Swapsies

I’m sure I referred to the amusing titles of Peter Ustinov’s VICE VERSA years ago, but I can’t find the reference and so I’m guessing neither can you. Here we go:

The titles are presented as a slideshow complete with clunky transitions and mistakes. Ustinov’s celebrated wit is much in evidence, and it’s all very charming as well as funny. Better than the film, in fact, which is also good.

It used to be a truism that film’s with brilliant opening titles were always disappointing. This one is only a tiny bit disappointing. The pace is a little off and there are almost too many comic ideas to do justice to. Master Anthony Newley the child wonder is amazing though.

This is almost certainly Ustinov’s finest film as director — the year is 1948, possibly the peak of British cinema’s post-war creative boom, when even the minor filmmakers were often doing amazing work, as if creativity was in the air and they were breathing it in. The wild impulses of people like Powell & Pressburger were mainstream, part of the accepted stylistic palette directors and writers were expected to dip into. If you’re a British filmmaker today, you kind of have to be an outsider to be of any interest because the palette around you is hopelessly muddy. If you’re an American filmmaker, the problem is more to do with the acceptable story structures and character arcs, which have a way of turning even really interesting aesthetics into junk, because even a really inventive audiovisual idea at the service of banal material is going to come off as mediocre.

The other golden period for British film is circa 63-73, a remarkable run. There ought to have been another good bit in the intervening years but I’m not sure I can identify it. Suggestions welcome.

Back to VICE VERSA. Here’s a gallery:

Asides from Newley, James Robertson Justice makes a great early impression (all his previous roles since ’44 are small ones), Petula Clark is winning, Peter Jones as a superannuated school bully is great, a fellow named David Hutcheson is a great cad. Roger Livesey, who we worship, is maybe part of the pace problem, but he supplies a strong set of Blimpish characteristics for Newley to mimic (the plot is the old one about father and son switching places, this time via an Indian idol’s eye stolen from North of Kathmandu).

We double-billed it with the comparable retro-farce of ON APPROVAL, which is REALLY good.

6 Responses to “Swapsies”

  1. Mark Fuller Says:

    David Hutcheson was Clive Candy’s Officer buddy from the 1903 Turkish Bath sequence in Blimp. Was still playing largely the same character well into the 1970s.
    Peak periods of British filmmaking ?? 1927-1931 is worth a look. Peak Asquith, Hitchcock, Walter Summers silents and early talkies, plus Elvey’s Hindle Wakes and Brunel’s Constant Nymph.

  2. And yet the IMDb still doesn’t have a portrait of him. Can we fix this somehow?

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

  4. You an watch the entire title cards sequence (and the whole film) here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUnuJv5lhzs

  5. I recognise David Hutcheson’s name principally from The Abominable Dr. Phibes, where he suffered Death by Hail in the back of his limo.

  6. Ah yes, he’s one of The Ten!

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