Avanti!

Year: 1972

Director: Billy Wilder

Stars: Jack Lemmon, Juliet Mills, Clive Revill, Edward Andrews, Gianfranco Barra

One of Billy Wilder’s lesser known gems, this is the tale of American businessman Wendell Armbruster, Jr., who is called straight from the golf course to a trans-Atlantic flight when news of his father’s death comes through. Armbruster Sr. had spent every summer in the same Italian resort for ten years – to ‘refresh himself’. On arrival, it slowly becomes clear to Wendell that his father has been having a decade-long affair with an English lady, whose daughter Pamela is also there to collect the body of her mother, who died in the car with his father.

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Whilst navigating the process of understanding the situation, handling the local bureaucracy, and trying to speed up repatriation for a funeral in just three days time, Wendell begins to understand how Pamela feels, and starts to see Ischia through her eyes.

Then the bodies disappear from the local morgue.

This is – for me at least – an unsung marvel. The story is a very gentle comedic romance, set against a beautiful backdrop. Lemmon and Mills work very well together, with her free-and-easy British way contrasting nicely with his somewhat brash American manner. But the real stars are the supporting cast.

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There’s hotel manager, Carlo Carlucci, whose manner is sublime in portraying brusque professionalism, Italian charm, and genuine feelings at both his lost friends and their children’s plight. There are the staff – forthright Bruno and his girlfriend, the pregnant maid Anna, and the very cheesy barman.There are the local vineyard owning family, the Trotta brothers, into whose property the ill-fated Fiat plunged. and there’s State Department official J. J. Blodgett, determined to arrive and sort out the confusion with typical officious bluster, just when Wendell and Pamela would rather be left alone.

The scenery is excellent, the music swirls and soars, and the two hours flies by.

For any fans of Wilder’s other work (and who doesn’t love Some Like It Hot, The Producers, The Apartment or Irma La Douce) please make sure this one doesn’t pass you by…

The Big Bus

Year: 1976

Director: James Frawley

Stars: Joseph Bologna, Stockard Channing, Rene Auberjonois, Ned Beatty, Richard Mulligan, Sally Kellerman, Murphy Dunne, Jose Ferrer, John Beck, Harold Gould, Larry Hagman, Ruth Gordon, and a host of others.

For the uninitiated, The Big Bus is an Airplane-style comedy – despite being earlier by several years – which focuses around the maiden trip of the world’s first nuclear-powered bus on it’s way from New York to Denver – non-stop, no less. There’s the usual backstories on the bus, including the failed love affair between the male and female leads, the man with the terminal disease, the doubting priest, the old woman travelling alone, and just about every other cliche you can imagine. And at the same time, there’s the plot to destroy the bus by agents of the fossil fuel nations, fearing their future profits.

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The actors are all cheesily good, especially Auberjonois as the priest who isn’t certain what he believes, and John Beck as ‘Shoulders’, the co-driver with the habit of falling asleep at the wheel. However, the real star is the bus itself: Cyclops.

Cyclops is incredible. With a passenger capacity of 110, it is equipped with such wonders as a bowling alley, an Oriental-style cocktail lounge with a piano bar, a swimming pool, the captain’s dining room, a private marble-and-gold bathroom with sunken tub, and a full chef’s kitchen. Additionally, it has outside features including an automatic car-wash mechanism for the Cyclops exterior; an automatic en-route tyre-changing system; and a display of “Flags of all Nations,” which emerges from the vehicle’s roof. Double-decked and articulated, with 32 wheels, it truly steals every scene.

The troubles that emerge along the way, putting the passengers in peril, are almost unbelievable in their disaster-movie familiarity, and the way that these disasters are averted often defy belief…..

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The Big Bus is a movie I’ve always liked, and having watched it again very recently, it was lovely to be reminded just why…

White Cargo

Year: 1973

Director: Ray Selfe

Stars: David Jason, Imogen Hassall, Hugh Lloyd, David Prowse, Sue Bond, Tim Barrett

Meet Albert Toddey. He’s… well, he’s a nobody. A Joe Everyman with dreams. However, Albert’s dreams are interesting…

White Cargo walks us through the last few weeks of Albert’s life, as he gets his dream job – one with the government, in a position of responsibility. and in the flashbacks, we see just how fascinating Albert’s dreams are.

Going to a strip club with a free entry ticket, he sees a girl being harassed by a hulking bruiser. In his mind, he transforms into a James Bond super-hero type and saves the girl. When he acts this out in reality, he gets clobbered, soaked, and thrown out. But this is just the start of the journey into espionage, white slavery, sex trafficking, and police investigations.

