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July 2010

Take An Easy Ride

cast: Helen Bernat, Margaret Heald, Derrick Slater, Jeanne Field, and Charles Erskine

director: Kenneth F. Rowles

45 minutes (18) 1974
Odeon DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Richard Bowden

Take An Easy Ride

The academic Julian Petley once referred to much of British cinema as being a 'lost continent'. If that's the case, then this present release provides a chance for the intrepid explorer to turn over a few stones of exploitation laying neglected on its shore and discover something of what lays beneath. Take An Easy Ride last appeared, to my knowledge, on video back in the 1980s when it thereupon vanished without trace, at least until the appearance of this 'special edition'. In the meantime it has amassed an underground reputation of sorts, apparently even some slight academic attention, and has even been dubbed by enthusiasts the 'ultimate English exploitation film'.

To be frank this release might be better entitled 'The Low Budget World of Kenneth Rowles', for the main attraction lasts well under an hour and the disc has been filled out with a not-over-generous wedge of supporting material - some relative to the theme in hand, some not. In fact, one of the items included is the real star of the show rather than the feature, but I will come to that later.

Take An Easy Ride is an odd, strangely memorable creation by producer-director Rowles who was also involved with such further under-the-rock material as Venom (1971), and The Ups And Downs Of A Handyman (1975). These two he only produced, but apparently helmed two other more obscure, features in the years after Take An Easy Ride. The latter was first produced as a television piece. When then it was felt it might do well on the big screen, the original half-hour work was quickly expanded with more adult material, creating the patchwork characteristic of the piece. Allied to some roughshod editing, poverty row presentation - in this release there are no opening credits past a bare title announcement - and with a crowded storyline, the viewing experience of Take An Easy Ride is a little disconcerting.

Beginning as a pseudo-documentary, Rowles' film has the requisite narrator in place from the start, complete with the leering high manner common to his ilk. The purpose of what we shall see, he explains, is to give an audience "the opportunity to judge... if hitchhiking should be banned." This, it quickly becomes apparent, will be achieved by a sprinkling of vox pops, dramatic reconstruction and documentary footage. Such a mixture, attempting thereby to convince any dozing censor about a semi-serious discussion of great public interest, was once a common ploy (my own favourite of a similar vintage, The Wife Swappers (1970), adopts a similar strategy). There's no record that anything from Rowles' film was cut, so perhaps the design worked. In any case, to modern eyes it presents a mildly titillating brew of swingers, rape, shallow social comment and empty-headed dolly birds getting into vehicles whilst showing off their knickers.

Take An Easy Ride for the most part consists of various examples of what happens when one hitchhikes (as a woman) or, conversely, picks up those who temptingly waggle their thumbs (as a man). One pair of young women for instance are on their way to a festival, and find a ride with a chap whose face remains unseen, but who ominously delights in porn while driving his open top. Another two get in with a lorry driver. A third duo, it turns out are less innocent, being bent on robbing those who offer them a ride.

In the most notable episode Suzanne, a blonde single hitchhiker, gets a lift from suspiciously nice married couple Alan and Margaret who ply her with drinks at a hotel, then book a room. At this point Suzanne takes a bath. Narrating her own, ostensible, experience she tells us then "I was very surprised when I was joined by Margaret... I began to dislike what she was doing." - showing an unconvincing, amusing naivety typical of the genre. Fortunately for the raincoat crowd, her dislike does not dissuade the libidinous Margaret and Alan from forming two thirds of the raunchy scene that follows.

Take An Easy Ride's impact springs a good deal, one feels, from its briskness just as much as (for the time) controversial content, the advantageous by-product of a short running time, when the audience has little chance to become bored by poverty row longueurs. The vox pops of those with a view on hitchhiking interspersing the film, incidentally, are all apparently genuine - with the exception of Suzanne, found just leaving a shop before conveniently bumping into the interview team to relate the warning of her personal history. Unlike the other girls, Suzanne at least shows a degree of personality. It's her slightly ludicrous experience, as well as a disturbingly shot rape elsewhere, leaving the victim blind (sic), which provide the film's most memorable moments. Elsewhere, such as with the Soho strip footage shown early on, there is a feeling of adult footage just shoe-horned in and the overall structure is, frankly, a mess.

Whatever one might think today, Rowles did well with the results as at the time it apparently received nationwide exposure as a supporting feature, even if his career never really took off on the back of it. For writer Derrick Slater, who had penned The Ups And Downs Of A Handyman the year before, this was really down and out. The DVD presents Take An Easy Ride in a reasonably good quality, although the original source is not perfect. Accompanying it is a 19-minute interview with the director; faintly bemused the film should still be remembered 30 years on. He reveals one inspiration was the famous TV drama Cathy Come Home, and also recalls that he'd worked previously with no lesser a talent than Godard, on Sympathy For The Devil/ One Plus One (1969).

The real treat on the disc is the inclusion of the TV pilot episode of Go Girl (1970), produced, and apparently co-directed, by Rowles with one Steven Collins. I say 'apparently' as this is what IMDb claims, but the difference between this and Rowles' other work here is striking. Go Girl might have had an even smaller budget, but it shows directorial ease, wit and fluency - as well as narrative coherence - that puts the accompanying feature film to shame.

Interspersed with innovative animated sequences as a striking means of narrative compression, it was presumably made for an audience used to such popular Monty Berman-produced programmes of the same time as The Saint, Department S, Jason King and so on - often fantastic, light-hearted crime fighting shows in which chilly Shepperton or Elstree stood part for exotic foreign location (true to form, the breath of the actors can duly be seen plainly in one sequence of Go Girl). The present show features the adventures of a dancer and her manager in a thriller scenario made economically and entertainingly. Heroine Carol is played by Luan Peters, an excellent starring turn. So good is the potential from this show its success makes one regret that it was never taken on.

The rest of the disc is made up of three trailers for further obscure titles. They're amusing, but nothing more and one wonders why they were included as they are not mentioned elsewhere. Ultimately many will buy this collection because of the rarity of the contents, never likely resurface on TV these days. At a modest price it can be recommended as a curio, but the hype for Take An Easy Ride should be taken with a pinch of salt.

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