Regular readers of this blog will know that Mary’s most famous movie Come Play with Me had a record-breaking - and still unbeaten - run in London from April 1977 to March 1981. It played continuously at the Cameo Moulin cinema in Soho for an incredible 201 weeks, outliving two Star Wars epics, a couple of visits from Superman and the first flight of Airplane. All the big West End blockbusters came and went, but the low budget Come Play with Me resolutely refused to die. The film’s longevity at the 5-screen venue in Great Windmill Street was helped, in some part, by it being paired-up in a variety of double-bills with some suitably saucy (and re-voiced) European bedmates – notably Finishing School, Emmanuelle Meets the Wife Swappers, Come Play with Me 2 and, finally, Caligula’s Hot Nights.
By the early 1980s, the advent of home video had made the theatrical release of sex films almost redundant. Most of the long-established ’X'-rated cinemas in London’s West End took their final breaths during the decade – the notorious Soho Cinema in Brewer Street closed in 1983 and the Eros on Piccadilly Circus shut up shop in 1985. Interestingly, Come Play with Me continued to make sporadic appearances in provincial cinemas until about 1985, but few remember that the film did get another reissue some ten years after Mary’s death as the top attraction in a new triple-bill (alongside Queen of the Blues and Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions).
Virtually the last man (in a dirty raincoat) standing in Soho was the dear old Moulin, and on Friday 20 October 1989 Come Play with Me returned to take a final bow in its spiritual home. On the same day the movie also opened at the Grand cinema in Jamaica Street, Glasgow, but Britain was a very different place from ten years earlier. Where Come Play with Me had once played against a backdrop of Bee Gees, Labour scandals and Are You Being Served? sniggers, it’s almost impossible to imagine how this innocent little sex film now found a paying audience in an era of Stone Roses, brutal Thatcherism and the sophisticated erotica of Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. The soundtrack to Soho had seen punk and disco replaced by Stock Aitken Waterman, and the British film industry was in even worse health than it had been a decade before.
On 21 October 1989 Screen International reported that UK film production had fallen to an all-time low, with a 47% decrease compared to the previous year. Only nine movies were currently filming in and around London. During the same week of Come Play with Me’s re-release the top three films in London were (in reverse order) Star Trek V, Dead Poet’s Society and Shirley Valentine. Interestingly, the #1 movie did share some lineage with Come Play with Me, since both featured comedy actor Cardew Robinson in a supporting role. Needless to say, the reissue of Come Play with Me could never match the dizzying heights of its 1970s’ box office bonanza and it remained on screen for barely a few weeks. As for the legendary Moulin… it closed abruptly too, without warning, on Tuesday 10 April 1990. Ironically, the final film it showed was not Mary’s, but a knackered old print of the 1975 shocker Sex Express, starring her one-time rival Heather Deeley.
All words © Simon Sheridan 2013