A Matter of Innocence (1967)

amoi_kiss2

I know this is not an Indian film! But it stars Shashi Kapoor alongside the lovely Hayley Mills and the legendary Trevor Howard. I have been looking for it forever, and finally—finally!—got my grubby little paws on a copy. Hayley Mills made some of my favorite childhood movies: The Parent Trap, That Darn Cat! and Pollyanna, all for Disney, and then moved on to making films like this one in an effort to shake up her good-girl image. So this is an excellent blend of my childhood movie favorites and my relatively new obsession with Hindi cinema.

This one (also called Pretty Polly) is based on a story by Noel Coward, and while it meanders a bit, there is plenty of good fun in it. It is set in swinging mid-1960s Singapore, with riotously colorful characters, wonderfully witty dialogues, and a sublime soundtrack. There is a lot of British “colonial” ambience if you like that sort of thing, which I do (I can’t help myself, sorry); and the transformation of Polly over the course of two days and two nights in the company of handsome wheeler-dealer Amaz is both hilarious and touching.

Hayley Mills plays Polly Barlow, a meek middle-class English girl invited to travel on a Far East cruise as companion to her wealthy (and ill-tempered) aunt, Mrs. Innes-Hook (Brenda De Banzie, who is hysterical). “Companion” is Aunt Eva’s euphemism for unpaid servant, as Polly well knows; but she is eager to experience life outside the small dreary town where she has grown up working in her mother’s cake shop.

amoi_polly

Our story gets under way in lively Singapore. Polly has been kept busy running errands for Aunt Eva on board, although she has managed to sneak away (with her aunt’s binoculars) when she can. The activities director on the ship is played by Patricia Routledge, whom you’ll know if you’re a fan of British television comedies like I am! Who knew Hyacinth Bucket was ever so young!

amoi_patriciaroutledge

In any case, the cruise itinerary gives them two days to spend in Singapore. Aunt Eva is expecting to be met by her “irresponsible” brother-in-law, Robert Hook (Polly’s uncle, her mother’s brother), who lives on a rubber plantation nearby. His failure to come on board to meet them meets with her heartiest disapproval.

amoi_eva

She is no happier when they disembark into a crowd of hawkers, and are eventually greeted by Amaz (Shashi Kapoor), a smooth operator who has been sent by Uncle Bob with the news that he is down with malaria and can’t see them. Amaz assures them that he’ll take good care of them.

amoi_shashi

He ushers them into a car and continues to explain how very ill Hook is. At a traffic light, the car pulls up next to a rickshaw containing—Uncle Bob (Trevor Howard) and his petulant Chinese “girlfriend” Lorelei (Kalen Liu). Amaz sees Hook at about the same time as Hook sees them, and they both urge their drivers to move quickly through the intersection. Polly sees her uncle as well and saves them all from a minor nuclear explosion by distracting Aunt Eva as the car and rickshaw careen off in different directions.

amoi_oops

Amaz has booked a suite at the famous Raffles Hotel for Aunt Eva, and a smaller room for Polly. As they check in, an amused Polly watches as a wealthy  American woman presses a wad of notes into Amaz’s hand and thanks him for introducing her “to more of the magic of the Orient than I knew existed.”

amoi_magic

That afternoon, Aunt Eva stuffs herself on barbecued spare ribs by the pool, and leaving her handbag full of valuables under Polly’s watchful eye, goes in for a swim. As Uncle Bob is to put it later: she sinks “like the Titanic.”

amoi_pool

At the hospital, Polly waits with Amaz as the doctors examine Aunt Eva, and then pronounce her dead of a heart attack. Out at the rubber plantation, Uncle Bob is thoroughly irritated to hear from Amaz that his sister-in-law has expired, necessitating a trip into Singapore for him to rescue “that poor pathetic girl.” Lorelei persuades him that Polly can wait until the next day.

