Archive for Terry-Thomas

The Sunday Intertitle: Choccy Moloch

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2021 by dcairns

I’M ALL RIGHT JACK holds up better than the other Boulting Bros’ satires, I think. It’s unusual in that it’s a right-wing satire that’s actually funny. There is a slight attempt at even-handedness: when a worker explains that by having two unions, they can continually pressure the bosses to raise salaries, he adds that without this crafty approach, they wouldn’t get any raises at all. That’s a pretty minuscule sop.

So if the film, firing in all directions, is FOR anything, it’s for “compassionate capitalism.” If the workers are treated fairly by the employers, we can do away with unions altogether and peace will reign. Kind of weird that they use that title, shorthand for “Sod you, Jack, I’m all right” — intended to convey individual selfishness. Here, the different classes are united in opposition to one another, but there’s real group unity within each. They stick together.

Still, with the bosses played by Terry-Thomas (idiot) and Richard Attenborough (cad) and in bed with sleazy politico Dennis Price (crook) and sleazy foreigner Marne Maitland (seen stealing the cutlery), it’s fair to say nobody comes out of it well. But if you unpick where the film is heading with its argument, you find near-fascism at the end of the ellipsis.

My late friend Lawrie Knight found himself trapped between doors with Roy Boulting: the “filming” light was on so they couldn’t go forward and there was no point going back outside. So they waited. RB noticed Lawrie’s public school tie, and immediately became friendlier than he had been previously. Lawrie was a mere third assistant director. And he was appalled at RB’s sudden change of manner. “I mean, I’m a terrible snob, but this was too much!”

Peter Sellers’ magisterial performance as Fred Kite, union man, makes the film, though it’s crammed to the rafters with superb players in meaty comic roles. Dennis Price raises his game: sure, he’s always good, but he’s always THE SAME. He could have played this role with his eyes closed, but he wakes up for it and knocks it out of the park.

There’s a modest attempt to portray the women as the sensible parties, but this involves showing Mrs. Kite (Irene Handl, fabulous as always) cozying up to our hero’s posh Aunt Dolly with a forelock-tugging obsequiousness that’s portrayed as somehow instinctive and proper. Uncomfortable. Though seeing those two share a scene is a joy.

But I mainly want to talk about the chocolate factory. Our hero (Ian Carmichael, mousy drip to perfection) is taken on a tour of this joint, and if Willie Wonka’s plant is a gaudy death-trap, and that of Lord Scrumptious an expressionistic panopticon, then the Num-Yum factory’s METROPOLIS-inspired imagery, with the rhythmic soundtrack of burping and farting machinery (no doubt inspired by the jazzy chemistry sounds of THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, a subtler, more compassionate and genuinely curious film than this) takes the film into a nauseating nightmare realm, just for this one scene. It’s a film full of disgust, moral or aesthetic, but it only assumes visceral form here. The boultings may have had the wrong slant on politics and society, but they got one thing right about satire: it’s motivated by nausea.

I’M ALL RIGHT JACK stars Bertie Wooster; Sir Hiss – A Snake; Chance; Kris Kringle; Jeeves; Madame Arcati; Mrs Gimble; Glad Trimble; Canon Chasuble; The Malay; Sgt. Wilson; Mr. Hoylake; Anxious O’Toole; Lenny the Dip; Archbishop Gilday; Orlando O’Connor; Lily Swann; and Sgt. Potty Chambers.

Seven Aside

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2019 by dcairns

More from WEEKEND MURDERS director Michele Lupo. SETTE VOLTE SETTE (SEVEN TIMES SEVEN) steals the premise of TWO WAY STRETCH but elaborates it in fun ways. Again, we’re in England, this time 1968 London. A team of seven prisoners (plus tagalong Lionel Stander) with names beginning with B (for some reason) try to break out of prison and back in again, unnoticed, committed a heist while at liberty to give themselves the perfect alibi. And all while the prison staff are distracted by the world cup (Everton versus Sheffield Wednesday, whatever that means).

