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, 28 February 2014

'60s comedies: the witty and the witless ...

Two long-unseen '60s comedies were interesting viewings now. GOODBYE CHARLIE from 1964 I did not remember at all, though I did see it at the time, but being 18 or so then, it seems to have made no impression on me. However, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as I will return to.

PRUDENCE AND THE PILL, on the other hand, from 1968, I remembered well, and pals and I saw it on its general release. I dare say a comedy about the (then new) contraceptive pill seemed a daring idea at the time, but couldn't it have been funnier?
Prudence is on the pill; so is her sister-in-law, but someone has been swapping aspirin for their pills. Is it the teen-age niece, the maid, the chauffeur, a lover, Prudence's husband, or all of the above?
Available for the first time for home viewing, Prudence and the Pill serves up a comic slice of sixties permissiveness from the days when the oral contraceptive was an exotic and legendary device that few people had any experience of using. Made in Britain by 20th Century Fox, and starring the debonair David Niven and the luminous Deborah Kerr, with vivacious support from 'It' girl Judy Geeson, this film takes us back to 1967's "summer of love", when established morality and codes of sexual behaviour where being turned upside down by new ideas and technology. So grab a gonk (a gonk was a 60s cuddly toy), straighten your mini-skirt and prepare yourself for a bumpy ride courtesy of the imprudent Prudence. 
(so went the hopeful dvd cover blurb, trying to make this feeble comedy into something important...)
This is so dated now, created by middle aged squares who imagined they were being hip and daring, but in fact creating a worthless, unfunny, snobby look at how Americans perceived the English back in that swinging decade. It is a film about posh people - David Niven and Deborah Kerr are frightfully posh and in fact just frightful. 
Their posh house is full of rooms in bilious colours (one longs for Minnelli and those decors and that sure comedy touch in THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE) and Kerr is unflatteringly photographed and costumed (she was getting rather matronly as the '60s progressed and her film career was winding down). She is Prudence and Niven is the husband, both are fed up with each other and having affairs - she with her doctor Keith Michell, and he has his professional mistress, played (amusingly) by professional mistress Irina Demick (Darryl F Zanuck's latest at the time, he put her in several Fox films of the era). The lower classes are represented by their maid Vickery Turner and the chauffeur, they are an item too. Then there is Niven's brother, silly ass Robert Coote, (being very silly ass here) and his wife, Joyce Redman (a rare movie role for her after that scene with Albert Finney in TOM JONES), and their mini-skirted daughter Judy Geeson, who is having it off with boyfriend David Dundas when mum and dad go to the cinema every week, however they return early this time and catch the two of them, in scenes which are painfully unfully and over the top. 
It turns out daughter (god, this is tedious to unfold) was swopping her mother's contraceptive pills with aspirins, and it soon turns out that everyone is swopping pills (which are conveniently sold in bottles and not individually bubble wrapped as now). Niven wants Prudence to get pregnant by her lover, so he swops her pills, the maid though swops Prudence's with the vitamin tablets her boyfriend gives her, and so on.
Dame Edith Evans then makes a few pointless appearances as a dotty aunt - thankfully she is not on the pills or forced to wear a mini-skirt. This farrago was directed by one Fielder Cook and must have appeared dated even before it was shown, back in the groovy decade, its a very square view of London too, where people meet for dinner at The Ritz. The mystery is did either Niven or Kerr, in what, their fifth teaming, really think this material was funny or worthy of them? Deborah did this kind of thing so much better in items like 1960's THE GRASS IS GREENER before the Sixties began to swing. Poor PRUDENCE isn't even campy enough to quality as a Trash Classic.

I did not think GOODBYE CHARLIE would be up to much, a forgotten 1964 comedy, but we are in the hands of experts here. Its from a George Axelrod comedy (which Lauren Bacall played on the stage - though that is no guartantee of quality - I saw, endured APPLAUSE, Bacall label), and directed by Vincente Minnelli - so it looks good. The music is by Andre Previn, and his then wife Dory co-wrote the title tune, its a zinger. I did not think Tony Curtis or Debbie Reynolds could surprise us, but they are nicely on form here - a decent role for Curtis and Debbie is a revelation, and not as grating as her UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN
Shot by a jealous husband, Charley falls out a porthole and is lost at sea only to find himself returned as an attractive blond woman. His best friend is staying at his house as he puts Charlie's affairs in order and after being convinced, finds himself an unwilling helper in Charlie's new plan to marry into money.
This is all quite amusing as womaniser Charlie is reincarnated as an attractive blonde, who soon gets a handle on his new situation and how to milk it to his advantage. Pat Boone is just right as the nice rich guy who falls for Charlie. Will Charlie for once do the right thing? Walter Mattheau is deliciously funny as the movie tycoon who shot Charlie, as nicely different here as he was in CHARADE. Joanna Barnes and Ellen Burstyn amuse as two of the wives Charlie dallied with, and now blackmails. It is all worked out quite nicely, as Charlie is reincarnated once again .... So, GOODBYE CHARLIE is a nice feelgood movie, with Tony and Debbie on top form - who knew? It fits nicely into Minnelli's '60s output too. It captures that early 60s grooviness and the showbiz shallowness before the swinging era got underway. The only jarring note is Tony's distaste at the idea of marrying his old pal Charlie, even if he is now a glamorous woman - which seemed unfunny compared to the brilliant "Why would a guy want to marry a guy?" similar scene in the classic SOME LIKE IT HOT.
Soon: another 1964 sex "comedy" - SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL, I saw it but I don't remember it, was it that forgettable? Curtis again, and Natalie surely looking her best, and Dame Bacall ....  

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