Color, 1972, 93 mins.
Directed by Jim Clark
Starring Ronald Fraser, Julie Ege, Donald Sinden, Richard Beckinsale, Tsai Chin, Michael Bentine, Spike Milligan, James Booth, Richard Briers, Ronald Fraser, Kenneth Cope, Patricia Quinn
Scorpion (US R0 NTSC), Network (UK R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

RentadickThe same year the Rank Organisation was unleashing Hammer's Vampire Circus on screens across the United Kingdom, they were Rentadickalso responsible for perhaps the weirdest comedy they ever made: Rentadick, a scattershot detective/spy spoof most notorious today as an early writing effort from Monty Python's John Cleese and Graham Chapman -- who asked for their names to be taken off the final product.

"Somewhere in England," the lovely and wealthy Utta Armitage (The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires' Ege) is giving a press interview about some recent circumstances that have put her in the limelight along with her industrialist husband, Jeffrey (UK TV vet Sinden). Mr. Armitage has two problems: he thinks his wife's cheating on him, and several suspicious international powers are keen to get their hands on a new nerve gas he's cooked up that causes temporarily paralysis. "Famous secret agent" Madam Greenfly (You Only Live Twice's Chin) has a squad of craft Japanese spies working on prying the formula away, not to mention some Arabs who are into enslaving scantily-clad British showgirls. To solve both challenges, it's up to the detectives at Upton Security, whose head, Major Upton (The Bed Sitting Room's Fraser), sends the girl-shy Hobbs (Beckinsale) to, uh, get to the bottom of Mrs. Armitage, while the easily corrupted Hamilton (Booth) and Miles (Briers) wind up taking bribes from Greenfly on their way to protecting the nerve gas. RentadickMassive confusion, pandemonium, and silliness ensue.

Given the title and basic subject matter, you'd expect this to be a T&A-packed snickering sex comedy about randy young lad detectives getting into all sorts of naughty trouble. Well, there are plenty of innuendos, but this is actually less raunchy than your average Benny Hill TV episode. Ege shows off her Rentadickcleavage, of course, including a memorable undressing scene at a window in front of a binocular-clutching Beckinsale, but mostly it's just broad comedy silliness with people running around in silly hats and under props like tiger rugs. Director Jim Clark didn't go on to much of a directorial career, following this up only with the okay Vincent Price vehicle Madhouse, but he went on to become the Oscar-nominated editor of films like The Mission and Marathon Man (following his earlier editing work on classics like The Innocents and Charade). It's a strange world. On top of that this features an early soundtrack composed by Carl Davis, who went on to become perhaps the most famous living composer of new silent film scores as well as the writer of music for films like Frankenstein Unbound and The Rainbow. Also, be sure to keep an eye out in the cast for a few surprising faces like comic Spike Milligan and a young Patricia Quinn, who would go on to immortality three years later as Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Thanks to the strength of its cast and reasonable nostalgia value, Rentadick has stayed in circulation on video regularly in the UK (including a 2007 DVD from Network) but remains almost completely unknown in America. The 2013 Scorpion release will be a first time experience for many viewers, who should get a kick out of its broad slapstick comedy and the ridiculous barrage of non-PC treatment of minorities, who are so exaggerated here one has to wonder whether anyone was offended back in '72. The picture quality looks quite strong throughout, with lots of appropriately garish colors and workable compositions framed at about 1.78:1 with slight windowboxing on the top, bottom, and left sides. (Presumably this was an anamorphic transfer originally created by Rank.) You don't really get any extras directly related to the film, but it is presented as part of the label's "Kat Skratch Action Cinema" line with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters pulling double duty here both as herself, firing off the usual rounds of trivia about the cast and crew, and her deranged French twin sister, who hijacks the wraparounds while dressed up in Sherlock Holmes drag. Stay tuned after the film for a particularly bizarre (and funny) payoff for fans of her other "Nightmare Theater" line, too. Also included are additional trailers for other Scorpion titles like Quest for Love, Kill and Kill Again, Tomboy, The Pom Pom Girls, Joysticks, Alley Cat, Voyager, and The Internecine Project.

Reviewed on May 8, 2013.