It’s ever-so-hard to type when one is clutching one’s pearls over the shock, the pervy NERVE of it all!
A 38 year-old American novelist living in London has an affair with a 15-16 year-old mini-skirted Mod, and marries her rather than face statutory rape charges?
One has to wonder just whose idea “Lola,” was, a cringeworthy faux satire titled “London Affair” or “Twinky” in various other places it was released?
Director Richard Donner, just a couple of years away from “Superman” stardom, said Charles Bronson pitched him the script. Co-star Susan George was but 19 (and playing 16) when it was filmed, and even though it set the tone for too much of her career, can’t be blamed. It’s when you read the credits of screenwriter Norman Thaddeus Vane (“Taxi Dancer” and “Club Life”) and hear he was a “frequent contributor” to Penthouse Magazine, that it becomes pretty obvious where this originated.
A dabbler in light porn thought he’d have a go at a lightweight “Lolita.” And it being the tail end of the Swinging Sixties, drive-in friendly American International Pictures thought “Why not?” What’s shocking about it, all these decades later, is that Honor Blackman, Trevor Howard, Robert Morley, Lionel Jeffries and Jack Hawkins signed on for a wink-wink scene or two.
It really was a different universe back then. But watching Bronson — who was 48 when it was filmed — one can see “This isn’t the best idea for paying for a trip to London” in his tentative, “What am I DOING?” performance.
The jig is up over morning breakfast one day at Lola’s family’s posh townhouse, when her little brother rats her out to her parents (Honor Blackman, Michael Craig). It’s not just the sexed-up “banned in England” pulp fiction of Scott Wardman that’s she hiding. It’s her diary, where she talks about all the boys she wrote “F” next to, and the affair with the man more than twice her age that she confesses.
Mum prattles from “Where are the DIRTY bits, darling?” about the smutty novel Lola’s reading, to outrage. Dad fumes about the publishing house, bringing Wardman up on charges. But it gets WORSE.
“He’s AMERICAN!” Contact the Home Office to have this man deported!
Lola, all bangs and beret, la-di-dah bicycles her way to her lover’s flat, and in the midst of a childish come-on, lets drop the details of how their “secret” got out — drip by infantile drip.
Whatever status having an older lover earned her with her libidinous classmates, however much her lecherous creeper grandfather (Trevor Howard) approves, there’s going to be hell to play.
But these scenes, while saying as much, don’t really convey concern, alarm or shame. Cringeworthy or not, attempted “Swinging Sixties” satire, different era and all that or not, this is a very badly-written and acted movie.
A police visit and Wardman’s all-too-quick summoning of the phrase “statutory rape” have them half-scrambling for a way out. “We could get married,” she chirps. “Illegal, here,” he grumps. “Not in SCOTLAND,” she counters, probably the best “joke” of the movie. And off they go.
The comedy is all of the oversexed sitcom variety, “Love, American Style” era bubble baths and bantering about “I love that kid,” literally.
They move to New York where Wardman gets bad advice from his not-prudish-but-incredulous lawyer (Orson Bean) and not-wholly-shocked reactions from his parents (Kay Medford, Paul Ford).
Lola, played as a cross between “Lolita” and “Candy” — naive, childish but sexually mature — is blind to the leering real estate agent and tone-deaf to everyone else’s reaction to this sexualized child in their presence.
Bronson, almost to his credit, never gets past “tentative” and the sense that someone is standing off camera with a gun pointed at him, forcing him to try this “hip” and “sexy” riff on a conservative generation’s view of an oversexed generation behind them.
“I make naughty, uncool moves with a 16 year-old girl and suddenly my life’s upside down!”
Under any title, in any of its many different running time edits, “Lola” is a terrible movie — not Woody Allen “Manhattan” perverse and damning. Just bad. But it’s one of five movies Bronson had released that year, so at least we know that nobody put a lot of thought into it at any stage of production.
Bronson, a fine actor, would curdle into the gnarled old inner city avenger of the “Death Wish” movies. George has gone on to enjoy a long career, although “Straw Dogs” would be the rare high point, and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry,” “Die, Screaming Marianne,” “Mandingo” and the like were her lot for years after “Twinky.”
And Donner would finally break free from the TV directing that was his bread and butter for years before and after “Lola” to become a maker of blockbusters (“Superman,” “The Omen”), “Goonies” and “Lethal Weapon” movies.
As with much of the satire and attempted satire of the ’60s and early ’70s, what we see when we look back on movies like “Lola” is how very much a man’s world it was — in cinema and in the culture these films rolled out in. “Statutory Rape” and the joke “15 will get you 20” may have been punchlines, but they don’t let any man in the creation or decision-making chain here off the hook. The law was on the books because the culture had realized, decades before, that this was wrong.
And while finding the “cutting edge” was as hard then as it is now, trying to step lightly when leaping over it was never a good idea. You either go “Candy” or go “Lolita,” or go home.
Rating: Would you believe GP, or PG?
Cast: Charles Bronson, Susan George, Orson Bean, Honor Blackman, Trevor Howard, Paul Ford, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, Michael Craig, Lionel Jeffries, Barney Martin and Kay Medford.
Credits: Directed by Richard Donner, scripted by Norman Thaddeus Vane. An American International release on Tubi, Amazon, other streamers.
Running time: 1:17/1:38