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This is an early outing for David Jason, who of course went on to become an established part of British comedy royalty. It’s always good to see stars in their formative roles, and he’s very believable as Albert. As the situations become increasingly more bizarre, and the actions of his alter-ego become further removed from the way his real self copes with pompous officials, villains, girls destined for the white slave trade, kidnap and finally a battle between Albert and a half-dozen armed heavies in a warehouse, you can’t help but warm to his character, and you can clearly see glimpses of the Granville character from Open All Hours come through.

Of the other actors, the stand out is the beautiful but tragic Imogen Hassall. Imogen sadly took her own life at 38 after a life filled with heartbreak led to depression. This simply adds more depth to the on-screen view of her as a happy, bubbly woman with a captivating smile and a whole lot of talent. As Stella, the undercover cop whom Albert initially tries to rescue from the bruiser, she is both strong and vulnerable, being a perfect foil for Albert’s twin persona.

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To be fair, the rest of the cast are far less believable, with David Prowse being as solidly wooden as his role required, and the script isn’t really up to much. That misses the point here though.

It’s a film that engages you far more than it should, and the sum of it’s best parts (Jason and Hassall) raise the film above the mundane to a far more enjoyable level. As a comedy of its time, it still holds up well, and gives a glimpse of a London now long-gone.

Romance With A Double Bass

Year: 1974

Director: Robert Young

Stars: John Cleese, Connie Booth, Graham Crowden, Andrew Sachs, Freddie Jones, June Whitfield

Romance With A Double Bass is a lovely little film, one of Cleese’s first performances after he opted out of Monty Python’s fourth season of Flying Circus.

Based on Anton Chekhov’s short story “Roman’s Kontrabasom”, this comedy short tells the tale of Smychkov, a musician hired to play double bass at the wedding of Count Alexei to his reluctant bride, the Princess Constanza. Arriving at the castle early on a hot day, Smychkov is sent packing until the ceremony. He strolls the grounds, and decides to cool off by taking a dip in the lake. Unbeknownst to him, the Princess is also in the lake, looking to retrieve a valuable fishing float.

When their clothes are stolen, both are left naked and in some dilemma. After a predictable embarrassing meeting, they realise that only by working together and using the case of Smychkov’s double bass as concealment, can they get across the grounds and into the castle without creating the massive scene both fear. It’s a good job Smychkov didn’t play the triangle…

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Cleese and then-wife Booth deliver great performances, scattered with typical Cleese lunacy here and there amid an increasingly complex journey towards clothed safety. And the film is actually surprisingly innocent and naive, considering both Cleese and Booth spend at least eighty percent of the film naked. Of course, nobody can spend that much time naked on film without a little attraction, and so …

The supporting cast are good value for the minimal time they spend on screen, however this is really a vehicle for the two leads.

Running at around 40 minutes, it’s well worth looking up, whether you want to enjoy the comedy, whether you relish the sight of John Cleese’s buttocks and a very full frontal Connie Booth, or even whether you are a die-hard fan of Anton Chekhov screen adaptations …

THX 1138

Year: 1971

Director: George Lucas

Stars: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Maggie McOmie

THX 1138 paints perhaps the bleakest of all futures.

Developed from a short film made by George Lucas during his college years, it’s a bland, soulless vision of a world where all intimacy and individuality is suppressed. The population are controlled by the administration of mandatory mind-altering drugs to keep them compliant, asexual, and able to conduct demanding, dangerous tasks. There are no names, only designations. And there are no family units, only assigned roommates.

THX’s roommate is LUH 3417, who has been secretly avoiding her medication. When she starts substituting harmless tablets for his drugs, THX begins to experience emotions for the first time in his life, leading to sex between him and LUX, which is strictly illegal.

Another citizen, SEN 5241, sees their relationship and arranges for an unapproved room reassignment. THX objects, but before he can follow through with his complaint, the lack of drugs in his system leads to an accident at work.

After all three are arrested, THX learns that LUH is pregnant, and he escapes custody to find her. Once he learns that she has been executed, his only thoughts are to escape the cage that he never knew he lived in.

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The visuals of this futuristic nightmare are stark. All characters wear only white and are clean shaven. There’s rarely any glimpse of colour. The only exception are the security forces, who wear black. As a good vs evil metaphor, it’s pretty unsubtle. With numbers instead of names, individual personalities destroyed both medically and ethically, and free will a thing of the past, it’s not a movie that can be watched and ignored.

