After the immaculate original Charade (OK, ‘original’ isn’t an entirely apposite word, but that non-stop mish-mash of the campier elements of North by Northwest-period Hitchcock did kick-start a sub-genre all its own) Stanley ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ Donen trooped across to London, by way of the Welsh hills and Ascot, for an unrepentantly galumphing tale of hieroglyphic professor Gregory Peck getting roped into some middle eastern political assassination intrigue courtesy Alan ‘Parachute’ Badel, and getting mixed up with dubious minx Sophia Loren along the way. Peck gets beaten up and stumbles on clues in much the manner Cary Grant did in NbNW (indeed, Done wanted Grant in the role initially: ‘Stanley,’ Peck would winningly confide on set whever the maestro lamented the paucity of comic timing, ‘I’m no Cary Grant.’) Loren drops the soap and almost gets combine harvested. Both visit the races and the zoo, and get pursued by a chopper and wrecking ball for their trouble. Badel is suitably shades-’n'-smirks sinister. Windsor Davies turns up as a blinky-missy policeman. Shots through fishtanks, wobbly mirrors, op-art wall hangings and psychedelic lightshows datestamp the whole thing as surely as the copyright notice they made sure to put in this time after fatally leaving it off the print of Charade, which is of course all fantastic. (Sixties Stan doesn’t half love his shimmering shards of prismatically scattered light – see the title sequence for the following year’s Bedazzled for details.)
On the tarmac the joke is presented, “Those people down there look small enough to be ants,” the answer is proffered, “They are ants, we’re still on the ground,” and verily one concludes – rightly – that this is cobblers. We’re not meant to question why the entire staff are on holiday in the one place and all at the one time, but to be honest that’s not the question foremost in our minds when watching this. Derek Griffiths is wasted, too. Criminal prosecutions must shortly begin.
AUTEUR’S CORNER: We’ve been unnecessarily unkind to the director of this bewilderingly oft-scheduled CostaPlonkathon, Bob Kellet, in the past, with the sole reason given as prosecutory evidence his workmanlike stewardship of the thing, as if any degree of sow’s-earage was possible with such a benighted specimen in the first place. Turns out Kello’s a solid comedy workhorse. He was one of the main men called upon by the great Dormar Productions, they of the pre-Sykes silent short whimsy, to oversee such fun as pubic Cribbins building site classic A Home of Your Own and feature-length speechless trans-Manche frivolity San Ferry Ann. He was also at the helm of the recently DVD-ed-up Ronnie Barker slapsticker Futtock’s End, and directed all the Frankie Howerd Up Pompeii! film spin-offs to boot. Such a CV would be worthy of enshrinement above the Creamguide (Films) mantle on its own, but there’s more. There was odd homophobe-baiting stage adaptation Girl Stroke Boy, with Michael Hordern and Joan Greenwood taken aback when their button-down son (Mr Sloane of ‘Entertaining’ fame) comes home with the screamingly camp son of Rudolph Walker. Gender-bending of a more straightforward variety came with Danny la Rue wartime vehicle Our Miss Fred. In the TVC Top 100 pantheon, there was vintage farce Don’t Just Lie, There, Say Something, and bizarro second Till Death… film The Alf Garnett Saga, complete with infamous ‘Alf on acid’ scene. In the sexcom stakes there was All I Want is You… And You… And You…, about which we know nowt other than it came from Tony Tenser-affiliated production house Globebest Films, the same people who brought you the original The Stud, starring Dudley Sutton (aka The Importance of Being Randy). Better yet was Spano-British farce Spanish Fly, with lingerie magnate Leslie Phillips coming under the influence of caddish wine merchant Terry-Thomas’s ad hoc love potion. To top it all off, he more or less auteured late-period Children’s Film Foundation stuck cable car favourite Tightrope to Terror. Aye, it seems we’ve sore misjudged yourself indeed, Mr K.
TV CREAM SAYS: CAST YOUR FOND FALSE MEMORY SYNDROMES ASIDE AT THE DOOR - THIS WAS, IT HAS TO BE SAID, A ROTTEN FILM.
‘We’re on our way!’ Dudley Moore does his (in retrospect now rather uncomfortable to watch) millionaire dipso routine once more. Liza Minnelli and John Gielgud turn up once more. The laughs, meanwhile, decide to bugger off down the pub instead. And in place of Christopher Cross on theme duties, we get… Cheese de Burgher. Ta! Thank God they never made a third one of these, as we’d be hard pressed to defend this effort in our ‘middle one’s the best of the trilogy’ dogma.
