Ah, yet another slice of ’70s self-indulgence. Paul Mazursky, fresh from Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice success, follows it up with a film about a director (Donald Sutherland) who’s just had a great success and doesn’t know what to follow it up with. Fellini is, inevitably, invoked (and even turns up at one point, to do sod all). LSD is, equally inevitably, taken. Beaches are sat on. Clowns amble past. You know the score with this sort of film before it starts.
Still scripted by Speight but with Stubbs and Booth unaccountably replaced by Michael Angelis and Adrienne Posta, this second stab at getting Till Death… up amongst the King Cones was a bit of a shambles, especially since the situation – rather a crucial constituent of any situation comedy – was changed dramatically to relocate the family to a block of high-rise flats. By doing so Speight falls into the worst sitcom spin-off trap, that being the relocation of action to another place for no real reason, the most diabolical example of which is Are You Being Served? (1977) when the entire cast goes on holiday together at the same time to the same resort – no need to explain why! Similarly, the characters themselves were altered needlessly. Angelis plays son-in-law Mike as a sort of feckless drug-addled womaniser, probably only to expedite the diabolical sequence where Alf takes an acid trip. Even the briefest of viewings, however, suggests if anyone had some sort of run in with narcotics during the film’s production process, it was probably Speight.
TV CREAM SAYS: AND INTRODUCING: MAX BYGRAVES!
“Yes, I’m mainly known for my roles in films such as Blow Up, but I am also a quite accomplished television director, with the likes of Magnum PI, The A-Team, Quantum… oh my God! The cakes!” David Hemmings is the unlikely Wantage baking failure, up against invading Viking Michael York. Michael York? Also donning gowns and woad – Ian “My action figure’s got bloody long johns on underneath!” McKellen, Peter “‘ere I am, JH” Vaughan, Julian ‘Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth’ Glover (playing a character called Shrdlu, according to the IMDb, which we always thought was a way of signalling a typo in old mechanical printing presses – hence “Gobfrey Shrdlu” in Denys Parsons’ old collections of amusing newspaper misprints – thus raising a few questions about the modernity of the IMDb’s equipment), Christopher “smell the glove” Timothy, Barry ‘Mind Your Language’ Evans and Henry ‘Arthur Sultan’ Woolf.
TV CREAM SAYS: HE HADN’T HALF PUT ON THE BEEF BY GLADIATOR THOUGH, HADN’T HE?
Yes, we know its ‘Alien Cubed’ or whatever, but our database doesn’t allow such superscriptorial folderol to be perpetrated in headers, and to be honest if it did we’d still not bother out of spite. We just don’t like the arrogance that comes with this sort of typographical mucking about, like Prince when he changed his name to a cross-section of a stickleback’s innards. Also, how are you meant to pronounce these tricks when they occur? They never tell you. Is Se7en, for instance, pronounced ‘Sesevenen’? And is that a Blake’s 7 villain or a Phil Collins song? Anyway, yes, the film. Better than it’s cracked up to be, unless someone’s cracking it up to be a ‘lost classic’ in which case we’d like to crack it back down just a little. For this is one of those ’50% great, 50% embarrassingly bad’ films that science fiction does so well it seems. For a more recent example, see Torchwood: Children of Earth. Fortunately, while the bad’s as bad as you like, the good is very good indeed, and so it proves here. Did we miss anything out? Oh yes: BRIAN GLOVER!
TV CREAM SAYS: BRIAN GLOVER!
We’ve always insisted this Jamy Cameron effort was better than the first Riddler Scott number and we’re sticking to our guns. We don’t really want to not see the alien, to be honest; we prefer to see hundreds of them leaping across trestle tables and slavering nastily as opposed to just one with shifty eyes lurking around sets made of matt black egg-boxes. And the last sequence with the queen alien and Ripley is better than anything in the first as well (look, don’t argue!). We would like to take the opportunity to point out at this juncture that Alien 3 isn’t that bad either. It has Brian Glover in it for heaven’s sake!
TV CREAM SAYS: IT HAD THAT BLACK GUY FROM THE BOUNCE ADVERTS IN IT AS WELL. “AFFIRMATIVE!”