amoi_lorelei

Amaz escorts Polly back to the hotel, still expressing his sympathy. He fortifies her with a glass of gin and Polly asks him to return in an hour. She shifts all her belongings into her aunt’s suite and empties out the handbag full of cash and jewelry.

amoi_pearls

When Amaz returns to take her out for the evening, he continues his polite and overblown sympathies, until Polly informs him that although her aunt’s death came as a bit of a shock, it doesn’t grieve her in the least. He tells Polly what Uncle Bob’s real instructions to him had been: “Keep the old bitch away from me at all costs!” and they share a laugh. At dinner, she asks why he’s being so kind to her and he tells her that he thinks she is fun, and brave, and pretty. I love this dialogue:

He will make you a special price! Then Amaz kisses her thoroughly—oh my! The transformation of our Polly is underway.

amoi_kiss

Amaz himself is behaving slightly out of character—the waiter brings the check and puts it down in front of Polly, clearly the custom when Amaz is escorting a woman. But Amaz snaps at him, and insists on paying himself, although Polly offers. Then he takes her to the beach, with a predictable—and sweetly romantic—result.

The next morning, Amaz takes Polly to visit his useful makeover friends. First stop: a Japanese oculist, who fits Polly with contact lenses and assures her that the irritation will go away in a few days, and then a flamboyant hairdresser whose eyes light up when he sees the wad of cash in Polly’s possession.

amoi_makeover

Amaz agrees with Polly that maybe the towering hair and thick makeup are a bit much, but he assures her that she is as beautiful as he knew she would be. Armed with new confidence, Polly goes aboard the cruise ship to pack up her aunt’s belongings, and orders the captain to hand over her aunt’s valuables from the ship’s safe. That afternoon, Uncle Bob arrives at the funeral after it is well underway, and is pleasantly surprised to discover his niece NOT in hysterics.

Polly returns to the hotel after the funeral, where she catches the eye of a rich American businessman named Rick Preston (Dick Patterson), who is staying in a suite down the hall from hers.

amoi_preston

Amaz catches up with her in the hall. He tells her he was afraid that her uncle would have taken her “to the swimming club, to meet his virile friends” and confesses that he greatly desires her. So sweet! She invites him in under the disapproving gaze of the housekeeper. It’s clear that Amaz doesn’t quite know what to make of this new, confident Polly, and equally apparent that he’s genuinely attracted to her and not to her aunt’s money. It’s a very sweet scene and I melt into a puddle.

amoi_amaz

They spend a happy hour or so in her room together before her Uncle Bob appears. He is livid to find Amaz there, since it’s obvious what they have been up to. He dismisses Amaz rudely and embarks on an argument with Polly. Amaz will sleep with anyone who pays him, he tells her. She retorts that Bob is a fine one to talk, since he pays Lorelei for her companionship. He wants to send her home on the next plane. She says passionately that all her life she has been an ugly duckling, and miserable, while he was off being the black sheep of the family, and getting away with it. Aunt Eva’s death has been an unexpected gift: she can really experience life for a while before she returns to boring reality. Furthermore, she tells him, Amaz is the first man to have ever found her beautiful and worth making love to, and she hasn’t paid him a cent.

This speech gains her grudging respect from her uncle, and when she asks him to help her steal a portion of Aunt Eva’s jewelry—purchased on the way in Colombo and thus not on any existing list of her property—he’s completely won over.

amoi_unclebob

They arrange to meet for dinner, along with Amaz and Lorelei, and Uncle Bob takes his leave. In the lobby, Amaz approaches him to protest that he’s not after Polly for her money; Hook tells him to wear a dinner jacket when he escorts Polly to dinner that evening.

But Polly is now on the radar of the rich Mr. Preston. He presses her into a pre-dinner cocktail in the hotel lounge. He is a millionaire businessman who builds luxury hotels, and is about to start work on one in Singapore. Flattered by his attentions, Polly forgets the time as Uncle Bob, Amaz and Lorelei are left waiting for her.

amoi_betrayal

This is where the film goes *a bit* off the rails for me. As a female with eyes and a heart, I cannot possibly be made to understand why Polly would neglect Amaz to spend time with schmoozy Rick. He is obviously a player, and he isn’t Shashi. I know we are supposed to understand that Polly is experimenting with her new-found glamor and appeal, but—I just can’t suspend disbelief that much.

