Not a film version of the old STV afternoon political boreathon but instead the glorious topical romp with an impeccably on-form Ian Carmichael getting embroiled in all the tawdry bluff nonsense of British post-War, pre-Wilson politics. Looking down the list of candidates: Alistair `modesty forbids me from telling you precisely where you can send your daughters’ Sim, Richard `Sykes’ Wattis, Eric `stern glasses’ Barker, Leslie `Sod off!’ Dwyer, Irene `Who of?’ Handl and Hattie Jacques.Read More
Posts Tagged With 'Richard Wattis'
You’ve got to love that mid-’70s fad for making films of sitcoms, even ones that, like this feuding funeral directors farce, weren’t at all popular in the first place. Misplaced corpses, a memorial statue, a cremated casket full of hash, a will that inevitably keeps blowing out of people’s hands and some magnificently empty ’70s motorways provide the plot’s weak backbone, and the end result is – yep, a stoned comedy chase scene. Bill ‘Giddy Game Show’ Fraser, Roy ‘Hardwicke House’ Kinnear, Sue ‘Crossroads’ Lloyd, Richard ‘Sykes’ Wattis, Frank ‘Served?’ Thornton, Bob ‘Steam Video’ Todd, Hugh ‘Pardon My Genie’ Paddick, Michael ‘Buses’ Robbins and Michael ‘Hot Mum’ Knowles take part.Read More
Frankie Howerd plays – oh yes! – Willie Joy, owner of a feckless greyhound which can’t race, but lands him in a whole heap of trouble! Marvellous. Stanley Holloway, Alfie Bass, Bill Fraser, Richard Wattis, Joan Hickson, Lionel Jeffries, Arthur Mullard and Charles Hawtrey are the faces to stay awake for.Read More
Ingrid Bergman runs a chiropodist’s-cum-pub in China, woos Curt Jurgens and spreads The Good Word in this serene period piece. Don’t be too shocked if Bert Kwouk and Richard ‘Sykes’ Wattis turn up.Read More
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.Read More
ALBUM, THE SILENT COMEDY SHORT FILM’S WHITE – You may have noticed we’ve taken a different approach with this one, and there’s a sort of reason for that. What we’re dealing with here is, like, cosmic, right? This visionary film has been dismissed as a plotless fashion shoot, a load of moving colour supplement features interspersed with silent comedy antics of the calibre Eric Sykes and even Graham Stark would reject. (And as we know, it’s the silent comedy antics Eric Sykes rejects, which make Eric Sykes’s silent comedy antics the best.) This is because those critics, y’know, don’t have the vision to appreciate this film’s, y’know, vision. Right? So, in a break with established critical tradition, and possibly also in a spiteful ‘well if they can’t be bothered making a proper film we can’t be bothered writing a proper review’ mood, here’s our disjointed, half-baked collection of gnomic utterances about a likewise-made film that can barely said to be there at all. See Amoebas, human beings the size of; Synopsis, go on, at least make a stab at a;
AMOEBAS, HUMAN BEINGS THE SIZE OF – The plot, such as it is, revolves around a ‘science-vs.-swingers’ setup. Jack MacGowran is an absent-minded man of medicine who spends all day looking down microscopes, but hey! Maybe there’s more to the world than Stuffy Old Science can imagine. He could do with another sort of microscope to examine another sort of inner space, huh gang? See Amsterdam, what businessmen get up to in; Bong, pratting about with an outsize; Box, I’d better conceal this sticky bun by placing it precariously on the edge of this; Brunettes, cheating on Jane Birkin with several; Fez, someone wearing a; Mankind, I’m carrying out experiments of the greatest of importance to; Pastry, Mr.
AMSTERDAM, WHAT BUSINESSMEN GET UP TO IN – See Bananas, have you got any spare; Bong, pratting about with an outsize; Car, my wallet’s in the; Foil, lounging about in the nip on some tin.
‘AND INTRODUCING THE FOOL!’ – A Dutch interior design collective, if you please, credited with decorating Birkin’s swinging split-level pad with swirly murals aplenty. The results are exactly as you might imagine, which is not necessarily a good thing. See Bong, pratting about with an outsize.
BANANAS, HAVE YOU GOT ANY SPARE – A very unconvincing thing to want to come round to MacGowran’s place to want to casually borrow. Just what is your game, Quarrier? See Quarrier, Ian.
BIRKIN, HALLUCINATING A STRANGE HYBRID OF A FISH AND JANE – Too much sitting round at home watching Bird’s Eye Menu Masters ads. (‘For the busy lifestyle you lead today.’) See Birkin, Jane.
BIRKIN, JANE - Less than a year away here from getting banned from the East Finchley Boy Scout’s club! See Pallenberg, Anita.
BLOOD, HER OFF OF THE STONES OF – Jack MacGowran’s dead mother, aka Beatrice Lehmann. Her father was humorist Rudolph Chambers Lehmann, her great-uncle was the painter Henri Lehmann, her brother was essayist and poet John Lehmann, and her sister was novelist Rosamond Lehmann. See ‘Rosewood, mahogany, teak?’
BONG, PRATTING ABOUT WITH AN OUTSIZE – Much of this, inevitably, by La Birk, El Quarry, and assorted hired goons. I think there might be The Fool in there too. Hum. See ‘And introducing The Fool!’
BONGO, MAGIC CONSULTANT ALI - One of many countercultural icons conspicuous by their absence. See Chuckle Dandies, The.
BOX, I’D BETTER CONCEAL THIS STICKY BUN BY PLACING IT PRECARIOUSLY ON THE EDGE OF THIS – The painting on the professor’s side of the “wonderwall” is a colorization of “The Passing of Arthur” [black and white illustration] by Florence Harrison from Tennyson’s “Guinevere and Other Poems”. London: Blackie & Son, . The original illustration has the caption “Morte d’Arthur”; it is not to be confused with the color illustration with the same title, done by the same artist for the same book. See Team, The Wonderwall Restoration.
BRAS, THE LADIES’ – Would’ve made a more appropriate soundtrack.
BREAK, SHE’S GETTING SO UPTIGHT I DON’T KNOW WHICH WAY TO – This is no way to talk, hipster or no hipster. ‘You owe it to yourself, Ian!’
BRUNETTES, CHEATING ON JANE BIRKIN WITH SEVERAL – see Quarrier, Ian.
BUTTERFLIES, BADLY ANIMATED – Flying about to comedy boingy sitar stuff. A possibly less than gobsmacking special effect. See Glass, wall magically turning into.
CANNES – This premiered on The Croisette in 1968, no less. History, or at least the bit we’ve bothered to look at, does not recall how many backers beat a slavering path to Compton’s door after the first exhibition screening. See Car, my wallet’s in the; Him!, I seen him I seen.
CAR, MY WALLET’S IN THE – And now back to the wall.