TV CREAM SAYS: WOULD BE THE LOW POINT IN DUD’S PANTHEON IF IT WEREN’T FOR BEST DEFENSE
Hooray! Asterix on film; what could be better? Quite a lot, as it turns out, because what all Asterix films miss is the crucial element that made the (English) books so great – translators Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge’s extra-curricular Brits-only gags. Asterix the Gaul is the first of the films, not bad, not great, but fun in a serialised-over-summer-holiday-mornings-in-1979 way. That ‘dum, da-dumty daaaa da’ theme tune refrain does get under your skin after a bit, though. Asterix and Cleopatra is the second Gaulish flick, which we’ve never seen, but the book was a pretty good one, satirising the architectural profession. Can’t see the gags about the Egyptians talking in hieroglyphs making it to the screen, though. For Asterix in Britain there’s still no Bell and Hockridge for this ’80s vintage tale of the origins of rugby and tea which is therefore 50% less funny than it could have been. Then there’s Asterix v Caesar (why not The Mansions of the Gods or Obelix and Co? They were dead classy) which we think is probably a film of Asterix and Caesar’s Gift, the one where Orthopaedix contests the chieftainship of the village, resulting in much election satire. Anyway, Terry Jones handles translation duties on this one, so it is actually a cut above. Not to be confused with the more recent Asterix Takes on Caesar starring Gerard Depardieu, which is rubbish. Lastly (here, anyway) is Asterix and the Great Crossing which was largely poor even in book form apart from a Danish explorer called Haraldwilssen, and Asterix and the Big Fight which is really just another limp late ’80s bodge job of a great book – the menhir-concussed Getafix and additional druid (“How are you, my dear sir!”) concocting polka-dot potions are present and correct, but the rest is hopelessly screwed around, and whither little Prawnsinaspix?
TV CREAM SAYS: WHERE IS ALESIA ANYWAY?
‘Come to the Asylum… to get killed!’ Robert Powell ignores this wise tagline as a trainee doctor at the titular establishment, asked by Patrick Magee to interview four patients in order to determine which is in fact the now-doolally former head doctor. And to conveniently provide the four mini-plots in this Amicus portmanteau horror along the way, natch, and so – Richard ‘Robin Hood’ Todd and Barbara ‘Mephisto Waltz’ Parkins are terrorised by frozen chunks of Sylvia Syms, Barry ‘Professor Bergman’ Morse runs up a suspicious suit for Peter Cushing, and Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland go head to head in yet another take on the old ‘evil double – or is it?’ chestnut, and finally Herbert Lom terrorises Frank Forsyth with little toy robots with miniature human heads on the top. And, er, Geoffrey Bayldon’s – cough – there, too. Possibly the best, and certainly the most consistent, of these happily frequently screened horror anthologies.
TV CREAM SAYS: HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAAAA!
A poor MGM Marx Brothers affair. After the relative highs of Opera and Races, there was trouble afoot with The MGM Way of Doing Things. Thalberg wasn’t around anymore, the O-Boys were pushing fifty from various directions, and worst of all that all-important script-tightening tour wasn’t budgeted for. Other setbacks, like the presence of the preternaturally annoying Kenny Baker (the most tedious of the romantic leads in these films, and that’s saying something) and the presence of a bleeding bloody effing bloody circus, were minor by comparison. Among the gagmen was a dumper-bound Buster Keaton, who provided Harpo with Buster Keatonish visual gags – ie whimsical, elaborate and not at all funny – which were promptly rejected. Endless hassles getting hold of a gorilla suit, and a gorilla imitator to wear the gorilla suit, ended up with a highly unconvincing lesser ape impersonator in the mangiest skin this side of the Ritz Brothers’ The Gorilla. (Rather wonderfully, many gorilla fans, upon witnessing the taxidermic travesty, demanded – and got – their money back.)
Things that work here are largely the things that always did, albeit less so – Groucho arguing with Chico (who smuggles him onto a train and throws him off at the same time), Groucho and Margaret Dumont, Groucho and the ‘Newport 400′, and Chico and Harpo breaking and entering a strongman’s dressing room. Everything else is rubbish – the ‘modern’ (all neon-lit) circus tent, the endless musical interludes (with Lydia the Tattooed Lady being an honourable exception), Kenny Bloody Baker, and the climactic scene with people flying about on strings while that ‘gorilla’ runs amok, which almost certainly wasn’t meant to look that odd. Tune in half an hour late and switch off five minutes before the end and you’ll be doing OK.
TV CREAM SAYS: BAD LUCK, THREE ON A MIDGET!
