School for Unclaimed Girls

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that The Smashing Bird I Used To Know is finally out on dvd. The bad news: it’s released under its alternative title School for Unclaimed Girls.

I also found an American poster with the alternative film title and it shows exactly why the movie only got a 3.9 rating on the IMDb site. Watch the poster (or the trailer) and you’ll expect a raunchy movie with jailbait girls fighting each other with pillow cases whenever they’re not making out with each other.

That’s not the sort of movie this is. The movie was directed by Robert Hartford-Davis, who – according to me and apparently only me – managed to make movies that were genuine dramas as much as they were sleaze. You’ll have to look hard to see a naked girl in this movie (but discerning voyeurs may be pleased to know that sometimes bras get unhooked too), but if you don’t mind a bit of story while you wait for the next sleazy scene, you won’t be disappointed. (Unless you’re American and watched the poster and/or trailer prior to watching the movie. By the way, don’t watch the trailer before the movie. Not only does it give you the wrong idea of the sort of movie you’re about to watch, you’ll also watch the final scene of the movie. Talk about an anti-climax! But don’t despair, the clip DV will show you is spoiler-free.)

Robert Hartford-Davis is the director of The Yellow Teddybears, a similar combination of sleaze and drama. I’ve always found it a highly underrated movie, even though I will confess it’s slightly dated. He also directed a.o. The Fiend, a horror movie about a mad cult. If you stay up late (we’re talking about 3am) you might just catch it on the BBC from time to time. Those two movies made me discover Hartford-Davis, a director unjustly forgotten in the annals of British cinema. The Smashing Bird I Used To Know and Corruption (a sleazy movie – “This is not a woman’s picture! No women will be allowed in alone!” the tagline boasted – where Peter Cushing is a doctor who doesn’t mind murdering women to restore the badly-burnt face of his fiancee) were the two Hartford-Davis movies people wanted to see but couldn’t. Well, for The Smashing Bird, things have changed: the dvd is out there.

As you can judge by yourself, the British dvd release has a much tamer feel to it than the American poster you can see on your left. Even though the tagline “Where the initiation rites are wrong… very wrong!” seems to have been lifted from another movie. That, or I must’ve fallen asleep during the initiation rite scenes, because I can’t remember that being part of the movie.
Speaking of which, the school isn’t really a “perfumed zoo for teenage she-cats” but a remand home Nicki (Madeline Hinde) is sent to after attacking her mother’s lover. Nicki is under the impression she murdered the man, but that’s not true: in her mind the images of the man and her dead father have mingled. Nicki’s father died seven years earlier on a merry-go-round. Nicki was unwilling to be on the ride, her father tried to ease her mind but made a nasty fall and died immediately. It was an accident, but the nine-year-old girl was under the impression she was responsible.

Now this may not seem like the sort of movie to get a tagline like “One step up from the gutter and one kiss away from jail!”, but don’t despair… we did find ourselves a lesbian girl, madly in love with Sarah (I didn’t expect to see Maureen Lipman in this movie) and extremely jealous of Nicki because Sarah doesn’t mind hanging out with her.

Anyway, back to the beginning of the story, why did Nicki attack her mother’s lover? Because this Harry Spenton (Patrick Mower) had come to take the place of her beloved father? No. You may be forgiven for thinking that as Nicki isn’t exactly portrayed as the most stable girl in the world at the beginning of the movie, but one day Nicki comes home after a fall from her horse and she’s all dirty and wounded. As she goes into the bathroom to take care of her body, Spenton follows her and tries to seduce her. When this doesn’t go exactly as planned, his next approach is a bit more violent.
That Nicki feels responsible for the attack is easily explained (according to the school’s psychiatrist): there’s nothing in that girl but guilt, she claims.

All of which makes the story somewhat believable, unlike most sleaze movies whose scripts seemed to have been written on Post-It notes. Actually, to coin the phrase “sleaze” to this movie seems as a bit of an insult, but at the time most of Hartford-Davis’s movies were regarded as exploitation films. Times have definitely changed.

Which is why I’m surprised the movie still has an 18+ certificate. I can only assume they kept the original rating for the movie. Either that or they were afraid all the girls who saw this movie wanted to get into a boarding school and become a lesbian, like the one girl in this movie.
Speaking of the girls from the movie… I must confess my first idea was that Hinde looked too old to play teenage Nicki but the IMDb confirmed the actress was only 19 when she played the role (two years older than Nicki).

As for the dvd release itself: the movie is shown in a neat updated version. The colours look good and so does the sound. Apart from the scenes that were dubbed in the studio afterwards (like the scene in the laundromat): those scenes – luckily, they’re a minority – sound flat and unconvincing sound and the dialogue doesn’t always match the mouth movements.
Extra-wise you’ll have to do with a trailer (which you best stay away from until you’ve seen the movie), a couple of stills and the highly informative “Also Available” section, which has the dvd poster and a short description of three movies (incl. The Honeymoon Killers). Yes, a description. They didn’t even put the trailers on the disc.

Not that it matters: the disc is quite cheap (you can get it for £3 or £4, quite a bargain for a movie that was nearly impossible to find. And though it may not be the director’s best movie (I would say those were The Black Torment, The Fiend andThe Yellow Teddybears), it’s still above average and proof sleaze and drama could marry.

By the way, trivia-lovers may want to watch the scene right after Spenton is released from the hospital. Behind him is a poster for a movie. It’s Corruption by one Robert Hartford-Davis. Now there’s a coincidence!

And now, as a treat, the first four minutes of The Smashing Bird I Used To Know, thanks to YouTube:

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