Page 6, 3rd April 1970

3rd April 1970
Page 6
Page 6, 3rd April 1970 — AN INDESCRIBABLE COMEDY

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NOT having seen the stage play by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus, I was unprepared for the riotous hilarity of its adaptation by Charles Wood and screenplay by Antrobus for the film of The Bed Sitting Room ("A." London Pavilion).

This seems greatly to be welcomed for a variety of reasons. To begin with it really is an inspired achievement to have made a consistently funny and good-humoured entertainment out of the plight of this country after nuclear devastation by the "shortest war in history."

Then the film triumphs in putting something more like the original Goon Show on the screen than has often been found possible. (Very few exponents of really lunatic comedy have come over on the screen: perhaps the old Marx Brothers and early Danny Kaye and occasional Beatrice Lillie).

Descriptions of this type of comedy is worse than useless. A taste of it may be suggested by the besetting premonition of one main character, Lord Fortnum (Ralph Richardson), that he is going to turn into a bedsitting room, or by the presence in the east of Marty Feldman as the National Health Service and Frank Thornton as the B.B.C.

The cast contains several of the original Goons—Milligan himself, Harry Secombe and Jimmy Edwards, some such superlatively good actors as Ralph Richardson, Michael Hordern and Mona Washbourne, and some newer-generation Goons like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and Marty Feldman.

The difficult task of organising this exercise in inspired lunacy is brilliantly undertaken by the director, Richard Lester who did such wonders with the Beatles' first movies. Not exactly nursery nonsense, it has a distinct whiff of Carroll's or Lear's masterworks of adult nonsense.

At least the cinema provided some nursery fare these Easter holidays. Hawks seem to be the new fashion in pets for boys, and junior hawk-fanciers have a choice, as the B.B.C. might say, of two pictures. Those living in some Northern towns are to be envied the chance of art advance look at "Kes", the marvellous picture of a little Lancashire boy and the kestrel he trains and loves. Those in the South, while waiting for "Kes," may whet their appetite with My Side of the Mountain ("U"), a Canadian story of a little boy with his peregrine falcon.

It is a nice enough little story in fine settings, and I liked the idea of the little boy trying to go back to nature to live like Thoreau. But it is neither as rich nor as sharp as "Kes," and accompanying grown-ups might find it both monotonous and naive.

At the same time, the Children's Film Foundation has made a simple but enjoyable small film called "Cry Wolf," whose over-imaginative young hero brings off a satisfactory amateur police coup.

Filmed on location at Margate, it was made for the C.F.F.'s three-or-four-day festivals of children's films. It is encouraging to learn that almost the only sector of the cinema reporting increased attendance is the audience for children's shows.

Certainly, I thought "Cry Wolf" great fun; with a magnificent wicked blonde journalist played by Judy Cornwell and impressive guest stars including Wilfred Bramble, Ian Hendry, Janet Munro and Adrienne Corri.

Far from nursery fare is Luchino Visconti's The Damned ("X," Odeon, Kensington), Visconti has done great work both in the cinema and in opera; and he here provides a sumptuous setting for this Italian retrospect on German Nazi Society. In particular he is looking at a fictitious big German steel family.

Visconti's title for the film was the Wagnerian "Gotter dammerung," and this might have justified the rather operatic treatment. Not that it would be possible to exaggerate Nazi horrors, either the vicious family relations and domestic melodrama or the historical horrors like the "night of the long knives."

But the characters, from the steel baron himself, his squabbling rival heirs, his neurotic grandson, Martin, to Martin's mother, Sophie (Ingrid Thulin) and her lover (Dirk Bogarde) are stereotypes.

They don't really add to understanding of the Nazi melodrama but reduce it to terms of an overlong operatic charade.

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