British Universities Film & Video Council

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Her Private Hell

1967 saw the production of Her Private Hell, a low budget British feature that has now been given a new lease of life on video as part of the BFI Flipside series rescuing obscure movies from critical oblivion. Jonathan Rigby reviews this release  below while the disc’s producer, Josephine Botting, discusses what was involved in bringing this little-known film to video here.


2012. GB. DVD + Blu-ray. 84 minutes (plus extras). BFI Home Video. Certificate 15. Price: £19.99

About the Author: Researcher, critic and actor, Jonathan Rigby has written the following books – English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema (2000), Christopher Lee: The Authorised Screen History (2001), Roxy Music: Both Ends Burning (2005),  American Gothic: Sixty Years of Horror Cinema (2007) and Studies in Terror: Landmarks of Horror Cinema (2011).

You can’t miss him really. In fact, to seasoned students of the lower end of the British film industry, he’s unmistakable. The lean and hungry, even rat-like, appearance. The long and angular, even scrawny, frame. The small, piercing eyes. The gaunt Death’s Head features. The trademark Mephistophelean goatee. Yes, it’s Robert Crewdson, inevitably cast as the chief sleazemeister in Norman J Warren’s quietly epoch-making first feature, the torrid 1967 melodrama Her Private Hell.

Robert Crewdson

Never heard of him? (Crewdson, I mean.) Well, a brief trawl through the murkier realms of 1960s cinema and TV will throw up a healthy crop of Crewdson cameos. Indeed, he played a hapless young actor – without, at that early stage, the trademark goatee – in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960). He’s the chap who has to lug a trunk across the studio floor, a trunk containing, though no one knows it yet, the corpse of Moira Shearer.

With its setting in Soho’s burgeoning sex industry of the late 1950s, Peeping Tom stands as a significant precursor to Her Private Hell, which supplants Powell’s ‘naughty photos taken above a Rathbone Place newsagents’ milieu with the swish and swinging world of celebrity photographers made famous by David Bailey and his ilk. Made famous, too, by Antonioni’s enigmatic Blow-Up (1967), which was on release in the UK while Her Private Hell was in production.

Of course, in Warren’s film, that swish and swinging world is a mere front for the oldest story in the sexploitation recipe book – the young innocent up from the country (or, in this case, another country: Italy) who, having been seduced into a glitzy and glamorous world, gains an unenviable insight into its sleazy underbelly.

In specifically British sexploitation, the story had been anticipated ten years previously in Don Chaffey’s The Flesh is Weak (1957), where another young Italian – called, as in Her Private Hell, Marisa – is plunged into full-on prostitution, not just the vaguely embarrassing nudie photos of Warren’s film.

It’s Britain’s first narrative sex film, and as such reaped massive rewards …

In a bigger budgeted production, no doubt Marisa would have been played by Silva Koscina or Rossana Podestà. What we have here is the lesser known Lucia Modugno (billed as ‘Modunio’ on-screen). Similarly, Robert Crewdson fans (a limited breed, admittedly) would have been out of luck; his role would have been nicely filled by British cinema’s sleazemeister supreme, Denholm Elliott. Again, there was no way someone like Alan Bates would be cast as the duplicitous photographer. Terry Skelton – riding moderately high at the time opposite Anna Neagle in the Adelphi production of Charlie Girl – filled the part instead. (This was shortly before he was pipped to the coveted James Bond role by George Lazenby.) And these are the main players in a picture which has one incontrovertible claim to a place in film history. It’s Britain’s first narrative sex film, and as such reaped massive rewards (having cost only £18,000 to make) in a Charing Cross Road showcase that lasted well over a year.

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