Color, 1967, 96m.
Directed by Clive Donner
Starring Barry Evans, Judy Geeson, Angela Scoular, Sheila White, Adrienna Posta, Vanessa Howard, Denholm Elliott, Maxine Audley, Nicky Henson
BFI (Blu-ray, DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
In an anonymous English suburb, 19-year-old delivery boy Jamie (Evans) has only one thing on his mind: "Girls! Knickers!" He really has his eye on pretty Mary (Geeson), who's also being chased by his best friend, but to lose his virginity he's willing to go for any of the other girls who catch his eye. Unfortunately things never quite seem to work out, be it the dizzy Linda (Posta) or the oh so mod Caroline (Scoular). Even Jamie's younger brother has more luck than he, but when his chance with Mary finally comes, he might have a chance at happiness... or a few more life lessons in store.
While British cinema in the '60s was loaded with stories of young men navigating the treacherous highways of love (The Knack, Tom Jones, etc.), Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush marked a substantial shift towards a pop art-inspired, crowd-pleasing style that quickly morphed into the randy sex comedies that became a major cottage industry throughout the '70s (often starting their titles with the words Confessions of... or Adventures of...). Most of the players here became regular faces in these films for another decade, and the formula is already in place: a randy young hero trying to score, lots of beautiful women who lure him into wacky sexual shenanigans, and just enough skin on display to make people think they're watching a really grown up film. What separates this from its followers is the quality of the filmmaking, as director Clive Donner was coming off a hot streak including 1963's fantastic Harold Pinter adaptation The Caretaker and 1965's hugely popular mod comedy, What's New Pussycat. The latter film's innovative use of pop music is expanded here to include a vibrant, wall-to-wall musical accompaniment highlighted by contributions from The Spencer Davis Group and Traffic, with Steve Winwood providing vocals as he was in the process of jumping from the former group to the latter. The theme song alone is enough to provoke a big grin, and accompanied by Donner's wild color schemes (including some nifty bits of animation and stylized fantasy sequences), it's a great '60s time capsule unlike any other.
Newly discovered Evans does a terrific job carrying the film, often addressing the audience directly during his misadventures and infusing plenty of charm in a role that could have easily come off as misogynistic. Geeson also proved her worth here in between To Sir, with Love and Goodbye Gemini. The rest of the cast is also impressive, with a hilarious, scene-stealing turn by the underrated Posta (who went on to also swipe Up the Junction the next year) and glamorous, amusing turns by Sheila White (Confessions of a Camp Counselor), Angela Scoular (Ruby from On Her Majesty's Secret Service), and Vanessa Howard Girly). Old pros Denholm Elliott and Maxine Audley also get a terrific extended sequence together as a pair of unusual parents with an affinity for wine, and still-busy TV actor Nicky Henson (Psychomania) pops up in an early role with a really weird hair color. Unfortunately this only translated to moderate success for Evans, who went on to some TV success (Mind Your Language, Doctor in the House), a mid-level Pete Walker film (Die Screaming Marianne), two much raunchier sex comedies (Adventures of a Taxi Driver, Under the Doctor), and a bizarre death that still remains unsolved.
For some inexplicable reason, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush never appeared on VHS in any country despite its box office success and rarely played on TV. It also remained out of reach on DVD until the BFI's dual-format Blu-Ray/DVD edition (Region B and 2 respectively, so American readers who want this, you know what to do) finally salvaged it from oblivion (following a very welcome widescreen presentation on Turner Classic Movies). The transfer is a real knockout with incredibly vibrant colors; daylight scenes are particularly crisp and strong, while darker scenes tend to vary in clarity on the lighting. When this needs to impress, it certainly does. The heavily processed fantasy scenes were deliberately degraded in the lab, so the shift in quality there is entirely on purpose. This transfer is also the uncut international version, which includes a few saucy lines of dialogue and a considerable amount of nudity during the Geeson/Evans skinnydipping scene that was replaced in the UK with a mostly clothed version. That alternate, tamer cut is also present on the Blu-Ray disc in its entirety through seamless branching, while the DVD only includes the alternate shots as a separate extra. Also included are two shorts: "Because That Road Is Trodden," Tim King's 1969 B&W fantasia about a schoolboy's means of escaping his mundane life, and "Stevenage," a 1971 look at Britain's first "New Town" (sort of a communal rethink on creating a community) that also happens to be where the main feature was shot. The usual exhaustive booklet includes a nostalgic appraisal by critic Steve Chibnall, notes about the creation of the film by screenwriter Hunter Davies (who adapted his source novel along with Larry Kramer, who jumped on from this to Women in Love), notes on Evans' career by Vic Pratt, and a Donner bio.