Crimewave – Willy Roe’s ‘Playbirds’ (1978)

14 Sep

Watching the beginning of Playbirds doesn’t feel much different from watching most recent blockbuster or big budgeted films released today. Why, I hear you ask? Product placement. There’s a reason why publisher David Sullivan was a millionaire by twenty-five and controlling half the adult magazine market by the mid 1970s and that was his understanding of the industry and its consumption by the public. After producing the successful Come Play With Me in 1977, which was self-promoted to high heavens in his publications, Sullivan set about making an official follow-up as soon as he could, again taking inspiration from what he knew best…

And so Playbirds opens with a photographer shooting the centerfold for Sullivan’s very own Playbirds magazine. The said centerfold winds up dead and the police become involved, casually reading copies of Playbirds at the scene of the crime and flashing the magazine around for all to see. This scenario happens again and again until there are four bodies and a sex pervert that needs catching.

Suspicion falls on the photographer who happens to photograph everyone before they die and has an interest in the occult. The second suspect is the publisher of Playbirds himself, here played by Alan Lake in the most stereotypical gold-medallion-wearing porn baron type, who has an interest in horses and is obsessed with his racehorse, also called Playbirds. There’s also the outspoken MP who thinks ‘pornography is like heroin for the soul’ but enjoys it none the less. Other red herrings are dropped but it’s clear from the start that the police are completely inept and have no clue what they’re doing.

Enter Mary Millington. Dating Sullivan at the time of the film’s production and being one of the most popular models in the UK, Playbirds was conceived as another vehicle for Millington, taking her from the smaller role she had in Come Play With Me to a lead. She plays WPC Lucy Sheridan, an officer chosen to be a plant for the killer as, surprise, no other girls want to model for Playbirds whilst the killer is still out there. Whilst she certainly looks pretty and pulls off some scenes very well (namely a striptease and a photo shoot which she did for a living anyway), Millington can’t act very well and comes across as quite wooden, if you excuse the pun.

This makes the rest of the film rather dull to watch. The story is essentially a poor man’s retelling of Cover Girl Killer (1959) and the second half plods along rather slowly, with half the audience wanting more sex and the other half wanting the conclusion to a half-hearted British attempt at including giallo influences into a sexploitation feature. Still there are a few nice touches. Most people will recognise much of the cast from British film and television, including Glynn Edwards (Zulu, The Blood Beast Terror, Get Carter, Minder television series), Dudley Sutton (Lovejoy, The Devils) and Derren Nesbitt (Where Eagles Dare). It’s also nice to see Millington giving the police a sort of middle finger by ironically playing a cop in a sex feature. Millington was vocally against censorship and frequently endured police raids at the sex shop she owned. As you can imagine, they weren’t too happy seeing her play the role…

Overall the film is an okay effort but far less entertaining than its predecessor, despite it also being a commercial success. It is essentially an eighty-nine minute long advert for Sullivan’s paper publication. Come Play With Me comes with a higher recommendation, or failing that, one of Millington’s own pictorial’s where she doesn’t need to act…

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