Roy Scheider might well be advised to have a nice lie down here, as the all-singing, all-dancing, all-choreographing, all Lenny Bruce-biopic-editing, all-womanising, all-pill-popping protagonist of Bob ‘Cabaret’ Fosse’s all-self-loathing autobiographical musical. Top quality set pieces and brilliant editing, but it’s essentially a jaded man throwing sugar-coated cynicism about showbiz at the screen one minute and kitchen sink wallowing in self-pity the next (the final, drawn-out deathbed fantasy would seem beyond the pale if you didn’t know Fosse had kicked it for real a few years later), so not one for those who don’t like their musicals any ‘darker’ than 42nd Street.
TV CREAM SAYS: YOU WON’T SEE THIS DOWN THE CHURCH HALL.
Ingmar Bergman doing funny is like Woody doing serious – he can manage it, but when he tries too hard at it, in a “This’ll break that gloomy/wacky stereotype!” way, the result’s more odd than anything else. Thus this would-be farce about a pompous music journo interviewing the female companions of a cellist dissolves into hapless slapstick with fireworks exploding in the front room, said journo in drag with a lampshade on his head, and endless rounds of mugging and squawking about in lieu of proper gags. Everyone hated it of course, and this was probably Ingy’s point, the cantankerous old sod.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALTERNATIVE TITLE - 'ABOUT ALL THESE WOMEN' - DOES HAVE A PLEASING WHEELTAPPERS RING TO IT, MIND
No one likes this film much, but we do, if only because it excitingly ties up two of our filmic obsessions – the directorial career of ex-Warner Brothers animator Frank ‘Hare Remover’ Tashlin, and the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films. For this had Wor Frank, rather madly, directing a Poirot mystery in the wake of Ruthers’ deserved success with her Christie canon, and indeed Dame Margs makes a brief cameo appearance as Miss Jane, along with a certain ‘Mr Stringer’.
Originally, Zero Mostel was to play the Belgian buggerlugs, a state of affairs we’ll have to try and imagine (actually, best not even go there) as Tony Randall eventually landed the part. It’s a weird mix, for sure – the art deco detective transferred to swinging London, and Aunt Agatha’s elaborate plot (in which, of course, she cheats like mad to get the solution) all but ignored in favour of sight gags, set-pieces and Robert Morley wearing a towel.
Anyway, to expository business. Tish Tash started off as a cel washer and all-round dogsbody for Max Fleischer and then the Van Beuren cartoon studio, which made loads of those creepy, charmless rubber-limbed black and white efforts which graced yet another play of Trampled Underfoot on Whistle Test. He later moved up to Termite Terrace and, as they all do, got wise to Tex Avery’s all-in brand of mischief and mayhem.
A brief period in the wilderness after a dispute with tight-arsed Leon Schlesinger saw him pitch up at Ub ‘Flip the Frog’ Iwerks’ and Hal Roach’s premises for gag-writing duties on such Laurel and Hardy classics as The Fixer-Uppers and Tit for Tat. Going back to Warners’, he made director status. Several vintage Porkys, and a Porkyesque alcoholic pig called WC Squeals trying to get brandy off a St Bernard, made an appearance.
Then came a brief flirtation with Disney as a story writer, before he went, like Bob Clampett before him, to Columbia’s ill-fated new cartoon studio Screen Gems, devising the well-remembered Fox and the Grapes before pissing off *again* to Warner’s, where his legacy included the addition of show-offy camera angles, and the development of the classic gag-after-gag construction, coupled with more sustained bits of antic business. In ’47 came The Way of Peace, an anti-nuclear stop motion preach-in funded by the Lutheran church. Better fare came when he landed the gig masterminding the final days of the troubled production of festive Bob Hope charity Santa musical comedy The Lemon Drop Kid (and please, someone schedule this over Christmas Fortnight), memorable for the array of sozzled racetrack reprobates as much as Yuletide number Silver Bells.
After standard ‘she’s having a baby’ domesticom The First Time, Tash hit paydirt with Bob again, in Creamguide favourite Son of Paleface, which added Frank’s comic timing and Roy Rogers to the original dentist out west gumbo, and improved on it in no small wise. Susan Slept Here jazzed up a rather iffy romance between ageing screenwriter Dick Powell and young hoofer Debbie Reynolds with a lurid spider-filled dream sequence and Powell’s Oscar statuette on narration duties.
A slew of Jerry Lewis films followed, and they may be the most brilliantly made films in the entire history of cinema, but we’ll never know that, because Jerry Lewis is in them and we find it almost impossible to watch them as a result. Still, never mind them, his two fantastic Jayne Mansfield comedies are the ones to look out for – rock ‘n’ roll romp The Girl Can’t Help It and advertising satire Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? – full of cartoonish staging, prtoto-Airplane! sight gags and that slightly icky ’50s Technicolor look used the right way (to see it used the wrong way, watch any Elvis Presley film).
