We prefer Henry Morgan’s pre-colonel portrayal of General MacArthur in M*A*S*H to be honest, since he plays him as a complete loon – which he undoubtedly was – but as long as we’re here…Pretty standard stuff as far as this sort of thing goes, focusing much on the General’s time running Japan and stuffed with the kind of American actor you only get to see in this kind of film, like Dan O’Herlihy and Ward Costello.
M is for…
Our regular chance to have a pop at Bryan Forbes always casting Nanette Newman in his films, here as a folk singer in an adaptation of a weird “fanciful comedy” French stage play, wherein out-of-it aristo Katharine Hepburn defends historic Paris from a bunch of oil prospectors. Yul ‘King’ Brynner, Richard ‘Kildare’ Chamberlain, Edith ‘gorn orf terribly’ Evans and Donald ‘perfectly’ Pleasence act oddly.
TV CREAM SAYS: HE NEVER MADE A FILM OF YES YES NANETTE, SADLY
A GREAT big, sprawling, ill-disciplined countercultural satire adapted by Terry Southern and Joe McGrath from Southern’s own novel, this is possibly the prime exponent of that genre’s disjointed vignette approach to storytelling. The high concept is got over in the opening minutes – cynical millionaire Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) and his young cohort (Ringo Starr) set out to mock various areas of society by using Grand’s vast wealth to bribe individuals into willfully belittling their own roles in life. And that’s it. Thus the film wavers between sketches on this slender theme which deliver (an on-train board meeting with Dennis Price, the amputation of the nose from a priceless painting as a mortified John Cleese looks on) and those that don‘t (the phrase ‘Laurence Harvey strips while reciting Hamlet’ is about as entertaining as the sketch it describes). By the time Yul Brynner and Christopher Lee are wheeled on for arbitrary cameos aboard a luxury liner that symbolises Britain (somehow) the air of self-importance is stifling. Nearly all the big, sprawling countercultural satires of the ’60s (see also Candy, How I Won the War, If…) punched above their weight to some degree, but The Magic Christian‘s episodic pomp, coupled with the predictability of its disparate scenes and its tendency to coast along on a wave of borrowed countercultural trappings, make it an easy film to watch, but a hard film to like.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALSO: HURRAH FOR BADFINGER!
‘Coming Of Age’ dramas about young men seeking their identity in the dying days of the sexual revolution were pretty much ten a penny (or, if you will, ‘dime’) during the late sixties, especially if they were in turn based on a ‘Best-Selling Novel’. This one, though, was a bit different, and for the right reasons (which, of course, are the wrong reasons as far as MGM would have been concerned, but that’s by the by). A frighteningly young Don Johnson stars as Stanley Sweetheart, a film student who is frustrated by the prudishness of his female classmates and unwanted attention from that ever so slightly dodgy standby of sixties American cinema, the Respectable Older Male Whose Clean Lifestyle Harbours Clandestine ‘Gay’ Ambitions, until he stumbles across free love courtesy of a dowdy blonde flatmate, and throws himself into a life of full-throttle partying, drug-taking, ‘chick’-having and, erm, beard-growing, ending the film happily installed in a menage a trois with two Trade Descriptions Act-defying ‘lesbians’. Never did “there is no moral, it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened” seem like a more apt summation. And what’s the soundtrack to all of his far-out experiences? Only unhinged easy listening standard-in-waiting Sweet Gingerbread Man, that’s what. They really, really don’t make them like this any more.
TV CREAM SAYS: AND IF THAT WASN'T ENOUGH, HIS NEXT FILM WAS MORE OR LESS THE SAME, ONLY IN THE WILD WEST
Look out chaps, it’s one of those portmanteau comedy jobbies – commissioned by a studio executive wanting something vague featuring “lots of comedians and saucy girls”, a rag-bag of loosely-connected sketches from disparate writers, with the lack of plot papered over with one of those all-star casts that always signal turkeydom, and directed by… Graham ‘the second banana’s second banana’ Stark? Yes, and it’s a good’un, too.