Entirely gratuitous b&w set

Gastone Moschin from WEEKEND MURDERS is back as the ringleader, Benjamin Burton Brain, and there are cameos from Adolfo Celli and, almost inevitably, Terry-Thomas. Lupo directs with typical frenzy — extreme low angles, Dutch tilts, crash zooms, restless tracking shots, frequent resource to handheld, frenetic cutting…

Because the goal is to make this as touristically British as possible, the heist is carried out with a London double-decker bus as getaway car (Brain keeps it in his suburban garage, impossibly) and the music is very ITALIAN JOB. This is like the Italian cinema’s answer to that national insult. It’s a very affectionate response.

There are no subtitles for this so I cheerfully watched the English dub. The setting and some of the casting (cameo from David Lodge — who is in TWO WAY STRETCH) helps make that acceptable. I’m not sure if Moschin is playing gay or just very posh, but whoever’s dubbing him has decided on the former.

The movie may be derivative but it anticipates the OCEAN’S 11 reboot with a parkour/acrobat guy and a movie screen showing an image filmed in a duplicate set, used to flummox security camera (the prison is a magnificent Victorian panopticon but behind there scenes there’s lots of Bondian tech, appropriate enough since Celli is in charge. He probably had it in his contract.

As with the original OCEAN’S there’s a bitter ending as the plan goes ironically awry, but as with TOPKAPI there’s always the dream of a successful future job — the days of actually lucrative capers are still some way off. Funny, that — nowadays all heists must be successful and you couldn’t get away with the unresolved cliffhanger of THE ITALIAN JOB, the total ruination of RIFIFI or even Sinatra and gang’s long, disillusioned promenade…

SETTE VOLTE SETTE stars Fanucci; Archie Goodwin; Jekyll; Lord Alex Burman AKA Flashman; D’Artagnan, Maciste; Emmanuelle; Major Hitchcock; Emilio Largo; Calibos; Squire Trelawney; Ernest Hemingway (old); and Jelly Knight.

Wrath of Kwan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2014 by dcairns

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THE WILD AFFAIR is based on a novel by William Sansom — he wrote some good spook stories collected in some of the paperback anthologies I own — and is a pre-Swinging London sex comedy starring Nancy Kwan. Interestingly, Miss Kwan’s parents are played by a couple of white folks, including the Personality Kid herself, Bessie Love (by 1963 a British resident, accounting for her rather psychotronic credits) with no explanation for her racial difference, which is kind of nice. Of course, Kwan was a bit of a catch at that time. The only thing that would have been even nicer would be if they had found a couple of Anglo-Chinese actors — I’m certain they did exist.

Coming right before director John Krish made the micro-budget misogynist sci-fi UNEARTHLY STRANGER, this movie has gratifyingly more complex and less icky sexual politics, though we’re not quite out of the danger zone. Kwan, as Marjory,  is leaving her secretarial job at a perfume company to marry, but her alter-ego in the mirror, Sandra, thinks she should lose her virginity first, and the office Christmas party seems an ideal opportunity.

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The scenario seems to pose questions about whether monogamy and chastity are important for the modern young woman, but the movie slants things towards a conservative answer by making Marjory engaged, so that she’d be cheating, and by surrounding her with male clowns, so that the mere idea of sex is kind of icky. Jimmy Logan, the comedy Scotsman, is about the most seductive fellow on offer (he does downplay his trademark gurning but he’s hardly Sean Connery), Victor Spinetti is just impossible, and Terry-Thomas as Kwan’s lecherous boss is quite unappealing when he’s trying to worm his fingertips under her Mary Quant collar. The whole British sex comedy genre was based around desperate, craven, sex-starved men not getting any, an amusing conceit which started to disintegrate with the permissive age, when the possibility of actual screen intercourse rose into view.

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The film has several interesting women characters (including Kwan’s Miss Hyde in the mirror), but they do exist to drive home the lesson — the lonely spinster, the jealous, bitter mistress. And by making sex a practical impossibility, the movie unwisely creates for itself the problem George Axelrod diagnosed in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH: “The play was about a married man who cheats and feels guilty about it, whereas the film was about a married man who doesn’t cheat and feels guilty about it, so the film became rather trivial.” At the end of THE WILD AFFAIR — which is pretty entertaining  while it’s on — the main character has contemplated pre-marital sex and then decided against it — the wrong message for its era, and a heart-breaking waste of its adorable, sexy, smart and stylish star.