CARDS, MACGOWRAN’S LITTLE SET OF ‘THINGS TO DO’ INDEX - He’s so absent minded, you see, he needs to put these cards in his pocket to remind him to put his jacket on. What is this, A Hitch in Time? See Dunn, Clive.
CHUCKLE DANDIES, THE - Two far-out fellers in pirate clobber who run up in a bottle green Bond Bug with a cardboard standee in the back, which they lug up to Birkin’s flat. One will grow up to become Ian Quarrier. See Quarrier, Ian.
CLEARLY, WELL YES OF COURSE - But then Taxi Driver didn’t end with a nudie version of the National Film Board of Canada’s Cosmic Zoom film. See Demarcation.
CLOTHES SHOW ROADSHOW, THE – Jane Birkin is permanently knackered, like Selina Scott.
COLLEGES, PROGRAMMES FOR SCHOOLS AND - Shameful old MacGowran throws a psychotic sickie at work (‘I can’t see her anymore!’ he screams into the microscope) so Perkins takes him home. Sadly no bugger’s in next door. Ha! Busted! See Perkins.
COLOUR, YOU LOOK QUITE OFF – Ideal dialogue cue at which to turn the picture black and white.
CONVERSATION, THE - MacGowran bugs Birkin’s pad, but hears only bland, aimless nonsense conversations made up of ad slogans. See Florette, screenplay by the author of Jean De.
DEMARCATION – There seems to have been some confusion in apportioning the various departments for this film. It’s like the people behind 2001 and The Plank had pooled their resources, only the job of writing funny gags went to the crew off 2001, and the job of providing a strong metaphysical story went to…the crew off of 2001.
DIALS, MASSIVE BAKELITE – Well, you’ve got to find visual sustenance somewhere. These are massive indeed, and are stuck to the front of a great big engine of some sort supposedly outside the lab, though the tiled walls make it look like a gents lav at King’s Cross. See Pissing gag.
DOGSY’S DINNER – If Noel Gallagher has actually ever managed to sit all the way through this film, even in ten-minute YouTube chunks, we’ll eat our silver cloche hats.
DRIVER, YOU KNOW MAN THERE AIN’T NO FILM BETTER THAN TAXI - Loner saves girl from countercultural hell and denouement is revealed in pan across ‘Scientist Saves Fashion Model’ newspaper headlines a good decade before Marty did it. Coincidence? See Clearly, well yes of course.
DRONE-IN, THE 1968 NON-DENOMINATIONAL WORLD MUSIC – Is about to be opened by Eagle-Eye Cherry. See Four, The Remo.
DUNN, CLIVE – Another of MacGowran’s models for the prof. See MacGowran, Jack; Pastry, Mr.; Frankenstein, Gene Wilder in Young; Who, Peter Cushing’s ill-advised cinematic portrayal of Doctor.
FAR, NEAR AND – We swear that schools’ programme’s queasily vertiginous scraping theme is in use during the film’s climactic Metropolis rip-off. See Colleges, Programmes for Schools and; Rip-off, Metropolis.
FAVOURS, FEATHERS AND – The model for this film’s screenplay. See Florette, screenplay by the author of Jean De.
FEZ, SOMEONE WEARING A – Too little, too late to win our forgiveness. See Bongo, Magic Consultant Ali.
FIDO – MacGowran’s dog. This, like his mum, is of course also dead. But this one’s stuffed and all. See Wheelchair, Clive Dunn’s dead mother’s.
FLORETTE, SCREENPLAY BY THE AUTHOR OF JEAN DE - Hey, who knew? See Cannes.
FOIL, LOUNGING ABOUT IN THE NIP ON SOME TIN – A fine way to spend a Saturday afternoon. See Hotpants.
FOUR, THE REMO - Or are they The New Dakotas? See Harrison, George MBE.
FRANKENSTEIN, GENE WILDER IN YOUNG – Another of MacGowran’s models for the prof. See Dunn, Clive; MacGowran, Jack; Pastry, Mr.; Who, Peter Cushing’s ill-advised cinematic portrayal of Doctor.
GLASS, WALL MAGICALLY TURNS INTO – The moment it becomes clear we’re into ‘Final Episode of The Prisoner‘ territory. See Horse, rocking.
‘HALLUCINATORY DESIGN, HIP FASHIONS AND SEXY ENERGY!’ - Well, you can make trailers say anything you want. See Cannes; Tenser, Tony.
HARRISON, GEORGE MBE – Provides the soundtrack. All his own work, natch. See Drone-In, The 1968 Non-Denominational World Music. Also in the mix are Ringo, Clapton and Peter Tork on Paul McCartney’s banjo. See Street, Give My Regards to Broad.
HIM!, I SEEN HIM I SEEN - This film was, famously, ‘never shown’. Only of course, it was, in Cannes and at the Cinecenta, whatever that was. But ‘never’ sounds better. If you’re Stephen Pile, anyway. See Cannes.
HOLE - Projects silhouettes of Birkin, James Bond title sequence style, onto MacGowran’s face. See Interstitials, Psychedelic Teabreak.
HORSE, ROCKING - What Birkin sits on for the worst telephone acting ever seen as she ‘argues’ with her ‘agent’.
HOTPANTS - As modelled by La Birk and ‘friend’ to whimsical organ music. See Clothes Show Roadshow, The.
ICE, A FRIDGE FULL OF – Ideal subject for an extended slapstick gag. See Bananas, have you got any spare.
INSECTS – Loads of them, in tanks and pinned up in cases. Suitably fusty and creepy atmosphere easily obtained with a few shillings and a ticket to Portobello Road. (NB a similar prop buying jamboree held today would result in the set being dressed with five disposable cigarette lighters, two of which are working.) See Butterflies, badly animated.
INSTRUMENT, CUNNINGLY REVERSED TAPE LOOPS OF AN UNIDENTIFIABLE STRINGED - Ideal accompaniment to a series of Rentaghost-style apparitions.
INTERSTITIALS, PSYCHEDELIC TEABREAK - Well, it beats ‘best drink of the day’.
JACK, A LATE-IN-THE-DAY BUT STILL AGREEABLY STRONG SURGE IN GENUINE DAFFY LIKEABILITY FROM - But you have to ask – Where? Was? The Defence?
KILLERS, THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE - Jack MacGowran’s Oscar Collins is a, er, close cousin to Jack MacGowran’s decrepit Professor Abronsius. See Pyke, Magnus.
LIGHT, LOVELY OLD ZEFFIRELLI STYLE DUSTY BEAMS OF - If in doubt, bung out the old favourites. See Pissing gag.
LOVE, REFLECTIONS ON – An earlier short film collaboration between Massot and Harrison, which is slapped on the DVD, though we haven’t bothered with it for…one reason and another. See Harrison, George MBE; Massot, Joe; Shaker, contains a new musical soundtrack by Kula.