Not all the seven segments come up trumps. Two that never provoke more than gentle grins are Gluttony and Envy, respectively featuring Leslie Phillips as a compulsive eater and Harry Secombe as a property hunting pools winner (just how many films featured Secombe as a pools winner, exactly? He seemed to be claiming once a year in the flicks). The final Wrath segment, with Arthur ‘Whack-O!’ Howard and Ronald Fraser being annoyed by Stephen Lewis’s park keeper, is not too bad, but it’s just more Blakey shtick on the big screen, and if we want that we’ll watch Holiday on the Buses, ta.
The rest, though, are rather good. Standouts include lusty batchelor Harry H Corbett using all means necessary to get a date, only to be cruelly humiliated via the medium of the payphone; chauffeur Bruce Forsyth searching London’s sewers for his avaricious boss’ mislaid 50p piece, attracting a line of penny-chasing followers along the way including Bernard Bresslaw, Roy Hudd and Joan Sims; and Spike Milligan’s demented silent film homage to Sloth (“I’d like to save you but I can’t let go of my walnuts!”) with Ronnie Barker, Marty Feldman, Madeline Smith and Melvyn Hayes variously not being arsed in black and white.
The best segment of all, ironically enough for a sketch show on film, comes straight off the telly, as Galton and Simpson rework a forgotten Comedy Playhouse entry to illustrate Pride, with Ian Carmichael’s regal Bentley and Alfie Bass’ clapped out Morris meeting halfway down a narrow country lane and each resolutely refusing to back up for the other. When the AA and RAC turn up (the former in the guise of Robert Gillespie), taking the sides you’d expect, a measuring tape-fuelled class war ensues. Throw in Bob Godfrey’s droll animated links and you’ve got a film tailor made for a lost TV afternoon.
TV CREAM SAYS: WHAT A SHAME THEY DON'T SHOW IT ANY MORE
In a predictably blokeish Australian cinematic milieu, female directors did gain a foothold. Gillian Armstrong, propelled Judy Davis and Sam Neill to world stardom with pleasant if slightly static feminist period drama My Brilliant Career (1979), while Jane Campion put the fun into dysfunctional with weirdo sister curio Sweetie (1989), and moved on to Oscar-trousering melodrama The Piano (1993). Perhaps more interesting is unsung heroine Nadia Tass, director of this excellent caper comedy. An exercise in doing ‘quirky’ without becoming a pain in the arse, Malcolm takes a plot that could easily nosedive into sentiment – reclusive, borderline-autistic bloke with a talent for making gadgets falls in with a lowlife crim and his girlfriend, and helps them with a robbery – but treats it in exactly the right head-on manner, like an Australian Ealing comedy, for want of a better comparison. The dialogue is brazen, the gags sound, and the gadgets, from Malcolm’s personal tram to the split-in-two getaway car to the robot ashtrays, are great. The only thing that dates it is the Penguin Cafe Orchestra soundtrack, which was really lovely once, before it appeared on every mobile phone advert ever.
TV CREAM SAYS: DON'T WORRY, IT LASTS FOR UP TO TWO HOURS
The best thing about these film versions of sitcoms is that the plots seldom bear much similarity to the “sit” of the original series. So in Are You Being Served? for instance, you get the entire cast going on holiday together, no questions asked. Bless This House introduces Terry Scott and Peter Butterworth apropos nothing. Possibly the biggest deviation comes from this film, with the fraught five-way dynamic of the series getting the boot early on when the cast find themselves uniting to save their lodgings from the clutches of ruthless property developer Peter ‘Sir Frank is in charge of civil service pay’ Cellier. It’s a plot hardly worthy of an also-ran Children’s Film Foundation adventure, but it’s all carried off with a such an end-of-term sense of fun you hardly notice. After O’Sullivan and Bill Maynard sabotage his posh dinner date with Wilcox (consisting, of course, of prawn cocktail followed by Steak Diane), Cellier climbs into a taxi and utters the key line – “Thames Television studios, Euston Road, please” – so waving a fond goodbye to the demands of plot and a big hello to “a galaxy of Thames stars” from Bill Grundy, through Jack Smethurst and Rudolph Walker indulging in a terrible pull-back-and-reveal racial gag, Michael Robbins as an old flame of Mildred’s, to an extravagantly bearded Spike “gotta get these things OUT!!” Milligan. It’s the nearest thing there is to a Christmas special on film, really, and for that, to say nothing of the wonderfully wistful closing credits theme, we love it.