However, I finished it feeling more than a little disappointed. I’m not exactly sure what questions it set out to pose, not whether any questions had been answered or points made. It’s a feast for the senses, but a feast of tofu – not exactly tasteless, but not a taste most people would savour.

Invasion:UFO

Year: 1974

Director: Gerry Anderson

Stars: Ed Bishop, George Sewell, Gabrielle Drake, Wanda Ventham

This feature length movie is a cinema cut of the first three episodes of the ITC / Gerry Anderson series UFO. Discovering that the Earth is already under attack by aliens from a dying world, who abduct humans for forced organ transplants, a secret organisation called SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) is created to defend the Earth using air, land, sea and space-based forces.

This is in many ways a unique sci-fi movie, in that whilst the style is pure Gerry Anderson, it has some interesting and rare features. The method of determining the speed of a spacecraft (one decimal seven demoting 1.7 times the speed of light), the fact that the aliens are never actually given a name – thereby retaining their mystery throughout – and the design of the Interceptor vehicles (effectively a single-shot space fighter) help the show stand out, as does the overall styling. Every female staff member on moonbase wears silver jumpsuits, mauve wigs and extensive eye make-up, apparently for no reason whatsoever aside from its futuristic look.

And it’s this styling that makes it obvious that this is a clear live-action Gerry Anderson effort. It really couldn’t be anything else.

The TV show ran for a single 26-episode season before getting canned. A mini-revival on US networks prompted plans for a sequel, which never materialised but ultimately evolved into the far-better known Space:1999

For quaintness, great seventies styling, and the promise of all the shows that came afterwards, this is one of my favourite seventies sci-fi efforts.

Annie Hall

Year – 1977
Director – Woody Allen
Stars – Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon

Early Woody Allen movies followed a predictable path – some slapstick, some convoluted dialogue, plenty of opportunities for Allen to not have sex, and somewhere, buried deep down, a commentary on the social setting. They were the same, whether we are talking of revolutionary Russia (Love and Death), the future (Sleeper) or military coups in small South American countries (Bananas).

And then along came Annie Hall.

Annie Hall tells the story of Alvy Singer, a short, neurotic, bespectacled comic, who meets and falls in love with a ditzy would-be cabaret singer, the titular Annie. The story of their relationship is played out on the canvas of their friends, Alvy’s ex-wives, and Manhattan of the mid-seventies. As the pair evolve, they grow both closer together and further apart, when Alvy’s neuroses and Annie’s growing self-confidence pull them in different directions.

As with all of Woody Allen’s movies, the skill is in the dialogue, the performances and the feel of the movie. There’s a helplessness in pretty much everything Allen does, where no matter how hard he tries you get the impression life will kick him in the ass anyway. True he plays himself in pretty much every movie he’s ever made, but he always comes across as likeable despite the knots into which he ties himself.

Annie Hall has an excellent supporting cast, with bit-parts for Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum and Sigourney Weaver.

Aside from Allen’s genius, the real plaudits must go to Diane Keaton. Her performance deservedly won her the Best Actress Oscar, to sit alongside Best Film, Best Director (Allen), and Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman). Only Richard Dreyfuss’ excellent work on The Goodbye Girl prevented a clean sweep of the top five Academy Awards, in a year when there was another little movie in the running. Called Star Wars

WestWorld

It’s far too long since I wrote any reviews, so high time I caught up. There have been loads of movies, television shows, and albums that have warranted a review, so let’s start off with…

WestWorld

Year: 1973

Director: Michael Crichton

Stars: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin

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Set in the near future, WestWorld is one of a trio of holiday destinations at the resort of Delos. In MedievalWorld, you can indulge yourself at the court of the king, with knights, jousting, wenches, feasting and carousing. RomanWorld places you in pre-Christian Rome, allowing you to indulge yourself fully in the excesses of the time, whilst WestWorld places you in the land of outlaws, rustlers, saloon girls and duels. At each of them, for a thousand dollars a day, you can indulge yourself completely, including fights to the death, as the resort is populated by androids so lifelike you can barely tell them from humans.

Peter (Benjamin)  and John (Brolin) have chosen WestWorld, and after settling in they are soon well into the swing of things, twice bettering the Gunslinger (Brynner) who is programmed to provoke them into action, but never to actually harm them.