MACGOWRAN, JACK – Far from at his best here, but still the only interesting thing on the screen. See Dunn, Clive; Frankenstein, Gene Wilder in Young; Jack, a late-in-the-day but still agreeably strong surge in genuine daffy likeability from; Over, falling; Pastry, Mr; Who, Peter Cushing’s ill-advised cinematic portrayal of Doctor.
MANKIND, I’M CARRYING OUT EXPERIMENTS OF THE GREATEST OF IMPORTANCE TO – Perkins is not convinced. See Perkins.
MASK, A GAS – What La Birk sports during one photo shoot. Heavy symbolism no doubt attached. See Pissing gag.
MASSOT, JOE - This film’s elusive director. He made whimsical, Beatle-featuring ‘ain’t love grand, like’ short Reflections on Love, during which he ‘got in’ enough with the Fabs to ensure George’s co-operation on The ‘Wall. After that was seen by about twenty people down the Cinecenta he helped George Lazenby write Universal Soldier, which was Big Fry’s big vanity project that was going to be bigger and better than any Bond film ever (and despite some nifty hovercraft and Germaine Greer as a Bond girl, it wasn’t). He was also mixed up in woeful Country Joe-soundtracked and balsa-built ‘electric western’ Zachariah, before getting back behind the camera for Zep concert flick The Song Remains the Same, and was last properly active over twenty years ago helming Space Riders, a duller-than-it-sounds montage of motocross action to a Queen soundtrack. See Pilgrim, The Passionate.
MOVIE, DIRTY – ‘Bloody hell! Bloody hell! Bloody hell!’ See Ronnies, those shabby and rather unnerving first series episodes of The Two.
NAKED YOGA, AND NOW ON CHANNEL FOUR ITS JUST COMING UP TO MIDNIGHT AND TIME FOR A SPOT OF - Capture cards at the ready, kids!
OVER, FALLING – Good old falling over. See Pastry, Mr.
PALLENBERG, ANITA - She’s… she’s there, too. See ‘And introducing The Fool!’
PASTRY, MR – Another of MacGowran’s models for the prof. See Dunn, Clive; Frankenstein, Gene Wilder in Young; MacGowran, Jack; Who, Peter Cushing’s ill-advised cinematic portrayal of Doctor.
PERKINS – MacGowran’s number two in the lab, as portrayed by Richard Wattis. He really cares.
PIANO, SPED-UP WILD WEST SALOON BAR – The perfect accompaniment to a slapstick DIY montage. See Slapstick, DIY.
PILGRIM, THE PASSIONATE – Or is it a parody of Blow-Up? Anyway, it’s a dream sequence with MacGowran in magician’s cape duelling with La Birk’s blonde bit on the side in a Superman costume halfway up Box Hill or somesuch, to the tortuous strains of some very Magic Alex experimental accompaniment. Birkin drags a piano about. MacGowran capers along with a giant prop pen to a comedy dinging sound. Amidst all of this Birkin, it scarcely needs to be said, is no Madeline Smith. See Problem, Professor Popper’s.
PILLS, COR BLIMEY – As the hugely symbolic al fresco pretend wedding comes to a climax, MacGowran dons a turban and settles down to a nice big bong, and a few of these. See Bong, pratting about with an outsize; Suicide, Rock ‘N’ Roll; Wedding, hugely symbolic al fresco pretend.
PISSING GAG – It may sound like he is, but it’s just harmless water! See Routine, the old ‘Turn the Hoover off!’ ‘I can’t hear you! I’ll just turn the Hoover off!’.
PROBLEM, PROFESSOR POPPER’S - Then suddenly him and the blonde bloke are arsing around by a flyover with a seven-foot packet of Player’s No. 6. The blond spears him with a giant lipstick. MacGowran wakes up to a hefty invoice from ITC’s Avengers props department.
PUREFOY, MRS - The charlady who interrupts MacGowran’s randy snooping with the Hoover. And a complete and utter waste of Irene Handl.
PYKE, MAGNUS – See Pastry, Mr.
QUARRIER, IAN – Birkin’s Canadian love interest and imaginary ‘foe’ of MacGowran’s quaint fantasies. Was also the gay vampire up against MacGowran’s Professor Abronsius in The Fearless Vampire Killers. Aha! See Killers, The Fearless Vampire; MacGowran, Jack; Pilgrim, The Passionate.
REASON, BRIEF INTERLUDE IN BLACK AND WHITE FOR ABSOLUTELY NO – You’re only making things worse for yourself, you know.
REFRAIN, THE THEME TUNE’S UNMISTAKABLE - ‘Who am I?/That you know my name?/Who am I? Ba da da da!’
RIP-OFF, METROPOLIS – The beam engine in this weird Victorian pumping station that’s somehow a vital part of MacGowran’s cash-strapped amoeba research laboratory, even though it’s apparently located in the gents’ at King’s Cross, goes berserk. See Dials, massive Bakelite ; Far, Near and.
RONNIES, THOSE SHABBY AND RATHER UNNERVING FIRST SERIES EPISODES OF THE TWO - What this film most resembles in tone. Broad and not yet fully funny comedy sketches interrupted by dull, under-choreographed Pan’s People routines.
‘ROSEWOOD, MAHOGANY, TEAK?’ – This film’s props budget appears to be split 50-50 between hats and shelving.
ROUTINE, THE OLD ‘TURN THE HOOVER OFF!’ ‘I CAN’T HEAR YOU! I’LL JUST TURN THE HOOVER OFF!’ - see Routine, the very old ‘still shouting after Hoover’s been turned off’.
ROUTINE, THE VERY OLD ‘STILL SHOUTING AFTER HOOVER’S BEEN TURNED OFF’ - see Movie, Dirty; Purefoy, Mrs; Routine, the old ‘Turn the Hoover off!’ ‘I can’t hear you! I’ll just turn the Hoover off!’.
SHAKER, CONTAINS A NEW MUSICAL SOUNDTRACK BY KULA – For God’s sake, why?
SLAPSTICK, DIY – Once with a drill, once tidying up those insects, once taking the ceiling down so he can climb through the roof. All undercranked, none especially funny. But MacGowran does do all his own stunts. See Over, falling.
SLOMAN, ANTHONY BARNEY – Assistant editor. He once finished second on the BBC quiz programme Film Buff of the Year.
SPLIT, I HAVE TO - ‘She’s got a cover in Vogue. The cycle of Pisces is coming to an end. Thanks for everything, prof. It was beautiful.’
SPOILER, PLOT - She’s pregnant. See Suicide, Rock ‘N’ Roll.
STREET, GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD - ‘Hey, Macca! That Good Old Days sketch with Bryan Brown! Nice one!’
SUICIDE, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL - And she wants out. See Spoiler, plot.
SUNGLASSES, THICK PLASTIC OWL-RIMMED – Present and correct, natch.