TV CREAM SAYS: CHRISTOPHER GUNNING ON THEME DUTIES, THERE
If you’ll forgive us a shallow observation about a cinematic giant, what was it with Carol Reed and the word “Man”? As well as The Third Man and Our Man in Havana, you had The Running Man, ace IRA magic-realist drama Odd Man Out with James ‘Mandingo’ Mason, and then this Berlin-set period piece, with Mason again as a troubled Wall-hopping businessman, who gives it all up for Claire ‘Illustrated Man’ Bloom. Some Third Man-ish photography, a very Odd Man Out-like ending, and Geoffrey ‘Freewheelers’ Toone are in there as well.
TV CREAM SAYS: 'MAN', THERE
Paul Schofield is Thomas More, wearing a football boot on one leg and a cricket pad on the other, telling a drumstick-tossing Robert Shaw where to stick his decree nisi. Leo McKern is Thomas Cromwell, Orson Welles takes the Terry Scott part, and Susannah York, John Hurt, Corin ‘zero fame’ Redgrave and Yootha Joyce pitch in for a by-the-book slice of historical pageantry, complete with that early parliament set that looks like a cattle market.
TV CREAM SAYS: CAN YOU SPOT THE JOKE WE THOUGHT WAS DEAD FUNNY WHEN WE MADE IT IN 1984 IN THE ABOVE BILLING?
This overly convoluted but nonetheless heavily similar melodrama to The Wicked Lady, precedes said film by two years and is lauded as the first melodrama from Gainsborough studios. As in The Wicked Lady, Margaret Lockwood stars as a greedy, eyes fixed firmly on the goal of grabbing the country manor, she-devil. Her aptitude for cunning is quite frankly wasted on the menial role of Governess, which James Mason intuits as he refuses her the role, deeming her unsuitable. Instead, he allows her to stay as lady’s companion to his wife, Phyllis Calvert. As in The Wicked Lady’s similar wifely role covered by Patricia Roc, Calvert represents rosy-cheeked duty, lack of drama and well-meaning naivete. Bless her.
Probably advisable not to dwell too much on the parallels between the two films as there are too many to mention. Instead, appreciate that the magic ingredient in The Man in Grey is Stewart Granger, providing light relief as a slightly more complex and human character than the dutifully devillish Mason and who is genuinely very funny (and slightly incongruously so) in his loveable goof stage performance as Othello. Actually, we don’t really know what to make of him. We know he’s both mercurial and untrustworthy but we have a hunch he’s OK and not necessarily devious, unlike Lockwood and Mason. Of course, as is the custom in 1943, any self-respecting, ambitiously transgressive brunette will get her comeuppance in the end and in this case, it’s Mason’s turn to get nasty with Lockwood, with worrying relish.
TV CREAM SAYS: PUBLICITY WINNINGLY TOUTED MASON AND GRANGER AS 'THE SUSPICIOUS HUSBAND' AND 'THE GAY ADVENTURER' RESPECTIVELY
Nice waferlight space parody with an impossibly chirpy Kenneth More fired from his job in cold research for failure to catch any disease, and employed by a batty British think tank headed by Michael Hordern to be the first lunar astronaut. Turns by Shirley Anne Field as More’s stripper girlfriend and Charles ‘Blofeld’ Gray as a fellow spaceman add to the good clean fun.
TV CREAM SAYS: TOXIC AS A CROW!