In any case, it turns out that Rick and Amaz know each other well (Amaz being a player as well, of course, although not when it comes to Polly). The consequences of this pre-dinner cocktail reverberate for the rest of the long night, as Polly kicks up her heels for the first time in her life. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that truths are revealed, lessons are learned, hearts are a bit bruised, and life goes on.

I really enjoyed this film. Shashi is wonderful as the initially self-serving Amaz who finds himself falling for sweet Polly’s zest for life, and then for her bravado and beauty as well. Trevor Howard gives a great performance as the debauched but not insensitive Uncle Bob, and Kalen Liu is hilarious as the “me love you long time”-type Lorelei. I also loved the all-too-brief presence of the imperiously shrill Aunt Eva, and of course the film is a Hayley Mills vehicle. Her performance as Pretty Polly is wry and sparkling. It’s well worth seeing even if you aren’t particularly a Shashi fan, and most emphatically worth it if you are.

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57 Comments to “A Matter of Innocence (1967)”

  1. I saw the first screen cap and nearly fainted. I didn’t know the extent of Shashi’s foreign involvement. Now I have to read the rest of the review.

  2. Okay, I will have to go hunt for this. And it can’t be hard to by more fun than most M-I movies (though I am still speaking mostly from hearsay as far as the Shashi-ones are concerned).

  3. *British “colonial” ambience*

    Everybody like british colonial ambience, though we are taught to hate it. ;-) (not exactly true but sounds good)

    *Amaz assures them that he’ll take good care of them.*

    who wouldn’t let himself be taken care by him!

    Soudns like a good change from the heavy rona dhona and bhugtaoing badi bahen!
    a good movie to celebrate the post-birthday hours!

    • I have lots of white guilt about my love for the colonial thing. But I grew up with it, it’s ingrained in me…and like most things, I guess it wasn’t ALL bad. High tea can never be a bad thing.

      Was an excellent change from sacrifice and tears, especially with my chhoti bahen watching with me :)

  4. I neeeeeed to see this film. Shashi speaking English, with his semi british-indian accent is mesmerising. Hayley Mills was a part of my childhood (I grow up on disney, old and new). I actualy like her glasses, they would be so “in” right now.

    • She is gorgeous in this—as is usual with the “ugly duckling turning into a swan” motif, she never looks very ugly duckling at all :) But that disbelief I can suspend.

  5. You have a knack for finding the most amazing things! I’ll have to hunt for this one.

  6. OMGGG, i really need to find this! I remember watching this really late night in London on BBC1 and was melted into a Shashi puddle! Where did you find it?
    Hayley Mill’s clothes in that are soo super funky and Trevor Howard is soo funny and debauched as the uncle!

  7. Where did you find this? *green with envy* The last time I went looking for it, I found it with some dodgy looking online seller – so didnt buy it. Its been on my must-find list, forever!

    Love the idea of Shashi playing a gigolo – so unlike a Bolly-hero! :-D And while I am om board with you on Rick Preston not being Shashi, I think he’s pretty good looking too – so maybe Polly is just spoiled for choice?

    • I may have gotten it from your dodgy looking online seller! It took me about two months to get it :) And it is not, shall we say, an “original” DVD (and it was not advertised as not being original so it’s not my fault!)…

      Rick was okay, but certainly not in anywhere close to the same league looks OR personality-wise with the Shash. I mean, Amaz. I think we were just meant to realize that Polly was having fun being desirable, and not really worrying about any consequences.