SYNOPSIS, GO ON, AT LEAST MAKE A STAB AT A - Oh, all right… Stuffy, absent-minded professor Oscar Collins (Jack MacGowran) takes his bacteria-studying work home with him. When a weekend spent on the microscope is interrupted by some wheedling cod-Indian music, he peers through a hole in the wall and sees next door’s flat, a modish photographic studio inhabited by phwoargeous model Penny Lane (Jane Birkin). Thus begins a charming, innocent and not at all distastefully grubby obsession. See Spoiler, plot.
TEAM, THE WONDERWALL RESTORATION – When it came to re-master the film for the 30th anniversary, the optical soundtrack on the original print had deteriorated to the point of uselessness, so a new soundtrack had to be mastered from scratch. While this was going on, director Joe Massot included In the First Place, a track Harrison had at the time thought ‘inappropriate’ for the film. Fascinating stuff, we’re sure you’ll agree.
TENSER, TONY - Yes, this is a Compton Film, and was marketed as such. See ‘Hallucinatory design, hip fashions and sexy energy!’
THESE, ON DAYS LIKE – What the film’s main theme drone, bizarrely enough, most resembles. See Titles, some more of those crazy soundtrack.
TITLES, SOME MORE OF THOSE CRAZY SOUNDTRACK - Microbes, Drilling a Home, Wonderwall to Be Here, Singing Om, Party Secombe, Greasy Legs. See Tremoloes, stone me, are you still with the.
TIZIZER, I’S GOT THE ‘IZE’ ‘COS I’M DRIZINKING - ‘I didn’t understand that.’ ‘Did you understand that?’ ‘I didn’t understand that. Curious noise.’ ‘Curious noise.’
TONGS, THE SUGAR - ‘No, no, Perkins! Not with the sugar tongs! She’s too delicate! Mother, is that you?’
TREMOLOES, STONE ME, ARE YOU STILL WITH THE – ‘Olympus Trip? You want to get yourself a complicated camera, mate!’ See Up, Blow.
UP, BLOW – Birkin was in that, too, of course. What significance this holds goodness knows. See Wedding, a hugely symbolic al fresco pretend.
VIOLINS, CRYING - Ideal accompaniment to a tearful row between Birkin and Quarrier. No, really, couldn’t be less irritating if it tried.
WALLPAPER, THE FINAL, FULL-ON REVEAL OF THE FOOL’S PAINSTAKINGLY DESIGNED, UP-TO-THE-SECOND, ULTRA-TURNED-ON GROOVY PAD SHAMEFULLY CONSISTING OF AN ABANDONED CHAPEL COVERED IN BROWN AND ORANGE FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN ABSTRACT – What a let-down!
WARDROBE, QUICK JACK, SOMEONE’S COMING, GET IN THE – Well, it worked in Monique.
WEDDING, A HUGELY SYMBOLIC AL FRESCO PRETEND – Yes, very Last Week at Minehead Butlin’s. See Pilgrim, The Passionate.
WHEEDLING – What most of Harrison MBE’s soundtrack just sits there doing. See Harrison, George MBE.
WHEELCHAIR, CLIVE DUNN’S DEAD MOTHER’S - A played-for-laffs horror scene involves MacGowran’s dead mater wheeling herself through the door and generally having an echoey go at the old duffer. See Blood, her off of The Stones of.
WHO, PETER CUSHING’S ILL-ADVISED CINEMATIC PORTRAYAL OF DOCTOR - Another soft centre! See Blood, her off of The Stones of.
WONDERCEILING – A doomed attempt to extend the brand in the film’s closing minutes. It’s an odd film, clearly, but its motives seem confused too, particularly in that suicide ending. So stuffy old Tories like MacGowran should ‘keep an eye’ on the Beautiful People just in case they accidentally throw themselves off the twig, is that it? Hardly the revolutionary social manifesto you’d expect from a genuine Summer of Love film. ‘Turn on, tune in…take care!’ See Car, my wallet’s in the.
WORLD, THE BEST RECEPTION MANAGER OF ANY AIRLINE IN THE - See Perkins.Read More
THE PLOT: It’s the Swinging Londons, and ex-pat American Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) goes to collect her four-year-old-daughter Bunny from nursery school. But lo! She’s nowhere to be seen. Even more sinisterly, no-one aside from Ann seems to have any memory of her ever being there. Ann calls in her fresh-faced boy reporter brother Stephen (Kier Dullea) to help. Inspector Newhouse of Scotland Yard (Laurence Olivier) gets involved. Gradually Ann’s flaky mental history comes to the surface. Could Bunny be completely imaginary, or is something more sinister afoot? Are things as they seem to be? Why are we asking you?
From the jaggedy, paper-tearing Saul Bass titles, through the angular ‘modern jazz’ score (which cleverly replays the same theme throughout in various styles and cuts of goatee) to those early and rather tasty crane shots, this box office floperoo sets itself up right away as heir very presumptive to the all-conquering Hitchcock bandwagon, then still perceived as the peak of suspense filmmaking in Psycho‘s considerable wake, even though Sir Alf had by this stage pretty much shot his portly wad and was reduced to farting about with back projection, mirrors and the annoying Tippi Hedren. This superficially shameless coattail-riding, plus the commercial failure, has marked this film out as yet another cobblers ‘me too’ knock-off among the more quince-headed of opinion-formers. And do you know, there’s a good chance they’ve got it all wrong.
The talent lines up thus – in the American corner, there’s Otto Preminger. Oh, all right, he’s Viennese, but right now, in what people who want to sound serious and knowledgeable without saying much of any interest at all would call his ‘late period’ – more usefully described as halfway between Anatomy of a Murder and Skidoo, and not just in chronological terms as we’ll see – he’s as American a director, in the respected sense at least, as you can get. He’s backed up by Columbia, a much-maligned studio, but a big one from the Golden Hollywood Era nonetheless. This is, we’re clumsily trying to say, an American film as far as Variety would be concerned. ‘YANKS GO SWINGING FOR BRIT-SET SUSPENSER,’ they’d no doubt muse, in their pithy, Enigma Code style.
Now for the Brits. Otto’s helped out with photography by Denys Coop, whose CV is a roll-call of British Film Forever-approved classics – This Sporting Life, Billy Liar, 10 Rillington Place, Ryan’s Daughter – interspersed with a goodly amount of Creamguide favourites – A Home of Your Own, Asylum, Three Cases of Murder, Superman II. He knows how to point a camera at Sylvia Syms without getting his thumbs in front of the lens, let’s put it that way. And some of the stuff he gets up to here under Premo’s tutelage – crazy angles, under lighting, some terrific tracking shots (an escape scene through a hospital boiler room looks frankly amazing) is as outstanding as the best bits of Bolex business any of the above have to offer. Plus it’s all shot in the official best format ever – widescreen, black and white, sharp and crisp and wildly uneven. Your eyes won’t start to stray idly off the screen and over to that poster of the chimp on the lavvy, we guarantee.
