Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Those British comedies ....

An affectionate look at some of those late '50s/early '60s British comedies we liked - its the performers that matter here, those comedians and character players who made even the dullest movie watchable. So we dedicate this to the great Joan Sims and Hattie and Kenneth and Charles and Richard Wattis and ...

PLEASE TURN OVER, 1959 - An early CARRY ON in all but name, by the regular team Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas, with regulars Leslie Philips,  Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey (guesting as a jeweller). This is set in smart suburbia where martinet father Ted Ray and ditzy wife Jean Kent (her driving lesson with Lionel Jeffries is a hoot) preside - their daughter Julia Lockwood (Margaret's daughter) writes a raunchy best-seller and the locals recognize that she has written about them and soon chaos erupts throughout this small English town with predictable results. Its good fun, with Joan Sims as the maid and others like Colin Gordon, Joan Hickson and Dilys Laye providing the laughs. A pleasant afternoon time-waster.

MAKE MINE MINK - This is a delightful 1960 comic caper with a sterling cast headed by Athene Seyler, Hattie Jacques and Elspeth Duxbury as 3 old dears in a mansion flat who discover they can steal fur coats which can be sold to fund Athene's charity. Young Billie Whitelaw is their maid, she is an ex-con herself but is dating policeman Jack Hedley. Terry Thomas is another companion of theirs so cue much hilarity as our foursome plot their robberies. Irene Handl is sheer delight as Madame Spolinski, owner of a fur shop they are targeting. Kennth Williams pops in as well.
As the blurb says: Zany collection of misfits led by aging military man (Terry-Thomas) go on a spree of robbing mink coats. An unlikely trio of women (Athene Seyler, Hattie Jacques, and Elspeth Duxbury) find new reasons to live ... until their housekeeper (Billie Whitelaw), an ex-con is suspected of the robberies. Again, it captures that cusp of the '60s time period perfectly and shows what good writing and a quality cast can do for a basic premise, as directed by Robert Asher. 

ALIVE AND KICKING - a more '50s offering, this 1958 comedy needs to be better known. Another trio of old dears: redoubtable Sybil Thorndike, Kathleen Harrison and Estelle Winwood are to be split up at their old folks home and decide to run away. They end up in a boat heading to the west of Ireland where they land on one of the islands where they find perfect cottages they can take over.
These belong to returning American Stanley Holloway but he is soon out of the picture as the old gals take over the local industry of knitting Ara sweaters and soon have a booming local industry going. We have to add in the compulsory Richard Harris among the locals as well as Marjorie Rhodes, Joyce Carey and singer Brendon O'Dowda. Directed by Cyril Frankel - there are no reviews on this at IMDB and they insist it is a 1964 title, but it is definitely 1958 when I saw it as a kid.

UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS - another delighted 1959 comedy from the Rank Organisation, directed by Ralph Thomas, in colour and with a very colorful cast! On marrying the boss's daughter, Richard takes his father-in-law's advice to hire a live-in domestic. He soon finds good help is hard to come by. Run-ins follow with dipsomaniacs, bank robbers, a Welsh lass who takes one look at London and runs, and an Italian charmer who turns the place into a bawdy house. Then when Ingrid arrives from Sweden things actually start to get complicated. This is one I enjoyed as a kid, as we watch Michael Craig and Anne Heywood as the newly-weds with James Robertson Justice bluff as ever as father-in-law.
Party girl Claudia + sailors
Joan Hickson is of course a delight as the tipsy cook, Joan Sims is Welsh Blodwyn who has never left Wales; those continental girls Mylene Demongeot and that new Italian girl Claudia Cardinale sparkle (five years later Craig would be supporting her in Visconti's SANDRA - a favourite of mine, Claudia, Craig labels) - Sid James is the local cop, Reginald Beckwith, Daniel Massey, Margalo Gilmore are fun and Joseph Tomelty and Nora Nicholson play the aged bank robbers using the kitchen to tunnel through to the bank next door .... laughs all round then.

THE NAKED TRUTH - a brilliant 1957 comedy utilising Peter Sellers in several roles, he was in the ascendant then. Dastardly Dennis Price is blackmailing several celebrities over secrets in their past which he will publish in his scandal magazine unless they pay up, so they decide to club together to kill him after their individual attempts fail - resulting in high comedy, as directed by Mario Zampi. We have crime writer Peggy Mount and her timid daughter Joan Sims, tv presenter Sellers, glamour girl Shirley Eaton and Terry Thomas is not as respectable as he lets on .... This one cemented Sellers' reputation for various roles as he and Terry Thomas became the major farceurs of the era - both starring in the classic  I'M ALRIGHT JACK and CARLTON BROWN OF THE F.O.

TOO MANY CROOKS - Another great 1959 Terry Thomas comedy also by Mario Zampi (the 3 here, MAKE MINE MINK, NAKED TRUTH and this are a good boxset). George Cole's hapless gang set out to kidnap cad Terry Thomas's daughter but end up with his wife Brenda De Banzie instead. Terry though does not play along and does not want her back, so Brenda takes control of the useless gang to exact her own revenge on her scheming husband. Sounds familiar? It must be the same plot used for that Bette Midler comedy RUTHLESS PEOPLE ...  it is an ideal role for the great Brenda De Banzie, Thomas is his usual caddish self and the crooks include Sid James, Bernard Bresslaw, Joe Melia. Add in John le Mesurier, Sydney Tafler and Nicholas Parsons for added humour. It is just as funny now as it was 50 years ago, as indeed all these are.

I covered another favourite HOW TO MURDER A RICH UNCLE from 1957 at Comedy, Nigel Patrick labels, featuring Athene Seyler again, Katie Johnson and Wendy Hiller.  What a great period it was for comedies from those Ealings like THE LADYKILLERS onwards... there's Sellers again in multiple roles in THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, and of course those first CARRY ONs: TEACHER, NURSE, SERGEANT etc;
and that other favourite of mine the perfectly '50s AN ALLIGATOR NAMED DAISY (comedy, Diana Dors  labels) with Diana Dors and Margaret Rutherford, as well as those early ST TRINIANS with the likes of Alistair Sim, Beryl Reid, Joyce Grenfell and the others, not to mention Dirk's DOCTORs: IN THE HOUSE, AT SEA, AT LARGE etc with Kay Kendall, Kenneth More, Brigitte Bardot, Brenda De Banzie and all the regular farceurs. These were very '50s creations - DOCTOR IN DISTRESS in 1963 did not work at all, it was that new swinging era and the Doctors were suddenly very dated. The '60s CARRY ON's began well with CLEO, COWBOY, CRUISING, SCREAMING, SPYING but too degenerated into tat by the '70s.  

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