Director: Dick Clement
Script: Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais
Cast: Tom Courtenay, Romy Schneider, Alan Badel, James Villiers, Leonard Rossiter, Freddie Jones, James Bolam, Fiona Lewis
Running time: 91 minutes
Based on the book of the same name by Martin Waddell, Otley is very much a product of the Sixties’ Carnaby Street generation of beatniks and ‘hippy-go-lucky’ hipsters. Otley is set during the Swinging Sixties in London where bands like ‘The Who’ and ‘Small Faces’ would be rubbing noses with the likes of Mary Quant and Irvine Sellars. In fact, the opening shot of the central character, Otley (Courtenay), walking down a busy but fashionable street in central London is a fascinating snapshot of a time gone by, when the streets were lined with trendy antique shops and fashion boutiques, and there was an optimistic vibe in the air.
Otley is down on his luck and gets booted out of his rented room after his usually obliging (in every way) landlady decides enough is enough and boots him out, after first having another shag, that is! He tries to find a couch to sleep on with various associates who all turn him down, but he finally gets a place to crash for the night with his own working-class mate (now done good), Lambert. As Otley dozes off on the couch, his mate is shot in the kitchen. In the morning he wakes to find himself lying in some grass just by the runway at Heathrow airport, with a hang-over and very little recollection of what happened to him the night before. He soon discovers that he’s a wanted man (the cops think that he killed his friend), and, if that’s not bad enough, some shady clandestine groups seem to think he knows more than he does and want to torture him to find out the truth or kill him; or perhaps both!
As with most of these kinds of films, they stand or fall depending on the likeability of their leading actor, and Tom Courtenay does a decent job here as our besieged anti-hero, Gerald Arthur Otley. Even when he’s not really saying much he’s extremely watchable and charismatic.
Unfortunately, to some extent, what lets the film down is its very Britishness – I couldn’t see much of the humour translating too well across the Atlantic, for example. Also, the ‘action’ is done quite badly, and feels silly rather than suspenseful and dangerous. I’m sure not many American films would, for example, feature a car chase across a golf course, with golfers shouting, in upper class accents: ‘Excuse me, are you members?’
Having said that, being a British film does mean there’s plenty of top talent in front of the camera and Otley features plenty of well-known actors you’ll spend a fair bit of time muttering to yourself: ‘Mmm, isn’t that the bloke from…?’ It was great to see James Bolam in a non-Likely Lads role – although he does play it mostly for laughs with lines like: ‘I don’t want the police around; I’ve got enough pot in here to stone an army!’ Also, the late, great Leonard Rossiter (Rising Damp) plays a somewhat different role here, an assassin, which is quite a turn up for the books. He even comes across as a little menacing at times, which was surprising to see.
The film is well shot and looks great here in this restored print, courtesy of the awesome Powerhouse Films who are putting out some great discs at the moment.
Otley is a typical ‘wrong man in the wrong place’ kind of film, which happens to be one of my favourite sub-genres, so I was keen to check it out. It’s certainly not the best example of its kind, but you could do a lot worse, that’s for sure. Worth checking out, if only for the time-capsule elements and for the performances, which are fun.
Powerhouse Films are distributing Otley on Blu-Ray. As per usual for Powerhouse there are plenty of special features including:
- An audio commentary with director Dick Clement
- The Guardian Interview with Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais conducted by Dick Fiddy at the National Film Theatre on 17th June 2008. Obviously, this interview isn’t just about the film Otley, but it does get a mention as the film Clement and La Frenais did after they wrote The Jokers, on the cheap, for director Michael Winner. Clement didn’t think much of the original book by Martin Waddell, but he reveals that they’d always wanted actor Tom Courtenay for the lead role. Looking back on it now and the two writers see it as being very much a product of the Sixties and have good memories making it.
- Tom Courtenay on Otley (6 mins) – a short interview where Tom reveals that he was already friends with the writers when they made the film. Apparently, he got sore feet from all the walking he had to do when they shot the opening sequence, but shooting on location in London back then was much easier than it is today.
- Ian La Frenais on Otley (16 mins) – Ian reveals that he tried to concentrate on the characters when writing, and that the filming went smoothly. He also says that he had Carl Foreman as his mentor and that actor Fiona Lewis was also a friend.
- Trailer (2.47 mins)
- Gallery (16 images from the production)