Until something strange starts happening to the androids. A computer glitch – similar to an infectious virus – begins affecting the way the androids behave, and this comes to a head when, drawing against the Gunslinger once more, John is shot and killed. Peter realises that the android is after him, and runs for his life, pursued by the murderous machine through the other worlds and down into the control tunnels underneath the resort. On his own, he needs to find some way of defeating the android before he becomes its next victim…

Westworld was written and directed by Michael Crichton years before he gave us Jurassic Park, and the similarities between the two movies are clear. In both, the human visitors have to fight for survival against all odds, and against an enemy that can’t be reasoned with. Jurassic Park has the advantage of dinosaurs and 90s CGI. WestWorld relies on good acting, real tension, and what was, at the time, some ground-breaking digital effects. And it does the job very well. The three leads all bring something different to the movie: Brolin is an experienced, devil-may-care adventurer, Benjamin a naive, first-timer with very natural fears and excitement, and it’s interesting to see Yul Brynner, dressed in the same costume he wore as the hero in The Magnificent Seven, playing the role of the implacable, unstoppable baddie.

WestWorld is a movie that has stood the test of time very well, despite some of the ‘futuristic’ computer equipment being very much the 70s idea of future tech. The story is strong, the performances compelling, and the tension works well – the fear of the unstoppable foe that simply won’t give up the chase is brilliantly played out by Brynner.

A real seventies classic.

Carry On Matron

Year: 1972
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Cope, Barbara Windsor, Terry Scott, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Margaret Nolan

By 1972, the Carry On team were very familiar with hospitals, having already made both Doctors and Nurse, as well as scenes in many of the other movies. However, this one was a small departure for the gang, as the plot didn’t revolve around the day to day medical activities, so much as a dastardly plot to steal vast quantities of contraceptive pills, for sale to the Third World.

Sid James was the patriarch of the gang, but it was Kenneth Cope (he of Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased fame) that became the main ‘male’ character, joining the staff at Finisham Maternity Hospital as Student Nurse ‘Cyrille’ Carter. And what a baptism of fire he gets. Having escaped the clutches of the lecherous Dr Prodd (a typically saucy role for Terry Scott) he finds himself rooming with Barbara Windsor’s Nurse Susan Ball. All this when he was told to ‘keep your head down and find out where they store the pills’.

Of course this is impossible, and when Cyril inadvertantly becomes front-page news when he delivers a movie-star’s triplets, his father Sid goes to the hospital to find him. But he’d already been there a few times before, and Matron (Hattie Jacques – who else!) becomes suspicious, and the big chase scene ensues through the nurses home and various occupied bathrooms.

Whilst all this is going on, and the night of the raid approaches, Cyril and Susan fall for each other, which further complicates matters. Will they get away with it? No, of course they won’t, because in the movies, and especially in the Carry On world, thieves never prosper. However, it’s worth watching to see what they can mess up next!

Carry On Matron is a fun, frothy, innuendo-laden movie, with possibly Terry Scott’s finest Carry On role as the very aptly-named Dr Prodd. The whole thing plays as a challenge – how many prenancy-related jokes can Talbot Rothwell shoehorn into a 90-minute script, how many illnesses can Kenneth Williams’ Sir Bernard Cutting believe he has, and how many lines can they wring out of Kenneth Connor’s plight, as the expectant father of a child so unwilling to make an appearance. The robbery angle almost becomes a side issue until the final scenes, such is the sheer volume of plot that we get to enjoy.

Carry On Loving

Year: 1970
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Terry Scott, Jacki Piper, Joan Sims, Richard O’Callaghan, Imogen Hassall, Bernard Bresslaw

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During the late 60s/early 70s, the Carry On team put out two movies a year, and a Christmas special. Given that all the stars also had other work on as well, it’s remarkable that the standards remained as high as they did. ‘Loving’ is no exception.

Sid James and Hattie Jacques run the Wedded Bliss Marital Agency, where they use the most high-tech equipment to ensure their clients meet the partner of their dreams. Only it’s not so simple. For starters, Sid and Hattie aren’t actually married – whilst Sidney Bliss refers to her as his loving and devoted wife, Hattie is actually Miss Sophie Plummer. All they have is an ‘understanding’ – and one that lets Sid keep back all the best girls on the books for himself, including Joan Sims’s Esme Crowfoot. Even the computer is a fake – the card input slot feeds straight through to the next room, where Sophie selects the best ‘match’ from a card index and shoves it through another slot back to Sid.