Black-and-white quarry-bound Cormania, with the titular monsters rendered in full-size, rather wobbly-pincered, lumbering fibreglass. It’s a thing, isn’t it, the life-size sci-fi monster? Not stop-motion, not a model, most certainly not the old lizard-plus-body-kit cop-out, it’s an area of special effects not covered in so much detail. To be strict, we’re not talking bloke-in-costume, but massive on-set puppet here, so Skaroth and various other Who monsters wouldn’t count (but The Nucleus of The Swarm would). It’s an odd sort of trade-off – what you lose in fluidity of motion you gain in a sense of physical presence – plus it cuts out the need for fiddly optical superimposition, of course. They may be ignored by yer trad monster buffs, but we’ve always admired the craft – building something on that scale isn’t to be sneezed at, and then there’s the logistics of transporting the whole thing to the obligatory square mile of Californian desert for shooting, operating the thing in a cramped little gulley, not to mention the inevitable running repairs. So we doff our caps to the likes of Roger Dicken, creator of that life-size giant octopus that turns up at the end of Warlords of Atlantis, which is sneered at by the many, but there’s a certain wibbly wobbly weight to it we really like.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALL HAIL THE BIG OLD RUBBERY ON-SET MONSTER!
From the panning on release to the fact that its terrestrial premiere took place on Channel 5, the world clearly had it in for the Thurman/Feinnes update of the bowlers ‘n’ catsuits whimsidelica original. And up to a point, quite rightly so – Feinnes is crap, cameos from Eddie ‘international conspiracy that insists he can act’ Izzard and Shaun Ryder are embarrassing and it proves, once and for all, that you just can’t *do* this kind of stuff anymore, no matter how post-modernistically you try and wrestle with it (makers of the sooncome Prisoner film take note). But, and it’s admittedly a small but, you do get a kilted Sean Connery, an invisible Patrick Macnee, and a wheelchair-bound Jim ‘Liverpool Victoria’ Broadbent. Unless you’re a truly devout fan of Blackman and co. it’s worth a look once, and unlike the more celebrated Mission: Impossible, Batman etc. which really blew it by being successful, thus besmirching the good name of the originals, at least this one just apologised and quietly buggered off.
TV CREAM SAYS: CRACK A SMILE FEINNES, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!
Hooray! An ’80s TV version of Victor Herbert’s whimsical Yuletide operetta, just what we wanted! The version you’re thinking of starred Laurel and Hardy, but here they’re replaced with Keanu Reeves and Drew Barrymore. Not literally, we might add, although that is a tempting image. Leslie “Santa Claus: the Movie” Bricusse provides new and unwanted songs. Kat Bjelland might have been a better bet.
TV CREAM SAYS: WITH MR MIYAGI AS THE TOYMASTER! WHAT CAN GO WRONG?
Bob Hope comedy with one hell of a contrived plot. Hope’s a bachelor (of the non-confirmed variety) who makes a living writing books about, er, being a bachelor. Then when he needs money fast, he decides to write about living in suburbia, and, er, moves to suburbia. Cue many flirtations with the married likes of Lana Turner, and chaste bed-hopping antics aplenty.
TV CREAM SAYS: SOAP!
Don’t listen to the naysayers, this is still a cracking film and we like it much more than Part III ‘cos this at least doesn’t have Mary ‘quivery voice’ Steenburgen in it. There’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to be sure but that’s hardly a problem, just pay attention! If people had such a problem with improbable time travel cobblers would they be wetting their knickers so much over T3? We think not. Always remember that this is the film that gave to the world endless comedy potential of the Hoverboard. It’s miles better than the bloody wild west/ZZ Top one, anyway, and Biff gets much more to do than just dive about and get covered in shit. ‘Great Scot!’ indeed.
TV CREAM SAYS: WE'LL TAKE THIS 'DELIGHTFULLY CONTRARY' OPINION WITH US, IF YOU DON'T MIND
The original ‘evil eight-year-old’ chiller adapted from the eponymous play, which has inspired Nick ‘Yea verily, I did see an ass with six heads, cobber’ Cave, countless ‘dark’ comedy writers, and the MPPC to change the ending to a morally-rigid ‘crime doesn’t pay’ punchline, complete with a bizarre round of post-credits corporal punishment. Top that, League of Gentlemen!
TV CREAM SAYS: YOU HAVEN'T LIVED TILL YOU'VE HEARD THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE'S EARNEST ERNIE SAY 'WELL I'LL BE A MIDDLE AGED MONGOLOID FROM MEMPHIS!'
