Release Date(s)1971 (August 17, 2021)
Studio(s)Anglo-EMI Film Distributors/MGM (Kino Lorber/Code Red)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: D-
Sometimes, it’s best to get things like this out of the way as quickly as possible: Percy is a 1971 British comedy about the first successful penile transplant, and yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Edwin (Hywel Bennett) is a shy and retiring young business owner who feels both his life and his wife slipping through his fingers. When he’s accidentally castrated by a nude man falling out of an overhead window (don’t ask), he becomes a guinea pig for Dr. Emmanuel Whitbread (Denholm Elliott), a surgeon obsessed with organ transplantation, and not of the internal kind either. While the operation causes a media and a pop culture sensation, Edwin’s temporary anonymity gives him the opportunity to attempt to find out more about his donor—who happened to be the aforementioned nude falling man. Percy co-stars Elke Sommer, Britt Ekland, Cyd Hayman, Janet Key, and Pauline Delaney.
Director Ralph Thomas was a veteran of both the Carry On series and the Doctor series as well, and Percy displays all the subtly of those films; in other words, none whatsoever. Much of the film exists as an excuse to jam in as many double entendres as possible regarding the male organ—though one of the running jokes in the film is that the word “penis” is never actually heard. (The title Percy is not the name of a character, but rather a euphemism for that word.) Hugh Leonard wrote the screenplay, with additional material from Terence Feely and an uncredited Michael Palin, based on the novel by Raymond Hitchcock. Despite the obviousness of most of the humor, there are a few clever lines like this one, when Hayman describes her late husband’s lack of desire for her:
“He treated me as a Londoner treats Westminster Abbey—he always means to go there, but he never quite gets around to it.”
Bennett is adequate in the lead role, though the unsympathetic nature of his character doesn’t help. But the real standouts are Denholm Elliott and Pauline Delaney as the mad doctor and his head nurse—Elliott in particular chews scenery with obvious glee. Unfortunately, they simply don’t get enough screen time, since their characters become sidelined as the narrative progresses. Speaking of mad doctors, in a strange coincidence, watch for a brief appearance by the legendary Graham Crowden, who would later star in Lindsay Anderson’s underrated Britannia Hospital as an even madder doctor who was preoccupied with making his own Frankenstein’s monster out of more than just that one body part.
Cinematographer Ernest Steward shot Percy on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.66:1 for its theatrical release. Kino Lorber and Code Red’s Blu-ray release uses a 4K restoration from the original camera negative, supplied by StudioCanal. The level of detail is quite good, with a very fine sheen of grain throughout—perhaps a bit too fine, as there may have been a touch of noise reduction applied, but not in a way that eliminates the grain or obscures the detail. There’s only the most fleeting of damage such as light scratches, but those are only really visible when freeze-framing—they’re not perceptible in motion. The colors generally look natural, though the flesh tones occasionally veer a bit too pinkish, and the contrast range is good.
Audio is available in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English SDH subtitles. The track suffers from limited fidelity, and can sound a bit muddy, yet with some harsh sibilants as well. The soundtrack for Percy features songs written by Ray Davies and performed by The Kinks, and the music sounds a bit flat, with some distortion during peaks. Despite those flaws, the dialogue is still intelligible, but there’s great room for improvement here.
The only extra on this Blu-ray release is a collection of trailers in standard definition—and they are indeed a collection, because they only play as a group, with no option to select any of them individually:
- Guyana Cult of the Damned Trailer (2:30)
- Werewolves on Wheels Trailer (1:39)
- J.C. Trailer (1:37)
- The Statue Trailer (2:27)
Percy was a moderate hit in 1971, which led to the sequel Percy’s Progress in 1974. That film transplanted a different actor into the lead role, and became a Frankenstein’s monster of its own for its North American release—the distributor inserted multiple new scenes and retitled it It’s Not the Size That Counts. But Percy remains an interesting artifact of the era in which British comedies progressively pushed the boundaries of permissiveness throughout the Fifties, Sixties, and early Seventies. The humor isn’t subtle, but it’s positively restrained compared to the gross-out comedies of the modern era.
- Stephen Bjork
(You can follow Stephen on Facebook at this link)