After that it was mainly Lewis, though there was Bachelor Flat, in which Terry-Thomas was somehow irresistible to all women; and The Man from the Diner’s Club, a credit-card-chasing farce which was both the last film Danny Kaye starred in and the first written by William Peter ‘Exorcist’ Blatty. Then, after the abovementioned sleuth-in, Tash finished up his career with a trio of Cold War intrigue farces – unruly Doris Day/Rod Taylor spy romcom The Glass-Bottom Boat (complete with a bottomless Day, NASA centrifuge and ‘nuclear kitchen’); the magnificent hairspray espionage laugh-in Caprice (see Creamguides passim); and, for his swansong, a reunion with Bob Hope as the titular beer-salvaging sailor in The Private Navy of Sgt O’Farrell, aided and abetted by Gina Lollobrigida and perma-wisecracking loudmouth Phyllis Diller.
Then that was more or less it – Chuck Jones made a cartoon of his old children’s book The Bear That Wasn’t (about a bear who’s recruited as a human factory worker) and sorely pissed him off in the process. We appear to have strayed from our initial brief on this billing, but hey, it’s our typewriter.
TV CREAM SAYS: A GREAT DEAL OF ROT SOMETIMES, DOESN'T IT?
In between The Railway Children and Wombling Free – in quality terms as well as chronologically – Lionel ‘POSH’ Jeffries directed this uneven but charming CFF-style tale of two children (Lynne ‘Mrs Peter Sellers IV’ Frederick and Garry ‘Jamie Dodger’ Miller) who turn up at titular landowner Lawrence ‘Persuaders’ Naismith’s stately pile and save two time-travelling 19th century kids from their nasty uncle James ‘Asylum’ Villiers. An early charmer from the David Hemmings-founded Hemdale Films, who before they struck paydirt with The Terminator gave rise to a slew of esoterica such as Tommy, The Blockhouse, River’s Edge and Race for the Yankee Zephyr. A fine roster of British character players fill out the cast, as ever – Diana Dors, Graham Crowden, Paul ‘timing’ Eddington, David ‘career?’ Lodge and Madeline Smith as a, er, “ballerina”. Plus the end credits follow the ‘Allo ‘Allo! template of ‘actors waving the audience a cheerful goodbye except for the baddies who remain resolutely in character and grumpy to the last’. All films should end this way. Especially Se7en.
TV CREAM SAYS: DORS AND CROWDEN, TOGETHER AT LAST!
“Never spoof horror,” those in the filmic know (and Steve Coogan’s accountant) always say, “it’s beyond parody already.” Interesting, then, that three horror spoofs make it into our list (four if you count Dawn of the Dead), while as many again are at least on nodding terms with the concept of their own ridiculousness. But as for being actually scary, only this one really manages to combine the knowing wink and the cold sweat in equal measure. And how! It’s a veritable compendium of horror stocks-in-trade – the isolated moor, the intimidating locals, attacks in the dark, disturbing dreams, “body horror”, dismemberment, decay, and of course *that* “don’t open the curtains, Jenny!” shock moment. It’s also a comic grab bag – from Glover and Mayall’s eye-popping yokels, via judicious use of aptly-named golden oldies on the soundtrack, “innocent abroad” misunderstandings, in-jokes for film buffs (natch), and the ever-popular balloon-abetted public nudity. The fact that John Landis pulls off the switch between all these strands of knowing humour and hair-on-end terror without missing a beat is, we reckon, the secret of this film’s high ranking – nothing else we can name manages that queasy mix of opposing genres. A revelation when first seen round your Betamax-owning mate’s house back in the day, a unique film ever since.
TV CREAM SAYS: THAT'S ENOUGH!
The curio’s curio, this one. A Rank musical comedy wherein we have to take it on trust that a) Donald Sinden is a songwriter by trade, b) he’s going out with Diana Dors, c) James Robertson Justice is her dad, and d) by picking up the wrong suitcase he suddenly becomes sole guardian of the titular grinning reptile, with endless japes and scrapes being the inevitable result. Once you’re past those low hurdles, however, it’s a fantastic slice of Technicolor corn, with a great early Cream cast containing Stanley ‘little bit of luck’ Holloway, Richard ‘Sykes’ Wattis, Margaret ‘one third of a chicken’ Rutherford, Patrick ‘wives’ Cargill, Gilbert ‘line’ Harding, Joan ‘washing machine’ Hickson, Frankie ‘naughteii naughteii’ Howerd, Nicholas ‘Haynes’ Parsons, Tony Selby, Ronnie Stevens and George ‘Pipkins’ Woodbridge. Incidentally, Daisy, though owned by Jimmy Edwards in the film, was in reality the property of two eccentric, elderly widows from Woking, where she lived in suburban splendour with her companion, a pipe-smoking six-footer named Bill.