Their clients are no better – especially Terry Scott, who is obviously only looking to get his leg over, and Richard O’Callaghan, who is looking to impress his girl with his collection of model aircraft made from milk bottle tops. Hardly a crack outfit.

When Sophie gets fed up with Sid’s behaviour, she goes to two places for help – Charles Hawtrey’s detective agency, and Kenneth Williams’s marriage guidance office – at just the time when Ken has been warned to find a wife or face the sack!

Meanwhile, Richard O’Callaghan gets a shock when he accidently mistakes Jacki Piper’s glamour model for his date, and Terry Scott is delighted when his match, Imogen Hassall, turns out not to be so repressed and straight-laced as he thought!

Their tangled love lives all come to a head when Esme’s wrestler boyfriend Gripper Burke (Bernard Bresslaw) comes home from the States, and determines to get the bloke that has been hassling Esme……

This movie has some great lines (“Why is the cat called Cooking Fat?” “Well that’s what it SOUNDS like!”), some brilliant cameos from the minor actors (including Joan Hickson as the elderly Mrs Grubb) and once again polished performances from the stars, all backed by an excellent script by Talbot Rothwell. A worthy part of Britain’s greatest comedy saga.

Carry On Henry

Year: 1971
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Terry Scott, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Margaret Nolan

Carry On Henry continues the historical theme running through the series, putting our heroes this time in the court of King Henry VIII. Henry, we learn, had more than the generally accepted six wives, because we never heard of Queen Marie, cousin to King Francis of France, and also of Queen Bettina, whose entrance into court provides the King with a couple of things to handle.

Sid James delights himself in the role of Henry, to the point of nearly installing a turnstile between the executioners block and the altar. But when he realises that his new wife Marie (Joan Sims) is as well known for her love of garlic as she is for her beauty, he insists that she be disposed of, either legally or terminally. Things are made more complicated when the King’s secretary Sir Roger de Lodgerly (Charles Hawtrey) takes his role as the King’s Official Taster too far, and has a nibble at the Queen that results in her pregnancy.

It’s now up to Oliver Cromwell (Kenneth Williams) and Cardinal Wolsey (Terry Scott) to manage the problem, which they appear to be doing, except that Bettina (Barbara Windsor) puts in an appearance as the daughter of the Earl Of Bristol (who else!) and from that moment on Henry has to balance affairs of state and the state of his affairs.

This movie has some truly memorable moments, and some great acting from the mainstays of the Carry On team. But once again it’s Sid James who steals the show, managing to wring every drop of humour from Talbot Rothwell’s marvelous script.

Carry On England

Year: 1976
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Kenneth Connor, Windsor Davies, Joan Sims, Patrick Mower, Judy Geeson, Jack Douglas, Peter Butterworth, Peter Jones, Diane Langton, Melvyn Hayes

Ladies, Gentlemen, and Children, welcome to – officially – the worst Carry On movie of them all…..

Picture the scene: it’s 1940, and Britain is at war with the nasty Hun. Keeping the Luftwaffe at bay are the brave flying boys of the RAF, ably supported by our Air Defence battalions…. well, all but one. One of the bases along ths South coast is an experimental, mixed-sex battalion. And it’s the mixing of the sexes that causes all the problems – until High Command decide on a new way of dealing with them – sheer incompetence. They pick the worst commanding officer in the RAF, and send him on down to sort things out…….

We learn a few things whilst watching this movie. We learn that Patrick Mower was never cut out for a comedic lead role. We learn that you can’t just lift a couple of stars from ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum‘ and expect them to work in a movie. We learn that actresses with their tits out doesn’t always raise even a laugh, let alone anything else. And we learn that, sadly, the great days of Carry On had passed.

Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims and Jack Douglas should really have known better, although Peter Butterworth is funny in what little screen time he has. The others, Patrick Mower and Judy Geeson especially, should really hang their heads in shame (although Patrick Mower says he’s proud to be in the movie, as it’s part of the heritage of British Cinema, and by association so is he.)

I can really sum the movie up, however, by repeating what I feel is the best line in the movie. It’s in the opening credits, and goes as follows: “We would like to thank The Imperial War Museum for the loan of the gun.”

It’s a no-star, one-gag, one-gun movie. And the Gun is funnier than the joke. Not the way I’d want the series to go out.

