Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Otley... Don Partridge and 'Homeless Bones'...

Once Don had made the initial breakthrough into the Biz after 'Rosie' became a hit, other offers presented themselves.  One rather obscure one was when he was commissioned to write the lyrics (Stanley Myers did the music)  for the opening theme over the titles for the film 'Otley.'  The resulting song was, 'Homeless Bones,' a quirky little ditty, backed by Don's one man band, heavily featuring harmonica and banjo rather than guitar, with some background orchestration - minimal strings and a tuba.  (He often used plectrum banjo on the street - as did Alan Young, his oldest friend - because it cut through the surrounding noise very efficiently).  'Otley' was released in 1968, with Tom Courtenay in the lead (alongside Romy Schneider) as a jack the lad about town in the 'Swinging Sixties.'  The movie is actually somewhat better than that description might suggest...

     'Gerald Arthur Otley (Tom Courtenay) is a born loser.While asleep,drunk,his host is murdered and Otley himself is taken and interrogated by two separate sets of kidnappers before he has a chance to talk to the Police. The bemused Otley blunders from one near-fatal crisis to another with no idea who is on whose side, and especially who is on his side. This spoof comedy-thriller combines elements of  ‘James-Bondery’ with the swinging London set as the confused Otley unintentionally finds himself keeping company with spies and murderers in all manner of comical situations.'
The opening sequences show Tom Courtenay walking along a busy london street and is a time capsule of late 1960s london, the people, the hair styles, the clothes and cars bringing memories of the era flooding back if you were in london at that time. Covertly filmed unlike many films you can see that most people are totally unaware they are being filmed as the actor walks amongst them. I find this part of the film alone fascinating. Shot in colour OTLEY is a must see for any British comedy film fan.'
(Taken from here).

The 'busy London street' is Portobello Road, one of those iconic London settings of the time.  Not sure who the busker is on the left as the camera follows Courtenay's progress through the crowds - could be John McCarthy ('Scouse')?  Height and moustache would be about right.

When the film opened in the US in March 1969, Vincent Canby, writing in the New York Times, was not overly impressed:
     '"OTLEY," the British comedy that opened yesterday at the Cinema I, is like one of Billy Liar's had dreams. An occasional antiques dealer and gigolo to Soho landladies. Otley wakes up one morning to find himself wanted for a murder he did not commit, and the prize of rival intelligence agencies, whose intentions he cannot fathom.
Like Otley, the movie is a bad risk. Everything in it is borrowed and badly used—actors (Tom Courtenay, Alan Badel), situations (the triumph of the fraudulent fool), and even settings, including a rather handsome Thames houseboat that reminded me wistfully of "The Horse's Mouth." "Otley" is the kind of movie that allows you to think about other movies, in those great gaps of time between the setting up of a gag and the moment when it is ritualistically executed.
Tom Courtenay, who used to appear in good, intelligent movies ("The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," "Billy Liar") plays Otley with a certain commendable desperation. ("Have a go at me psyche," he tells a hood who's about to beat him up, "but leave me body alone!") However, if he continues in films like this and "Dandy in Aspic," he's going to wind up as an actor who will be described—throughout his career — as "a rising young star," a talent as immobilized in mediocrity as a leaf frozen in recite.

You pays your money, as they say.  But the match-up between Don's song and ongoing street vibe with Courtenay's youthful roguish energy and good looks works well enough for this period piece.

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