  8. Amaz! This American woman has a wad of notes right here, alllll with your name on them!

    This sounds perfect. I love makeovers (despite my better judgment). I love the 60s. I love interesting foreign locales. And OBVIOUSLY Shashi is the perfect choice for this role. I echo everyone who is drooling over your excellent find.

    Can you believe I’ve never seen a Haley Mills movie?!? I liked Disney as a kid, but except Mary Poppins, my selections were always animated.

  9. I used to watch Keeping Up Appearances too! British comedies FTW!

  10. Hi,
    The Parent trap was adopted 3 times as inspiration in Bollywood. There was: Do Kaliyan, Pyar Ke Do Pal and Pyar Ke Kaabil based on the same theme.

    • Kajol made one too, Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi. It was pretty bad as I recall. I haven’t liked Hollywood’s remakes of it either, but maybe I’ll look for the B’wood ones I haven’t seen yet!

      Some films should just be left alone :)

  11. I’ve just looked up Haley Mills on imdb – I agree, totally shocking I haven’t seen any of her films – and I realize I HAVE at least seen her on tv: I was just on the end of the acceptable age range to watch Saved by the Bell, where she played one of the teachers. Helen help me.

    • LOL. Well, I am well past the acceptable age range to watch Saved by the Bell, and in fact never did. So I missed her in that.

      Better late than never! Thank goodness for movie rentals!

  12. Hayley Mills starred in one of my favorite Disney movies, The Moon-Spinners (based on the eponymous novel by the wonderful Mary Stewart). It was the perfect blend of romance, mystery, exotic locale and general 60s fabulousness.

    And now you’ve unearthed another Hayley Mills mill, that too one co-starring Shashi! Send over a copy quickly, and no beloved Hindi film characters will get hurt, nahi to….8-D

    • Ooh, I haven’t seen that one. Loved Mary Stewart growing up :) Must find it!

      • I know reading romance novels will definitely give me the cooties. :)
        So to prevent infection, is Jane Austen proto-romance? I tried to read
        Bridget Jones Diary in my bachelor days for insight on what the other side thinks, but gave up quarter-way as for me the humour seemed too forced and author voice trying just a bit too hard to be cool. :)

        • Of course, I would always read Rebecca. :)

        • Jane Austen is much more than romance—if you haven’t read any of her books, you MUST! Most people’s favorite (including me) is Price & Prejudice, but they are all just wonderful.

        • Jane Austen (my first obsession, next come old films) looks at her society of that time with a satirical eye, and classy wit.
          Since woman of the upper classes *had* to get married for their future security, it deals with marriage, and so it also deals with love. But a romance writer??’ NO! No! :-)

          I love all her novels, Emma just a notch higher, because of the beautifully constructed style of narration she has there, including the very subtle humour.

          Bridget Jones Diary is certainly not something helpful to gain an insight into Jane Austen’s writings.
          It’s just an example of the pop culture resulting from JA’s immense present popularity. :-)

          • Thanks for the momentum push from you guys,
            , I started reading P&P.

            I am not too sure if satire is the right word – just like she draws a distinction between pride and vanity. :) Satire is meant to destroy
            by ridicule. She observes sharply but not unkindly. :)
            She is not opposed to the norms, the mating game
            and the society she writes about, but is happy to
            accept and just point out the motives behind the
            maneuvering. Maybe that is uniquely feminine. :)

  13. Shashi, our original international star. :D

    Now, where on earth does one unearth this film?

    I love films with makeovers, and glamorous ‘players’.

  14. @sunil
    >She observes sharply but not unkindly. :)

    Ahem.
    You have a lot to learn. ;-)

  15. At the risk of getting to analytical, and too deep into literature, here are two links – not to read (unless you wish too), but to draw attention to the word *satire* “associated with her name” for two of her novels at least.

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1747446/the_diction_of_jane_austen_satire_at.html?cat=38

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1014330/northanger_abbey_jane_austens_satire.html?cat=38

    • Satire, the way I understand it, is a weapon of the outsider. She is using irony to point out that women are trying to get their daughters married.
      She uses irony to point out that now that Eliza knows their criteria, the wonder is that the Bingleys know 6 accomplished women, not that they have met so few. :), but is there a explicit social agenda beyond character analysis behind all these barbs?

