Tue 14 May 2013
TOO HOT TO HANDLE. MGM, UK, 1960. Also released as Playgirl After Dark, US, 1962. Jayne Mansfield, Leo Genn, Carl Boehm, Christopher Lee, Danik Patisson, Patrick Holt. Director: Terence Young.
Too Hot to Handle proves an unexpectedly classy affair despite its tawdry background and leering attitude. Set in a seedy Soho strip club run by Jayne Mansfield and Leo Genn, it takes a diverse and mostly well-realized cast of characters through a tale of extortion, killing, and the odd permutations of love, pausing every three minutes or so for some young lady or another to remove most of her clothes and parade around a bit — who could want more?
Well in fact, there’s a great deal more, starting with a fine cast of players you’ve mostly never heard of except for Christopher Lee, two years after he achieved horror-star status, here playing a duplicitous emcee in the pay of a rival strip-club owner (Sheldon Lawrence, a nasty to the manner born) and not above pimping for the patrons, including Martin Boddey who comes off truly creepy as an old letch trying to look “mod.”
There are other able players about, including Carl Boehm, but the film basically belongs to Genn and Mansfield, eking out their emotional needs with each other, keeping the girls in line, fighting goons and trying to keep up a passable front (obvious Jayne Mansfield joke omitted here) while moving the plot along. They do quite well with it, thanks to able writing and fluid direction from Terrence Young, who would soon kick off the Bond series, and here shows a fine sensibility for violence and titillation.
Ah yes, the titillation. Well it ain’t much by today’s standards, and the strip acts sometimes look more like overblown numbers from Al Jolson’s Wonder Bar than anything in a Soho strip club, with elaborate orchestrations, lighting, wind effects and even rain. Despite that, there is one surprisingly simple and steamy number that will appeal to the arrested adolescent in all of us. Look for it.
You can also look for an ending you won’t expect. As the plot grows more violent, the characters surprisingly grow more mature, leading to a conclusion that some may think disappointing, but one I found convincing and downbeat, the perfect climax to a film of surprising intelligence.