A touch of satire from Alec Guinness and Ealing as the little man invents the super-suit that never wears out etc putting manufacturers noses right out of joint as they worry that all their mills in Britain would have to close as well and it could mean the end of the British textile industry. Satire *and* irony then. Many acclaim this as Guinness’s best comedy caper but frankly we prefer The Card which is much more fun. However, this does feature lengthy lab scenes with that pleasing ‘standard lab effect’ noise of gurgling and bobbing that you always get in these things. Plus we got sick of seeing that bit where he marches about in front of mirrors in his pristine outfit cos they used to show it on Best of British all the bloody time and it seems bare now without John Mills yakking over it.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALL TOGETHER NOW: GLURGLE, PLURGLE, BWOP BWOP BWOP BWOP...
Basil ‘Room for one more inside, sir’ Dearden demonstrates his unparalleled ability to be shocking very slowly, as a moustachioed Roger Moore survives a car crash, only to find a rollicking doppelganger has been making his life hell while he’s been unconscious in hospital. Cue much worried confrontation with the missus, Thorley Walters and Anton Rodgers, before a climactic Moore-on-Moore car chase brings things to a dramatic conclusion. Top drawer intrigue, with corner-cutting continuity errors failing to blunt the best performance Rog has ever given (as Rog himself concurs).
TV CREAM SAYS: FOOTAGE OF MOORE BELTING UP LATER USED IN A CLUNK CLICK SAFETY CAMPAIGN
We haven’t seen this in ages and had convinced ourselves that John Mills was in it, but of course, he isn’t – which is rather a shock. Was he busy at the time? Anyway, it’s another outing for the plot that demonstrated that the top brass could be devilish cunning when they decided to try and detract attention from the landings in Sicily by letting a body wash up near enemy lines with fake papers attached. With Andre ‘Quatermass’ Morell, Cyril Cusack, Michael ‘How does he do that?’ Hordern, Miles Malleson, Allan Cuthberston and Joan ‘I’ve left my washing machine on’ Hickson involved, it can’t go wrong, and it doesn’t. Top hole.
TV CREAM SAYS: WATCH OUT FOR AN APPEARANCE FROM THAT OLD FAVOURITE, THE 'NAVAL BEARD' REGULATION
Steve Martin films are funny things, and we don’t always mean ‘funny’ in the good sense. The Jerk is of course one of the Best Films Ever – witness please, “He hates these cans!” if you will – but then Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a good idea rendered marginally amusing by just going on for too darn long. All of Me was great but Roxanne was a tad pointless. Then he climbed up his own arse and started starring in dreadful soul searching nonsense like Grand Canyon but still managed to pull Bowfinger out of the hat. Go figure. Anyway, none of this has anything to do with the reason we sent for you this evening which was to watch one of Martin’s better turns in this excellent piece of nonsense also starring David ‘Suitable Case For Treatment’ Warner, Kathleen ‘I’m just drawn that way’ Turner and a cameo-ing Merv Griffin as the Elevator Killer (not that he kills elevators, you understand).* Carl Reiner directed this and he also directed The Jerk. Mind you, he was behind Dead Men… as well.
* – This would normally regarded as a spoiler of worse-than-Hitler proportions, but seeing as no bugger in this country knew who Griffin was anyway, and the joke went for naught, we feel we can put it up without being descended on by hordes of time-rich shouty men posessing what a polite onlooker would call ‘their own take on this crazy thing called life’.
TV CREAM SAYS: ALL OF THIS MUST MEAN SOMETHING...
A sixties Sinatrum from the ‘well, that’s that, then’ post-Oscar freewheeling period, falling steadily, moderate or poor. Deborah Kerr and The Chairman go on a second honeymoon to Mexico, argue, divorce, then decide to remarry, only Frank’s called away on business and – somehow – the wedding ceremony still takes place, but with Frank replaced by his best chum
(played, less than astonishingly, by Dean Martin in full-on undone-bow-tie mode). The vicar was talking in Spanish, you see. Or something. Granted, it’s a plot conceit Colin Bostock-Smith would have rejected for late-period Terry and June, but incidental pleasures are here in abundance – Cesar Romero as a dodgy Mexican divorce lawyer, Nancy Sinatra as, well, Nancy
Sinatra, Hermione ‘Unsinkable’ Baddeley, a blink-miss turn from DeForest Kelley, and the full-on, 360-degree-panorama, Thunderbirds base-style loucheness of Dino’s secretary-filled space age bachelor pad.
