Kinski’s English pronunication was so poor that he had to re-write the script: “since he couldn’t roll his ‘r’s’, I took out all the ‘r’ words,” O’Hara recalled.”
Klinger and Tenser also insisted on more bedroom scenes “with participants lying down”; they kept O’Hara out of the final edit; they apparently arranged to insert some orgy scenes into the final cut without O’Hara’s knowledge but when he found out he complained about this to the British Board of Censors and the orgy scene was removed from the final release; the film was marketed as an exploitation film.
An article on The Pleasure Girls on the Cathode Ray Tube website (http://cathoderaytube.blogspot.com/2010/05/british-cult-classics-pleasure-girls.html) indicates that Clive Donner had originally directed the majority of the film (about three-quarters of it) and walked out when Klinger and Tenser insisted on more sex and nudity. This is when Gerry O’Hara is said to have stepped in. The interview with Anneke Wills is very interesting but it’s at odds with what Gerry O’Hara and Sue Harper say in their articles – Wills indicates that O’Hara changed the title and used the theme song, which O’Hara actually says he despised himself and didn’t want to use…
Revealing just how far times have changed, the BFI booklet indicates that one viewer was said to have complained about The Pleasure Girls, somehow suggesting that it would “incite juvenile violence at holiday weekends”!
Klaus is credited as guest star.