In a nutshell: Theresa Russell takes an overdose. She’s been shagging Art Garfunkel behind Denholm Elliot’s back. Elliot finds out, and doesn’t much care. Art finds out about Elliot and does. Cue shouting and thrown bottles aplenty. Russell takes an overdose, Art turns up and phones an ambulance, but not before shagging her as she lies about, half-dead. Or does he? Or did she? Or will they? Harvey Keitel to the rescue… Nic Roeg’s usual temporal trickery slices and dices this ripe bit of noir like so much boiled Haslet for the butcher’s window, and the necro undertones so curdled the Rank top brass’s Horlicks they denounced the thing as the product of sick minds and ensured this last hurrah for the company came without the customary gong-bashing muscleman up the front end.
TV CREAM SAYS: ART GARFUNKEL - WHY?
Jack ‘The Sky’s the Limit’ Buchanan plays a thinly-disguised Jose ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ Ferrer, lousing up Astaire and Charisse’s fun musical with pretentious balletic trappings. Final ‘Girl Hunt’ dance praised to the rafters by all, and rightly so, though we do always register a sigh of disappointment whenever we see this film billed and realise it isn’t The Band Waggon, with Arthur Askey and Stinker Murdoch in a haunted castle. Imagine what they would have got up to with Cyd Charisse!
TV CREAM SAYS: WISH WE COULD DO THAT 'SLANTY WALKING' TRICK
A sort-of sequel to caper flick extraordinaire The Hot Rock, directed by Hollywood choreographer Gower Champion, which sounds like an oddball appointment until you recall the balletic (or at the very least burlesque) nature of these high-concept bank-robbing schemes. George C Scott and pals take advantage of the temporary rehousing of a bank in a mobile home, by stealing the bank, and robbing it in a safe, out-of-the-way location. It’s a knowingly daft premise, but not the film’s only joker up the sleeve – Scott escapes from prison on a bulldozer, tailed by a police officer on a golf cart, and another chase scene is played out in reverse, for the sheer hell of it. And the film offers two stock ’70s bloated redneck character actors – Clifton ‘Live and Let Die’ James and Sorrell ‘Boss Hogg’ Booke – for the price of one.
TV CREAM SAYS: IT'S A MESS, BUT A FIRMLY ENJOYABLE ONE
If you look closely about two-thirds of the way through this film, just around the bit where Anita Pallenberg (with the voice of Joan ‘Girls On Top’ Greenwood, of course) is showing Our Babs the Essence of Man bloke-bong room, we swear you can see the erstwhile Cat Ballou thinking “there must be more to my career than this – where did I put John Pilger’s phone number?” In the meantime, savour – yet again – friend of Creamguide (films) Milo ‘Me Mammy’ O’Shea’s fearsome Excessive Machine and even more fearsome excessive eyebrows, John Phillip Law’s wooden blind angel, and Swinging David Hemmings as, ahem, Dildano.
TV CREAM SAYS: PREPARE TO INSERT NOURISHMENT!
Confusion may reign here. This US TV special from 1986 is a straight retelling of the legendary ringmaster’s career, as portrayed by Burt ‘ulcer’ Lancaster, and is not to be mistaken for the BBC TV special from 1986, which was, of course, an all-singing, all-dancing retelling of the legendary ringmaster’s career, as portrayed by Michael ‘Knack’ Crawford. That one was called Barnum! With an exclamation mark, see? So we can’t launch into any pre-prepared anecdotes about when Peter Duncan took over from Crawford in the stage version and seemed to be doing numbers from the show on Blue Peter every week. But we can tell you that this Barnum features… hang on a minute… oh yes! A certain Rob Roy, better known as, erm, the voice of Pat off of David the Gnome.
TV CREAM SAYS: NO 'SONGS FROM THE SHOWS' MEDLEY ON HOLIDAY ON ICE WITH THIS ONE
Bedridden dog nut Jennifer ‘I might invite you up sometime, if you bring your oxygen mask” Jones falls in love with poet Bill Travers, but nasty old John Gielgud’s having none of it. Viginia McKenna (funnily enough) and Leslie Phillips top out this redoubtable Victorian warhorse.
TV CREAM SAYS: MORE OF A LOGICAL POSITIVIST DOGATHON, THIS ONE
We don’t care how many technical feats were achieved with the camera lenses and lighting, this is Kubrick Does Period Drama Starring Ryan O’Neal, and anyone excited by that prospect may want to consider donating their eyes to someone who’ll appreciate them more. For Leonard Rossiter completists only.