Then comes the script. Now, this is taken from a novel by Evelyn Piper, a Pennsylvanian old maid who seems as Yankee Doodle as they come. But look at that synopsis again. Stick seventy-odd years on Bunny and she becomes Miss Froy, the equally mysterious vanishee off of The Lady Vanishes, which is as English as they come. (Voice from the Back: ‘Yes, but that was itself adapted from The Wheel Spins by one Ethel White, who was from Wales! Aaaaaah!’ Creamguide: ‘Pipe down, rub-a-dub!’) And anyway, that novel’s been stripped down and decked out according to the tastes of screenwriters John and Penelope Mortimer, he penning this in between sketches for post-TW3 satire show BBC3 (wonder if he did that musical number about groovy bus conductors in flares that Bill Oddie was in?), she having just had her book The Pumpkin Eater bunged on the big screen by a certain H Pinter. All things considered, them writes good.
So Americans call the shots, wield the cash and stump up for the half-time Bovril, but the script and camerawork – the guts of any decent film – are as British as nationalised Marmite. Confused? You will be, as we get to the cast and the meat of the whole film, in which Uncle Sam is similarly held to ransom by plucky little John Bull and his pork pie-eating chums. Columbia naturally insisted the young sexy leads are as apple pie as they are frighteningly blonde; all the other parts call for character (Hollywood slang for ‘proper’) actors. And character actor at this point in time meant British actor. (OK, you could still have had Edward Everett Horton, but he was busy that year impersonating a chicken in prestigious TV series like Batman and F Troop.) Basically, think of this film’s cast, and indeed plot, as a version of the Dad’s Army titles, but with US flags on the British arrows and British insignia where the swastikas were. Trust us, it’ll help in the long run.
Now, bearing all this wearisome theorising in mind, let’s run down the cast, but via the scenic route rather than Columbia’s preferred billing order. Ann Lake’s landlord is Horatio Wilson, played by Noel Coward in full-on bravura style. A self-styled ‘poet, playwright, dropper of alcoholic bricks’ just in from ‘wettest Worcester’, though now sadly reduced to voice-overs on the BBC (his voice ‘seems to unleash whole hurricanes of passion in the breasts of the females who watch me’) and singing ‘rude old welsh ballads [...] and all in exchange for one whisky, served to me in the first aid room’. Meantime, he shambles around the apartments he owns, peering at the Lakes’ comings and goings, in a moth-eaten cardigan, and more often than not toting a lapdog under his arm. He’s that ‘Don’t you have dogs in Calcutta?’ guest off of Fawlty Towers in emaciated Robert Morley form, and as such could not be a jot more perniciously horrifying even if he was given a talking umbrella and the ability to fly up into your knickers.
Coward takes a supercilious dislike to the Lakes immediately, in the manner of most middle-class Brits looking down their brandy-sniffing noses at their rich but unforgivably uncultured, pastrami-scoffing, faucet-turning, Transatlantic brethren. Bunny’s name is a sticking point, for instance. it reminds Coward of bunny rabbits, ‘with those long mean heads and those wet noses going up and down all the time’. He’s brilliantly, sinisterly superior, sarcastic and snooty. Perhaps things go a bit too overtly sinister when he reveals his collection of sadistic toys, including a whip which he runs over his cheek in a mightily off-putting shot, and that old favourite of ’60s gentlemen perverts, the skull of the Marquis De Sade (‘at least, that’s what they told me in the Caledonian Market’).
And the list of character gems doesn’t stop there. Upstairs at the school, there’s lonely old Martita Hunt, the school’s founder, who sits with the blinds drawn amongst her sinister collection of children’s ephemera. Elsewhere in the building Anna Massey, the school’s headmistress, is domineering and dotty by turns, arguing over the proper consistency of the children’s junket with Lucie Mannheim’s bolshy Germanic cook.
As the louchely antagonistic Superintendent Newhouse, Olivier is – like, duh – great. he’s understated compared to both the British fruity turns and the hysterical corn of the Yanks, but he never fades into that richly-detailed background – he goes on quietly building up a genuinely complex and original take on the old ‘maverick detective’ chestnut. Often he seems not to care much about the case, breaking off into random snippets of folk wisdom (‘bus conductors are rarely observant, they tend to be dreamers, philosophers, that sort of thing’) or pure whimsy (Greek poetry is ‘like a Welsh person gargling with molasses’). He even digs ravenously into Mannheim’s school junket to sustain him on his beat. But soon he does get more involved, showing Lynley an old family snap of his taken at Cromer sands on a dull August afternoon. It’s a significant moment for another reason, as this sort of thing – a dreary fragment of old British nostalgia – is exactly what this picture sounds like, in terms of its dialogue, even if it looks pin sharp, well-composed and deep focussingly, slickly American.
The Americans themselves are bound to look flat against all this, and the pair chosen here are especially prostrate. Kier Dullea, as ever, lives up to the first syllable of his surname with an all-American jut-jawed performance that could only get good reviews from the Forestry Commission. But poor old Ann Lake (Carol Lynley), the uber-earnest American in trouble, gets it from both barrels. As well as Coward’s non-stop smarm-up, Olivier’s detective doesn’t much like her tone. And it’s easy to see why – she’s a sub-Hitchcock blonde, a Tippi Hedren-style vacuum from a by-the-numbers whodunit fallen into an Ealing comedy where everyone delights in their fruity one-liners and finicky character traits. What’s she got? A beehive and a startled expression? Hopeless! You’re not trying, dear. (As an aside, the studio wanted Jane Fonda to play Ann Lake, who might have put a bit more character into things, but maybe that’s just what Preminger, who vetoed that little decision, didn’t want.)
Speaking of character, we’re not yet finished with those fruity Brits. Finlay Currie is the kindly doll-maker who Lynley goes to in desperation. Bunny’s doll was sent to be mended, if they can find it that’s surely proof she’s not mad. Her search through the shop is made even weirder by inappropriately twee and upbeat music, as the place – all creepy flea-bitten toys shot by flashlight – looks hideous. This level of quality even goes down to the bit-parts – Richard Wattis’s stubbornly unhelpful shipping clerk, and John Sharp’s fingerprint duster, full of morbid seen-it-all gallows humour. Then there are blink-miss turns from the likes of Kika Markham, Adrienne Corri, Percy Herbert and even Tim Brinton (as himself, reading a news bulletin, which interrupts a too-long clip of The Zombies warbling away on the telly – Just Out of Reach, yeah, very subtle – in a wincingly gratuitous nod to Swinging London, which otherwise hardly figures in the film, concerned as it is with degradation of the Olde Worlde variety). Even in a late scene, when Lynley is finally driven mad by the barrage of hostile character actors and runs in desperation through crowded night time Soho, the seedy type she’s momentarily accosted by is no less a monocled personage than Fred Emney (‘Ello, my dear! What about a little drink and a dance?’) Sympathy with her has, needless to say, now risen from just above zero to bell-ringing heights.