Logan’s Run

Year: 1976
Director: Michael Anderson
Stars: Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan, Farrah Fawcett, Peter Ustinov

Humanity, such as still exists in post-apocalypse 2274, resides in a massive domed city, where utopia and freedom for all exists right up to your 30th birthday. Then you take the same chance that everyone else does – Carousel. Carousel is the ceremony where you hope to be ‘renewed’ – it’s just that nobody has ever been renewed, and as a result, everyone is under 30 and living their lives controlled by the central computer and the built in ‘life-clocks’.

If you don’t want to risk Carousel, you can always run – but then the Sandmen will get you. Logan 5 (York) is one such Sandman, who is sent to infiltrate a secret escape route for Runners. He makes contact with Jessica 6 (Agutter), a girl he believes has subversive links. However, the further they get along the journey towards their goal (known only as Sanctuary), Logan becomes less sure of Carousel and more desperate to escape himself. With his friend and ex-colleague Francis (Jordan) on their trail, the pair escape the city and begin to see that their ‘perfect’ life inside the domes was less perfect than they thought.

Logan’s Run suffers from the problem that all 1970s sci-fi tended to suffer form – the view of the future was white, shiny and perfect. So many movies and tv shows portrayed a plastic, sanitised view of the future, in sharp contrast to the dark, grimy view that came over during the 80s and 90s.

Once you get over that, however, Logan’s Run is a harshly moralistic tale, warning of what happens when people abdicate responsibility for their lives and live a purely hedonistic lifestyle, all wrapped up in a glossy package. Nobody ever questions the central computer, and those that do are swiftly put down. The population is kept at an age where the desires of the flesh are dominant, and nobody lives to a point where they start to really think for themselves. There’s no such thing as ‘family’, couples get together, have sex, and then part with no concept of togetherness or compassion – the overriding image is of a society full of indulgence but devoid of love.

York and Agutter are very good as the leads, marvelling at the new world around them as they deal with the danger brought by the pursuing Jordan. The discovery of the old city and the appearance of Peter Ustinov as the only old person they have ever seen brings the revelations to a head, and the cast play their roles very well indeed, albeit in a very ’70s sci-fi’ way.

I have a soft spot for Logan’s Run – I like the honesty that the performances display, I like the music, which moves from electronic sounds within the domed city to full orchestra music outside, and I like the overtones of the plot and the questions that are asked along the way. Sure it’s looking aged now, but the mere fact that they haven’t yet managed to successfully remake it after 36 years surely means that Logan’s Run is practically unique….

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Year: 1975
Director: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Stars: John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Neil Innes, Connie Booth, Carol Cleveland

It’s pretty strange writing a review for a movie that just about everyone has seen, and about which everyone has an opinion. We all know Python. We all grew up saying ‘Ni!’ out loud at each other, asking the question ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ and sitting in the school canteen pretending to explode like Mr Creosote. But this is my take on the first real big-screen Python movie…

The basic plot is a simple one. King Arthur rides through the land, gathering the bravest, wisest, and most available Knights to join him at his court at Camelot. But when they get there, they decide that it’s “a silly place”, and so they ride off, only to be stopped by God, and be given a quest – to find The Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank at The Last Supper.

And so the knights split up and pursue their quest, encountering various dangers and temptationsalong the way. There are the Knghts who say “Ni!”, obsessed with shrubberies and the non-utterance of certain words; there are the maidens who live in Castle Anthrax, whose dull, uneventful life revolves around bathing, making interesting underwear and hoping for a visitor who can spank them; there are the unexplained french soldiers who crop up now and again; there are the Killer Rabbit and Tim The Enchanter.

Most of the roles are of course taken up by the six regular actors, with probably the best performances coming from Michael Palin as the King of Swamp Castle, John Cleese as Tim The Enchanter, Eric Idle as Sir Robin The Not So Brave, and Michael Palin again as Dennis, the spokesperson for the Peasant’s semi-autonomous collective.

This movie isn’t just about these six people, though. It’s made so much more by the incidental events – such as monks whose chanting is punctuated by sharp slaps to the head with prayer-boards, the old man who refuses to be carted away with the other plague victims, because he says he’s not dead yet; Connie Booth’s witch, who despite all evidence to the contrary turns out to actually be a witch (“It’s a fair cop…”); and of course, Terry Gilliam’s animations. But probably more than these are the songs. We all know the Camelot song, immortalised in Lego as well as in Python. There’s also the Ballad of Brave Sir Robin, and the chant of the monks. All of these and more incidental music were written by Neil Innes, whose contribution can’t ever be overlooked.

