|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 11 January 2000|
...or maybe four stars. Rating this movie is a surprisingly personal choice. If you buy into the idea of Rita Tushingham and Lynne Redgrave as a Laurel-and-Hardy-like comedy team, your rating will go up; if you're flummoxed by this concept, or simply don't laugh, the rating will be lower. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choice. Me, I liked it.
It's a broad, bouncy comedy, even a musical, spoofing the fads and fashions of London's Mod Era; surely Mike Myers watched this a couple of times before doing his "Austin Powers" movies -- there are few other films that offer such a colorfully authentic (but amplified) demonstration of just what "Mod" really was. Sometimes, though, the most interesting stuff is around the edges, or presented straightforwardly -- not all of the movie is a spoof, after all.
Redgrave and Tushingham are pretty damned funny throughout the movie, sometimes just standing there. Redgrave is big, busty and a little overweight; she's quite an alarming sight in her haystack of orange hair and peppermint-striped blouse. Her Yvonne is none too bright, but she's wildly enthusiastic about almost everything -- and she's more than a little selfish.
She and her mousy pal Brenda (Tushingham) arrive in Swingin' London from somewhere to the North. Brits can probably pinpoint their likely point of origin, but to most Americans, their occasionally indecipherable accents are merely a variation on the standard British accent. In any event, they show up with a wad of money they earned as waitresses, and an overwhelming desire to get with the Mod Life on Carnaby Street.
They go through some mildly rough times -- Brenda has to work as a waitress, which leads to a silent-movie-style food fight. Yvonne, working as a bar hostess, is picked up by the slimy Mome-Rath (Ian Carmichael, very uppercrust, very arrogant, very funny), while Brenda works from behind the scenes (in a pussy cat suit) to save her friend from the traditional Fate Worse Than Death. This sequence concludes with Carmichael covered in soap suds, and a one-armed sergeant falling through the ceiling.
However, events conspire to turn Yvonne into the newest pop sensation, basing her career on a number with fairly witty lyrics. "I can't do anything -- but I'm young!" she boasts. Her swelled head leads to Brenda stomping out, but then Brenda herself is taken under the wing of cynical Tom Wabe (Michael York), a fashion photographer, Brenda becomes "the Face of the 60s," and gains her own giant share of fame. The climax takes place in the revolving restaurant atop London's Post Office Tower.
Desmond Davis directed from a script by George Melly, both clearly inspired, if that's the word, by the movies Richard Lester was making around the same time. Lester himself had been partly inspired by silent comedies; SMASHING TIME was an attempt to go him one better -- but Davis lacked the style and humor of Lester, and certainly match Lester's lightning-fast pacing. Melly's script is actually good enough to warrant a better director than Davis turned out to be, after making a strong start with THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES (also starring Tushingham). After A NICE GIRL LIKE ME in 1969, Davis reutnred to television, remaining there the rest of his career, although he did direct -- none too well -- Ray Harryhausen's last movie, CLASH OF THE TITANS.
Melly seems to have wanted to suggest that the girls are going through the looking glass, or descending into Wonderland -- two innocents over their heads in a fantastic world. Davis wasn't up to this conception, which is fairly weakly played out in the script anyway, mostly manifesting itself in character names -- Mome-Rath, Wabe, Brillig, Tove, Manxome, etc. The connection to Lewis Carroll remains real but faint. He was also the first to revive Sweeney Todd, in a sense: the movie features "Sweeney Todd's Pie Shoppe."
Fortunately, Redgrave and Tushingham are front and center, and genuinely delightful all the way through. They're perfectly paired as a comedy team, and are mostly supported by the script in this regard. Redgrave's full-bodied physicality not only plays well off Tushingham's meekness and slight figure, but it's believable when they each become famous in their own ways. Tushingham was a good enough comic actor that Davis shouldn't have tried to emphasize her gamin qualities with big moony closeupss, and the ears on her cat suit moving on their own.
Some of the movie is well-observed, as with the instant popularity of the pie shop, York's charming but predatory photographer, and Anna Quayle's pleasant but slumming aristocrat. As exaggerated as they are, Yvonne's pop-star clothes, always outrageous, always funny, are not that far removed from what real pop divas of the day wore.
Someone, perhaps Davis, chose to present the frequent songs in such an odd way that this movie is rarely recognized as a musical. With the exception of Yvonne's brainless ode to youth, and a moment or two at the very end (as the two girls, friends again, stroll off through London's morning streets), the songs are all done in voice-overs, as if they're the thoughts of the characters. The songs are hardly memorable, but are worthy of more cinematic treatment than they received.
As usual with Anchor Bay, the DVD is from a good print, letterboxed but without any extras other than the trailer and scene access. Too bad -- it would have been interesting to hear what the still-busy Redgrave and the mostly-vanished Tushingham had to say about this quirky, uneven but amusing little movie.