All this welter of well-bred eccentricity and crumpet-munching terror builds up to that ending. Much has been written about the rightness or wrongness of the final reveal, and we won’t give it all away here, as this is a proper whodunit-style suspense film (‘No-one admitted while the clock is ticking!’ ran the tagline in true Psycho fashion). Suffice to say, it’s a very, very odd ending, almost queasily so, in a Last of the Timelords ‘Oh no, don’t bloody go there!’ stylee. But unlike that, it does make a nasty kind of sense out of the disjointedness that’s gone before, even if it’s some way off from the lofty total satisfaction of a classic Sherlock Holmes or Thriller denouement.
Then again, satisfaction is hardly what this sort of murder mystery is offering – unless, like Coward, you’re perversely up for a bit of sadistic discomfiting comfort. A cosy, Sunday afternoon, all-ends-tied-up pipe-and-slippers thriller this is not, unless the pipe’s lead and the slippers concrete. You’ll leave not on the safe note of a fireplace denouement, but the discordant note of that omnipresent jerky jazz score, with overtones of Lynley’s frightened sigh of a voice and that chorus of sinister children.
After you’ve folded up a napkin and scraped all that unpleasant taste off your tongue though, what remains is, in the end, oddly cockle-warming. More than a simple mystery, it’s a catalogue of derangement, with the top prizes going to those lovely old Brits. As we’ve said, this was a time when the US studios decided the UK – well, all right then, certain unbombed bits of North London – was where it was at it-wise, and what we’re seeing here is a transition from fruity Brits making cameos as butlers, dowagers and astonished grandees in all-American films, to Yank leading actors being shipped over the pond and thrown in amongst them. Finally, we get to meet the yanks on our terms, our lovely batty old character actors get a rare chance to play at home, and grasp it with both hands. And the result, as we see, is delirious panic, but always with a salty tang of black comedy running through it. But Brit viewers shouldn’t get too comfortable, because the most chilling ending of all is still to be played out, as we read: ‘Reese Witherspoon is developing a remake of Bunny Lake which she will produce and star in.’ A return match? Please, no!Read More
THE PLOT: Terrence Rattigan, creaky old warhorse of West End French window theatre, makes the final stand for old fashioned sighs-’n'-string-sections melodrama in a big ensemble piece centred on London’s fashionable London Airport’s fashionable VIP lounge. Among the passengers are: Paul Andros (Richard Burton) who’s dropping his wife Frances (Liz Taylor) off for a holiday, though she’s secretly going to dump him and fly off for a Stateside knee-trembler with the louche Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan); bonzer tractor magnate Les Mangrum (Rod Taylor) and his diligent secretary (Maggie Smith); arch film director Max Buba (Orson Welles) and the ditzy Duchess of Brighton (Margaret Rutherford). Will they get to their destinations? How will their stories all intertwine? It’s another busy day at… London Airport!
This one might make most sense if we trot through it as it comes at us, so please be patient. Being one of those Big Old MGM productions, this looks twice as ancient as it is. By the time this came out even Philip Larkin was turning on, but save a few bits of fitted furniture this could have been made at any time in the previous decade. The opening credits have been carefully thought out for one thing; a bit of curtain-up quaintness all the other studios stopped bothering with after Suez. We immediately open on a swish art deco gazebo hosting a lavish dinner party, at which Liz, Dick (he’s on a platter-mounted phone while at table – establish character!) and Louis moon about while their credits appear. Louis and Liz make faces at each other while Burton makes deals on the phone. So there’s your requisite romantic triangle of leads all nicely laid out at the start, like that cheery little cardboard diagram of where the wires go that comes helpfully impaled on the prongs of a 1 3-Amp plug.
The other stars get similar ‘in their natural environment’ treatment. Dame Margs is spotted in a churchyard, and establishes her ‘dotty yet indomitable’ character with a few quiet moves, emotional economy in action. Liz, take note! Next we see diligent but frustrated, as performed by Maggie Smith at a big old G-Plan office desk. Her boss Rod Taylor, meanwhile, languishes out among his tractors. Then, after Orson looms up in bashed hat and red scarf and mugs furiously at the lens, we get an unselfconsciously clichéd roll of red carpet over the film’s title. (Incidentally, the ‘fun’ doesn’t let up even as we go into the obligatory time-saving photomontage for the rest of the names: the 3/4 of a Punch reader’s dream bridge game that is Dennis Price, Richard Wattis and Ronald Fraser are represented on screen by the grills of Rolls-Royces to denote their well-bred nature, while David Frost is most amusingly symbolised by a Mini. Later, the ‘Miss Elizabeth Taylor’s wardrobe supplied by’ puff is represented with a shot of a moth eaten old cardie slung willy-nilly over a battered chair of the ‘seating for security guard in run-down stately home’ variety. We’re not exactly in Around the World in Eighty Days credits territory here, but they do try.
So, with that catalogue of jet-set accoutrements out of the way, time for the film proper, which will of course turn out to be an even longer catalogue of jet-set accoutrements, as becomes clear from the moment we see Orson’s Cadillac pull into the glory that was London Airport. It’s undeniably swish, is London, with the split-level hangar decked out in yellow and marble, so shot looking from the roof down it’s something of a Festival of Britain vision, but any glimpses of the out of town cash-and-carry roof give it all away.
The VIP restaurant fares better – no open plan EST bar or grim cod-Irish indoor pub for the first class set. It’s all brash-yet-tasteful square orange podia topped by jungle ferns. The high life! But we shouldn’t carp, as with package holidays still beyond most people’s pay packets, a big selling point of this film would really have been the chance to see what London Airport – indeed, any airport, actually looks like inside.
And we are really in the actual airport, as the shite dubbing quickly makes clear. We first get wind of the sound situation when Frostie turns up, playing an exaggerated version of his (reputed, at least) obsequious chat show persona, being all familiar with Welles while sticking the knife in. ‘Excuse me, Mr Buba, but aren’t you rather overweight?’ Orson: ‘???! Oh, the luggage!’ Thus are set both the silly tone of Orson’s comedy vignettes in this film, and the sound levels, Welles in particular, ever the king of atrocious dubbing, sounding like he’s in a Bird’s Eye pea voice over booth rather than standing in a big, echoey airport. Still, the brain adjusts after a while, as it adjusts to pretty much everything else slightly off kilter this film can throw at it, mainly because it’s got no choice.
Now here’s Richard Wattis as the brilliantly diligent VIP receptionist, full of just-below-panic-level flightiness and old world deference to his worthy charges. Seeing a well-loved British character actor ham it up with proper Hollywood stars is always a joy, even if the results aren’t comedy gold, and the rule holds here. When Burton admiringly dubs Wattis ‘the best reception manager of any airline in the world,’ we defy you not to lep ten feet in the air with pleasure.