      Waitaminit, yes, yes, there is, obviously she chafes against the restrictive roles assigned to women, so yes I just realized she has a feminist agenda, but I am not too sure she is aware of how it can be accomplished. Nor is she against the class system, of which is a part. :)

      Of course, it is not a writer’s job to know how a change can be accomplished, see Harper Lee for instance. It is enough, and a great accomplishment, just to point out that things as they are, are not good.

      I was thinking of satire like Swift, which has a social or political agenda. Either it is about destroying what exists or an ego trip about showing how infinitely superior and above it all the writer is. To me, Jane is too completely immersed in her own world to ever think like that. PG Wodehouse is almost exactly the same. People might misread HIM to think he is against the english aristocracy , but anyone who reads him will know that he is lampooning their foibles precisely because he is so much in love with it. :)

      Sorry for the lengthy post, but I needed to clarify my own thoughts. :)

  16. How did we get from Shashi and Hayley Mills romancing in Singapore to a debate on satire?

    :-D

    • Sunil – The BBC television version of Jane Austen’s P&P starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehel (hope i got her surname right ) is a good one to watch.

      • It’s Ehle (close enough) and I could not second this enough except I don’t know that Sunil will be as smitten with Colin as the rest of us. It is my fave. Although the BBC one with Ciaran Hinds is almost as good.

  17. >How did we get from Shashi and Hayley Mills romancing in Singapore to a debate on satire?

    Obsession? And this compulsion for getting things straight about all things Austen?? :-D
    Sorry about going OT :-)

    • plus, it is not as if I am going to join an Austen forum to get my thoughts and reactions crystallized. :)

      • Hey at least someone is active on here. I certainly don’t seem to have the time lately…

        :-) Debate away!

      • Thanks memsaab :-)

        A very short response. ;-)
        @sunil
        >it is not as if I am going to join an Austen forum to get my thoughts and reactions crystallized. :)

        Why not? If you wish to comment then there’s nothing better than getting info from some really great sites with detailed research about the *regency* meaning of many statements in the book which adds to a better understanding. :-)

        Today many men feel embarassed/ or above reading her books.
        But back then some very famous people read her books, like Churchill, Sir Walter Scot, C S Lewis, Tennyson etc

        >To me, Jane is too completely immersed in her own world to ever think like that.
        Why would you compare her with men of those times? Men with better education, much more freedom to express themselves. She was a self educated woman using her father’s extensive library for knowledge. She says;

        “I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and ill-informed female who ever dared to be an authoress.”

        Why would only those who destroy the class system be satirical? Even though immersed in it she criticized what needed to be improved *within* that class itself. Reforms were needed even within a class.

        Without getting into further detail, I leave with this comment from the inexperienced heroine of Northanger Abbey, who says innocently;

        “I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

        It couldn’t get more satirical than this for me. LOL!

        • Thanks! I did say that my tubelight flickered and I realized satire need not be social or political. But look at the delightful line “the wonder is that the Bingleys know 6 accomplished women, not that they have met so few” :) The Bingley sisters are in fact more snobbish than the men! Women hurt women more than men! LOL!

  18. Shashi O Shashi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He’s SOOOOOOO handsome here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. I cannot even deal with how handsome Shashi looks in this film. I have to see it! He is gorgeous.

  20. I saw this movie when I was 14 and they had changed the title to A MATTER OF INNOCENCE. I loved it. Hayley is like a young Bette Davis. It should have made her an adult star. The Singapore locations make it wonderfully raffish and atmospheric, and yes, Kapoor is prime.

  21. I have this on dvd picture quality is very good NOT HD sound is excellent

  22. My sister and I saw this on tv when we were children. We have been looking for this forever. I think some of the content was over our heads and probably edited for tv.

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