The currently available R2 dvd has some great extras, including versions of the movie with subtitles for those who don’t like the film (taken from Shakespeare), a whole bunch of real and spoof documentaries, and loads more – including the Lego Camelot scene! If you don’t own it, get it now!

Carry On Dick

Year: 1974
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor, Bernard Bresslaw, Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor, Peter Butterworth, Jack Douglas, Patsy Rowlands, Margaret Nolan

Life for travellers in the 18th century was a perilous one – you never knew when your coach would be held up by some dastardly highwayman, lying in wait to tell you a bad joke or two…..

In this adventure, Sid James plays Dick Turpin, our anti-hero. Disguised during the day as the mild-mannered Reverend Flasher, he dons his highwayman garb at night, and manages to run rings around King George’s Bow Street Runners, most notably Captain Fancy (Kenneth Williams), Sergeant Jock Strapp (Jack Douglas), and Kenneth Connor as the lowly but stupid constable.

Helping Turpin (or ‘Big Dick’, as he is of course known) is Barbara Windsor as Harriet, his young housemaid and sidekick, and Peter Butterworth as Tom.

The head of the Runners, Sir Roger Daley (Bernard Bresslaw) insists on an arrest – especially after he and his wife are held up, and are forced to arrive at their destination stripped naked!

The unfortunate Captain Fancy tries to find Turpin, but in enlisting Reverend Flasher’s help, he kind of doesn’t give himself much of a chance!

Talbot Rothwell’s script is pretty standard Carry On fare, with innuendo and slapstick the humour of choice whenever it is called for. The stars give their all, most notably Hattie Jacques as Martha, Reverend Flasher’s housekeeper (who is never quite certain whether the Reverend is as holy as he makes out), and Joan Sims as Madame Desiree, the leader of a troupe of dancers known as Les Oiseaux Des Paradis (humourously mispronounced several times too often during the film….)

Overall, it’s a pretty funny film, but sadly it never quite hits the heights of some of the earlier efforts, and for once, the age gap between Sid and Babs makes their amorous goings-on seem just a little too weird….

Carry On At Your Convenience

Year: 1971
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Cope, Charles Hawtrey, Bernard Bresslaw, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, Patsy Rowlands, Jacki Piper, Margaret Nolan

For this installment in Britain’s best loved movie series, Talbot Rothwell turned his script-writing thoughts towards industrial relations. It was a time of disputes and stike action, and so there was plenty in the news to inspire him.

Our setting is W.C. Boggs, makers of lavatories and other bathroom equipment – which is run by Mr Boggs himself, played by Kenneth Williams. His management team comprises himself, Charles Hawtrey as Charles Coote the chief designer, Richard O’Callaghan as his son Lewis, Bill Maynard as Fred (the only salesperson they appear to have), and Sid James as Sid Plummer, Works Foreman. On the other side, there’s the workforce, including Joan Sims as Fred’s wife Chloe, Jacki Piper as the desirable tea-girl (and Sid’s daughter) Myrtle, Kenneth Cope as Vic Spanner, the NUCIE union rep, and Bernard Bresslaw as his hapless assistant Bernie Hulke.

Anyway, it’s Saturday afternoon, and the local team are playing at home, and so of course Vic uses a flimsy excuse to call a strike. He’s got his eyes on Myrtle, but faces opposition from Lewis, the bosses’ son, and therefore doesn’t really stand a chance. And this is the main plot through the movie – management trying to keep the workers working, and the union trying to keep the workers shirking. Until, that is, the day of the annual works outing. Then everyone comes in to work, just so that they can have a day out with beer, sunshine, and hopefully some close relations with the female staff!

There are a number of sub-plots going on, which make this a much more rounded movie than many Carry On’s. There’s the mutual admiration between Sid Plummer and Chloe. There’s the story of how, despite the close attentions of his wife (played wonderfully by Hattie Jacques), Sid’s budgerigar will only speak when he’s picking the winners of today’s races. There’s the unspoken love that Mr Boggs’ secretary Hortense (played by Patsy Rowlands) has for her boss. There’s the Lewis/Vic/Myrtle love triangle. There’s the secret games of strip poker that Charles Hawtrey has with Vic’s mum. All of these fill out the storyline very well, and the entire team are on fine form.

A worthy addition to the collection!

Carry On Abroad

Year: 1972
Director: Gerald Thomas
Stars: Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Peter Butterworth, Bernard Bresslaw, Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques, June Whitfield, Jimmy Logan, Sally Geeson, Carol Hawkins

In the early seventies, the Carry On tag offered humour and innuendo, but often delivery was more hit-and-miss than a sure-fire success. In amongst the offerings, we find Carry On Abroad.