For high comedy that works on its own terms as well, the wait is over. Enter Margs, fiddling about in a bottomless handbag for her vaccination certificate. ‘Do I really need one, In India I went through an epidemic of Black Water Fever… I’m not afraid of smallpox!’ Eventually she produces a ration book. ‘How did that get there?’ Margs hasn’t flown before, so she’s borrowed some ‘uppers’ from her maid, if you please. ‘It’s pepped me up all right! But not just up, in all directions!’ This is all, obviously, brilliant, but it slightly spoils things, in a way. Now the vicarious pleasures of watching the rest of the old school melodramatic shenanigans will be tempered by the desperate desire to see Margs back in action. There can never be enough of the old dear, and her absence casts a bit of a shadow over the violin-washed proceedings throughout.
Speaking of which, the least interesting and therefore biggest chunk of the narrative is choppered onto the airport concourse in an Eskimo coat. As Liz and Dick swan through to the bar, they happen upon Dick’s chum Marc. What a coincidence! ‘You, of all people!’ Meanwhile, Rod has arrived and is the latest contestant in the film’s game show, Waltz Up to Wattis. ‘Orlwroight there! Mangrum’s the name, chairman o’ Mangrum tractors! Brung us a noice, hut cuppa toy!’ Wattis guesses his antipodean roots. ‘Oi always thought oi spoke as English as Macmillan!’ He’s corny is Rod, but he’s a goofy bugger with it, which is more than you get from the film’s other businessman, Dicko.
Meanwhile Maggie Smith gets to communicate her frustration through long admiring looks as Rod yammers urgent business down the line. ‘Top Amalgamated’s offer by a shilling a share! A shilling a share!’ It’s Rod’s destiny to save his tractors via some convoluted ruse that’s incomprehensible to our tiny business-ignorant minds, but involves him having to get to his New York boardroom ahead of some cheque being cashed, or something.
Now Burton’s naffed off leaving Louis alone with Liz. (Incidentally, before this tale gets any duller, and it will exponentially, it’s worth mentioning Rattigan based this bit of the film on a true story, that of his old chum Laurence Olivier, who was cuckolded in just the same manner over Vivien Leigh by Peter Finch.) Louis bangs on about ‘playing the field’ and stiffing rich old duffers at cards. He’s the no good young gadabout, Burton the boring old tycoon. How closely these personas relate to Larry and Pete is uncertain. Liz, sporting so much hair lacquer and red lippy she resembles Ruth Madoc with a lardy cake on her head, voices suspicions of Burton’s suspicions of them. He called Louis a gigolo, she maintains, and Jourdan is outraged. ‘A gigolo?! The nerve! We just paid for these teas!’ he responds, weirdly.
Now over to Orson, trussed up in his coat like a fat Bernard Cribbins, or maybe a rapidly greying Paul Shane, discussing tax dodges with his loopy mitteleuropean financial guru. He must leave the country by midnight tonight to avoid losing a million quid to Hector the Inspector. And here comes Frostie again, Timmy Williams played by Timmy Williams. ‘Sorry, I wonder if I could impose on you some questions?’ Welles ignores him, preferring to patronise his daffy Euro-starlet accomplice, the subtly-named Gloria Gritti, played by Elsa Martinelli, who was in Welles’s The Trial at about this time, so we now know what he’s doing here – going through the motions to scare up some cash to pay off that film’s creditors. Which ties in nicely with the tax dodge storyline, which the stereotypically giggly and carefree actress now imprudently blurts out to Frostie.
Never mind that low comedy, high drama kicks in as… it’s announced fog will delay all flights for an hour. Thus the dilemmas are triggered. It transpires Taylor’s left a Dear John letter on Burton’s mantelpiece – there’s now a chance he might see it and come back to the airport before they’re out of it. Rod, obviously, is buggered if his arcane business meeting is missed. Welles will find his self-assessment form takes rather longer to fill in if there’s any further delay. And Margs will be so off her tits as to pose a major security alert. No doubt mulling all this over, the man at the top frets and ponders in his swish, panoramic-windowed office with the grave dynamism only Michael Hordern can give. The sheer scale of managing Britain’s busiest airport is made plain. ‘I have 27 flights due to take off this morning and some 3000 passengers on my hands!’ The Met Office (combined staff: Richard Briers) have let him down again. Hordern expresses his deep concern to a s hocked Wattis in grave yet bizarre terms. ‘If it gets any thicker even the pigeons’ll have to walk!’
Still, the VIPs are given complimentary luncheon vouchers, which placates the stoned Margs, at least. But the others have enough on their plates as it is. Liz phones home, and Burton answers. Ulp. Louis sorely tempts fate by musing ‘something tells me the next hour will drag a bit.’ Sure enough, here he comes, Louis suspecting he’s got a gun on him. They peg it to a safe enough distance to allow Liz to break down in a torrent of Rattigan’s finest cornball emotion. She is, unsurprisingly, having second thoughts about it all. ‘His face – I’ll never forget it as long as I live!’
Meanwhile Margs loads up still further. ‘I’ve got two enormous purple things here which apparently knock you out flat!’ Wattis ushers her onto an absurdly spacious plane (your captain: Terence Alexander), where she plonks herself down next to Clifton James and gets into a fine old contretemps with stewardess Moyra Fraser over a hatbox that won’t fit in the compartment. ‘Conductress!’ ‘Did someone call something?’ Moyra is supercilious to a fault, but Margs is more than a match. ‘If you wanted this with the rest of your luggage you should have thought of that before, shouldn’t you?’ ‘If that is a question to me personally, yes. [Tilts hat at rakish angle like Eric Morecambe doing a cod gangster pose prior to a vigorous 'now look sunshine'.] If it is a general comment about human behaviour it is an extremely unoriginal one, and hardly worth making. Kindly dispose of this hat box.’ Margs is, in her own words, ‘flying already’.
Time for more Hollywood star/Brit stalwart interfacing at the BOAC helpdesk with Orson Welles. Behind it, Lance Percival. ‘A million pounds? Now that’s quite a situation to be in I must say, sir!’ Further fog sends Margs off the plane and back into the bar for a large brandy. And now back to the wall, as Louis and Liz commence round two of Rattigan’s ratty dialogue tournament. Liz pours her heart out. Louis responds ‘please, don’t talk like a woman’s magazine!’ A fair point. But it’s better Terry sticks to airless clichés than tries to be witty off his own bat. Liz regards Louis as helpless. ‘Helpless? Me? The most notoriously self-sufficient character of the age?’ Just the sort of thing someone would say!
Burton corners Louis alone and points, but doesn’t fire, the gun, which he was carrying through the airport all the time. Simpler days… Burton instead indulges in that ‘chequebook generosity’ Liz has upbraided him for, and tries to buy Louis off with a cheque for ten grand, signed with a really big pen. But Louis won’t be bought, declaring his genuine love for Liz in phrase s brilliantly fashioned by Rattigan to sound not at all incongruous coming out of a Frenchman’s mouth. ‘You poor bloody idiot!’ I love her, Paul. The only woman in my life I ever have loved…’ Cue violins. Louis joins in the slagging of Burton’s expensive but thoughtless gifts. ‘She’d rather have had the odd toy duck from Woolworth’s if you’d chosen it yourself!’ Burton in turn impugns upon Louis’s good name. ‘You’re a gigolo! a buffoon! a professional diner outer!’ Louis tries to reason with him. ‘Killing me won’t get your wife back! e Eventually he leaves, and Liz looks even more bereft. Or is she just knackered?