TV CREAM SAYS: THE ONLY OTHER PET CROCODILE FILM WE CAN THINK OF IS THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE. THUS THIS WINS.
In which Brian ‘Avengers’ Clemens turns in what amounts to a proto-Thriller episode about two girls (Pamela Franklin and Michele Dotrice) on a cycling holiday in France, menaced by a sinister moped rider. Robert ‘Avengers’ Fuest directs, Laurie ‘Avengers’ Johnson scores. And so does the discerning punter, as it’s a small-scale mystery gem, abiding by Clemens’ lifelong ‘wrongfoot the audience’ and ‘suggest, don’t show’ maxims. Top photography and loads of Clemens trademarks (reflections in mirrored lenses, camera creeping through undergrowth) add visual classiness to a razor-sharp pared-down story.
TV CREAM SAYS: MARVELLOUS!
Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray – the Leo and Kate of British films, albeit better spoken – star alongside Jack Hawkins in this tale of life at an aerodrome (we love that word) during the Battle of Britain. With Peter Jones, Sam Kydd and who’s that pushing little planes around a big map of Kent? Why, ’tis Lady Marianne of Stone!
TV CREAM SAYS: LIFE AND LOVE IN WARTIME, ENUNCIATED BEAUTIFULLY.
Woody’s masterclass in sticking little bits of angst-ridden stand-up routine together and doing little holes round the edges remains quite unlike any other comedy. Films where everything gets thrown into the pot score highly in this poll, and this is nothing if not eclectic. Everyone has their own favourites – the “where are they now?” classroom opener, a couple of guys named Cheech, Woody’s Coney Island family, lobster hotpot, the LA scenes, “you know nothing of my work”, etc. etc. But the quotable titbits all slot into a neatly observed story, and Allen and co. walk a fine line between straight acting and “funning up” the sketches.
TV CREAM SAYS: STILL PURE JOY
Eyepatch and cigarette holder-toting widowed matriarch Bette Davis dominates her three meek sons as one of them prepares to marry Sheila Hancock in this bizarre black comedy. Anyone know if Sheila Hancock’s eyepatch in the St Trinian’s films was a self-indulgent homage to this classic? We bet it was.
TV CREAM SAYS: DOESN’T BETTE DAVIS LOOK LIKE AGNES MOOREHEAD SOMETIMES?
Hapless trashmasters Cannon Films fancy some disco musical action, and concoct a trite tale of a Canadian couple who enter the Worldvision Song Contest in the shiny future of 1994, only to be tempted into hell by devilish entrepreneur Vladek Sheybal. All very Rocky Horror in look and feel, though without the essential saving grace of that Richard O’Brien campy wit, and the endless gold lame G-strings are less than easy on the eye. On the plus side, there’s Joss Ackland in hippie tramp mode.
TV CREAM SAYS: 'YORAM GLOBUS!' 'YOU'RE NOT SO SVELTE YOURSELF!'
Yep, it’s a Doris Day film again, of the sort shown on British TV with such frequency as to make British TV’s parents ask nervous questions about its sexuality after its gone to bed, but hold fast, as this has one doozy of a scene. Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow off of that fruity yellow road flick, is a White House minion in the Oval Office pretending he’s the president, as presumably all White House staff are required to do by law. He gives an imaginary State of the Union address. “The state of each state is greeeeat!” he bellows, then goes into a chirpy song about everything being “bright and breezy”, then the tap-dancing starts and ends up dancing with Washington and Lincoln, who “come to life” in pictures on the wall. There’s the old ‘foot stuck in wastepaper basket but hey, let’s incorporate it into the dance anyway’ bit too. Then he falls asleep on the presidential settee. No authorities on musicals and/or dancing ever mention this scene, so we assume it’s not a classic in the annals of film criticism, but who cares, the mere thought of it puts a grin on our face, and we can’t have seen it ourselves in at least fifteen years. Other things happen in the film, but sod them.