Taking on the new fashion for overseas holidays, the film is set around the package holiday company of Wundatours, run by Stuart Farquhar (Kenneth Williams), and specifically their trip to the newly-built luxury hotel at the Spanish resort of Elsbels.

On the trip we find Vic and Cora Flange (Sid James and Joan Sims), publicans and holiday-makers of vastly different experience. Whilst Vic goes away every year, Cora prefers to stay at home – until she realises that busty blonde Sadie (Barbara Windsor) is looking like the main tourist attraction. At that point, she decides to go with her husband, despite her fear of travel. When they get on the coach, they meet the typical Carry On crowd: Stanley and Evelyn Blunt (Kenneth Connor and June Whitfield), he being frustrated, she being frigid and straight-laced; Eustace Tuttle (Charles Hawtrey in his last Carry On role before his falling out with the production team), a middle-aged mummy’s boy who lets rip whenever he can escape her clutches; a pair of young girls on the pull (Sally Geeson and Carol Hawkins) whose disappointment is made complete when the eligible men on the tour turn out to be monks, and a motley mixture of effeminates and wide-boys.

When they get to the hotel, it’s still being built, and so whilst Pepe (Peter Butterworth) and wife Floella (Hattie Jacques) try to stop the hotel falling down or Wundatours sueing for damages, the guests go on their usual romp through the script, destroying local relations, bedrooms, and eventually the entire building, as it collapses around them. But they are so drunk and randy, they hardly notice!

This film stands on the performances of the familiar cast – all of the regulars perform wonderfully, given the right material by Talbot Rothwell. Sid, Babs, Joan, Kenny W, Charlie, Kenny Connor and Bernie are all brilliant, but it’s the pairing between Peter Butterworth and Hattie Jacques that makes the film for me. Where the film is a little let down for me is with the additional cast : Jimmy Logan isn’t funny, Geeson and Hawkins are more sweet than sexy, and overall there’s a feeling for me that this could have been just that little bit better. It’s still well worth viewing over and again – but overall, it’s like the seventies films all are – a little hit-and-miss……

Please Sir!

Year: 1971
Director: Mark Stuart
Stars: John Alderton, Deryck Guyler, Noel Howlett, Joan Sanderson, Peter Cleall, Peter Denyer, Patsy Rowlands, Richard Davies, Jill Kerman, Carol Hawkins, Malcolm McFee, Brinsley Forde

First day of school, and emotions are mixed – for the students, there’s fun, friends, and jokes to be enjoyed, whilst for the teachers, terror and mishap at every turn. For this is Fenn Street School….

After a terrible start to the day (provoking a riot in morning assembly), Class 5C are soon put in their place by their teacher Mr Hedges. However, when he finds out the reason for their behavior – the fact that this class have never been allowed to go on any school trip for fear of causing permanent embarrassment – he’s immediately off to the Headmaster’s office to demand they are treated fairly. And so 5C get to go to camp – on the proviso that Mr Hedges also goes, and is fully responsible for their actions……

Getting to the camp causes headaches and problems, with missing children and accusations of racism and child cruelty. When finally at the camp, chaos duly reigns – Fenn Street are sharing the camp with a class of rich kids in uniform from a boarding school, and this kind of thing will always bring out the worst in Fenn Street’s kids.

The main characters are Eric Duffy, group leader and boyfriend of the lovely Sharon; Peter Craven, the clever womaniser, always on the lookout for a shapely figure; Frankie Abbott, whose efforts to grow up are always hampered by his overbearing mother; Maureen Bullock, strictly Catholic and in love with her teacher, and Dennis Dunstable, whose home life is turbulent and for whom the trip to the country is a life-changing experience. Add to this local girl Penny, whose attraction to Mr Hedges is tempered by her initial belief that he beats his ‘ethnic minority’ pupils, and there’s a recipe for fireworks at every turn.

This film was made on the back of the successful British TV series, and all the main characters are here, perfectly played by John Alderton as well meaning but clumsy Mr Hedges, Derek Guyler as the downtrodden janitor struggling for control, and everyone else, whether staff, student, or extra. It’s a fun 90 minutes – if you remember the TV series you’ll love reminiscing, and if you are too young for this, the vision of school life 35 years ago will in turn appear both startling and reassuringly familiar.