She probably is, as all flights are grounded until morning, so we relocate to a swish hotel full of wedge-shaped G-Plan sofas, terracotta walls, ethnic sculptures bunged in crevices, cardboard lift doors and big brass urns full of bulrushes on plinths. Margs totters in accompanied by the Brass Eye Answer Prancer music. Orson’s accountant has ‘lost himself in the woods near somewhere called…Bore-Ham.’ And Liz continues to strop it out. There’s no sign here of the ‘any good’ Taylor of Virginia Woolf here, that’s for sure. mind you, with dialogue like Ratty’s, what’s there to be done except Mills-and-Boon it up? Cue strings again, as Louis gazes rapt into Liz’s limpid pools.
Outside, Orson, faced with bankruptcy, marries his star for a desperate, last minute tax break. But surely that’s only come into force during the next financial year? Maggie continues with her ‘nunnishly devoted secretary who looks increasingly like a brunette June Whitfield’ shtick as Rod drowns his sorrows. ‘Once the crocodiles get ya, ya stay got at!’ But at least they’re a bit silly. Back at the narrative coalface, Liz has teased a flange of hair our of her tonsorial lardy cake and put on a hot pink number. She and Burton engage in one of those big, tense, on-opposite-sides-of-the-room-looking-away-from-each-other whispered conversations. ‘No, Paul! It’s too late now!’ ‘Have these eleven years meant nothing to you?’ ‘I thought I was giving you enough! But I was wrong. You wanted more!’ ‘That’s the kind of husband I am!’ Finally he forces her arm through a mirrored wardrobe door. Undone by high rent glamour! ‘I don’t belong to anyone now! Love me yes, and need me above all, but… I’m a person!’
Now those narrative strands start coming together with subtle storytelling deftness. Or great big wodges of telegraphed clodhoppery, whichever is in readier supply. Maggie and Rod, now quite ‘squiffy’ after a conciliatory blow-out, spot the dejected Burton at the bar. Rod is in awe. ‘Comparing him to me is like comparing Sydney Harbour Bridge to a pontoon!’ Rod must have loved delivering that line. Spoiling the party, Rod’s missus, ex-Mrs Tyrone Power Linda Christian, turns up in her brand new leopard skin pill-box hat. Maggie mousily shrinks off, but plucks up enough mousey courage to beg Richard Burton for the requisite 150,000-odd smackeroos needed to save Rod’s tractor-making arse. Miraculously (read: astonishingly unconvincingly) he coughs up, signing the cheque with an even bigger pen, and Mags returns to Rodd triumphant. ‘Wacko! You little beauty!’ In something approaching a subtle touch, wifey is now all but forgotten, and slinks out as Mags and Rod go business bonker s together. Maggie is now all confident smouldering and tonsil-flaunting laughs, having gone on Her Journey in about four minutes flat. Still, it’s sweet enough, stopping recklessly just short of ‘without your glasses, you’re beautiful!’ territory.
Back downstairs, Burton is a broken man, cracking up in an uncannily similar way to Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther films. Let’s hope he doesn’t shoot off his nose with that gun the security staff presumably still haven’t found. Meanwhile Margs, not keen to go to bed, scores more amphetamines off the elderly night porter, who is of course Rutherford’s husband Stringer Davis doing his contractually obliged cameo. Suitably doped up, she goes into a reverie of Old England. ‘Do you know a village in Sussex called Thaxmead?’ She makes heavy use of that little ‘eyes shut, mouth makes little ‘Ooooh!’ of silent rapture’ expression Patricia Routledge would later employ in many a Kitty monologue.
The dawn is heralded with a stirring panoramic shot of the airfield with one plane on it. Wattis is fretting about a visiting Russian delegation. ‘Lay on champagne, caviar and cake. Some sort of Russian looking cake.’ Louis and Liz leave through the airport’s modernist stained glass lobby and into the Caddy with rotten back projection, looking even more incongruous than usual, as it’s Liz Taylor in front of a projection of some overcast rows of semis in Hounslow.
More story strands are ham-fistedly woven together as Welles eyes a stately home on a poster for a film location – which turns out to belong to Margs! The money’s good, and she no longer has to leave the country! Sadly that also means she’s no longer in this film, and the departure of her dowager Tom Baker feels like the end of the film. As indeed it is. Rod and Maggie finally cop off. Liz gets a suicide note from Dick, and makes her choice breathily. ‘I love you Marc, but I must leave you. You and I can never see each other as long as we live… Now go and catch that plane!’ A fur hatted Liz runs across the airport, in a big showy scene featuring all those duty free shops in full glory, to collapse in Burton’s arms outside London Airport’s equivalent of Waterstone’s. Her final words are uncannily like those which would end Boom! some five years later. ‘I’m so tired… take me home.’
Why is this dollop of mouldering chocolate box fluff so watchable? It can’t just be the table lamps. So why do we, died-in-the-wool Gone with the Wind haters that we are, love this sort of stuff? After all, MGM had barely changed their romantic drama style in the intervening 30-odd years between the two films. Perhaps it’s the fun of seeing an old warhorse of a sub-genre being unceremoniously packed off to the knacker’s yard, foaming slightly at the mouth. And speaking of Liz, well, she’s still firmly aping the old matinee idols here, but her impression’s too crap to tell if she’s trying to do Vivien Leigh or not. (We mean Gone with the Wind Vivien Leigh; we know she’s doing the standing-up-Sir-Larry Vivien Leigh. God, this gets confusing.) She certainly comes worst out of the three nascent Dames in the picture, Maggie trouncing all her tearful cupboard-clobbering self harm with a supressed whimper, and of course La Rutherford burying the both of them with, of all things, a comedy stoner act – thus ironically providing the only vaguely 1960s element of the film, as well as the only vaguely funny one.
Was Margs’s Oscar a bit OTT, a hasty ‘it’s for everything else she’s done, really’ gong flung at the venerable old bird on her final approach to the end eternal twig? Maybe, but she wipes everyone else off that slippy marble floor with ease, and deserved to beat even fellow ennobled nominee Edith Evans, who was up for Miss Western in Tom Jones, a film that had proper jokes in it and everything. And as well as the stars, there’s Orson Welles to show everyone how not to do a cameo – taking the piss, copping Rentaghost-sized double takes and generally treating the entire enterprise with such self-important contempt he might as well have studded the back of his coat with ‘I’m only doing this shite for the cash’ in rhinestones. The ego-free Margs relishes any work – no job too small, and no childishly indignant ‘I’m better than this!’ bluster for her. A proper pro at work. Dame 1, ‘Master’ 0. And we bet she does a mean frozen pea voiceover too.Read More