TV CREAM SAYS: HERE' HAVE A GLASS OF WATER...
Now here’s fun. Vincent Price dons a dodgy beard as Robur, Jules Verne’s less-celebrated airborne version of Captain Nemo, out cruising the skies in his all-paper propeller-heavy airship, reciting the bible through a megaphone and bombing stock footage of tall ships in a bid for world peace. Among the hapless, convict-jumpered hostages out to foil him are Charles Bronson, in a non-shite film for once in these listings. Vito Scotti provides more scarcely needed comic relief as a hapless onboard French chef, there’s some of the least spectacular model work in the history of cinema, and, best of all, if you video the first ten minutes you get, for no real reason, a compendium of all that vintage ‘early flying machines that didn’t work’ footage, including the one with five sets of wings collapsing, the pumping-up-and-down-umbrella one, etc., making this an invaluable service of sorts.
TV CREAM SAYS: SEE ALSO THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN FOR MORE ARCHIVE AERONAUTIC INCOMPETENCE
A number of films in this chart are wartime propaganda jobs, knocked up in times of crisis for a quick sentimental fix, but made by people seemingly unable to just crack off a forgettable, cornball salute-jerker, and who painstakingly crafted a timeless classic instead. We’re certainly not going to suggest that What We Need’s Another War, but you have to wonder whether any filmmakers these days would summon the creative energy to go one better than the patriotic fluff they were ordered to make. Grandmasters of lasting stiff-lippery are, of course, The Archers, and the many delights of this film speak for themselves – the charming Old Englishry of the opening radio exchange, the ethereal glimpses of a bureaucratic Heaven (there’s something about black-and-white matte painting that beats its colour equivalent hollow), the Technicolour/black-and-white switch (knowingly tricksy, but handled with a sure touch, and not over-milked) – the list goes on. Of course, the England, and indeed the world depicted herein are as long-vanished as the war itself, but you don’t have to be a High Tory to fall in love with this smartly woozy call to arms these days – an eye and a heart are all that’s necessary. Ignore the dated politicking of the celestial courtroom scenes, there’s so much more than bluff national defiance on show here.
TV CREAM SAYS: A SINGULAR MASTERPIECE
There’s a time in every studio executive’s life when he has to bow to the inevitable and greenlight a talking penis film, and Columbia boss David Puttnam was no exception. Griffin Dunne, the decomposing companion off of American Werewolf, is the hapless owner of the prolix glans, whi-hi-hich ge-he-hets him in a whole heap of trouble with the ladies! Adapted from a book – not the Wicked Willie stories as you might think, but a novel from the same bloke who wrote the book Jean-Luc Godard turned into respected classic Le Mepris. Which was presumably uppermost in Dave’s mind as he pressed that magic green button for this load of – in all senses – cobblers.
TV CREAM SAYS: "EVENING, COCK!"
Decidedly wayward adaptation of abstruse and famously not bothered Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing’s tale of a marble-shedding Julie Christie holed up in a feral future London with a teenage girl. An odd mixture of Survivors (Christopher Guard runs a back-to-nature commune) and any number of ‘spooky’ children’s TV serials from the 1970s, when Julie finds – or probably hallucinates – a portal to a Victorian household headed by Nigel Hawthorne behind a rubbery wall in her flat. It all leads up to Guard’s kiddie commune rampaging the dirty streets, before a big egg turns up in Julie’s flat and everybody climbs into it. The combination of iffy effects, egg-and-chips direction and an omnipresent plonking Radiophonic-esque soundtrack lock this future firmly in a very specific past. And all the better for it, of course.