Skip to main content

I am trying to uncover a communist plot, and not a pornographic love-in.

Not Now, Comrade
(1976)

(SPOILERS) Yays! I saw Not Now, Comrade one BBC afternoon twenty-plus years ago, and it stayed with me, not because it was especially good – although, I had in mind that the cheesy farce carried a certain Carry On period charm – but because of Lewis “Fisk” Fiander’s outrageous performance as a defecting Russian ballet dancer. Revisiting the picture, that is indeed about the size of it.


The quality of Not Now, Comrade lies squarely on the shoulders of Ray Cooney, who not only wrote it and co-directed, but also co-starred (offering by far the weakest performance, as tipsy MI6 man Mr Laver). Cooney is most (in-?) famous for having penned the long-running bigamy farce Run for Your Wife. He turned it into a film as recently as 2012, starring, appropriately enough, everyone’s favourite Olivier, Danny Dyer. Cooney has a big French following, but then so does Jerry Lewis. Not content with one “life” play on words, the farceur extraordinaire also wrote Wife Begins at Forty a couple of years later.


Comrade was a sequel in mode and title, if not characters, to Not Now Darling, a 1967 farce filmed in 1973 (also, modestly enough, co-directed by and starring Cooney; the other co-director was David Croft, of Croft and Perry – their It Ain’t Half Hot Mum stars Davies and Estelle appear here – while Harold Snoad, Comrade co-director, helmed five early episodes of Dad’s Army as well as a number of Are You Being Serveds). Its origins lie before Darling, however, in his 1964 farce Chase Me, Comrade.


The TV-level production quality suggested by Cooney’s collaborators is Not Now, Comrade all over. As a film director, he doesn’t seem to appreciate that you can’t just point the camera at the action and expect a farce to translate to screen with the same energy it does on stage; it doesn’t matter if the cast are giving one hundred percent.


The action revolves around the country house of Leslie Phillips’ Commander Rimmington (his role is a peripheral one, mainly required to act confused and cop an eyeful of Carol Hawkins; sadly, this is post-smoothy, “Oh, I say” Phillips, the odd “Incredible!” aside), where Rudi has ended up as a consequence of a mix up over which car boot he secreted himself in in order to facilitate his defection. Ensuing are various expected cases of mistaken identity (“Am I still the gardener?” asks Kinnear’s Hoskins at one point) and attempts to avoid the authorities (police, Russians, MI6), as the Commander’s daughter Nancy (Michele Dotrice) and her hapless civil servant boyfriend Gerry Buss (Ian Lavender) attempt to assist Rudi and his girlfriend/burlesque artiste Barbara (Hawkins) in the former’s defection.


Commander Rimmington: Is that the damn silly sort of thing you get up to in the Polish government?
Rudi: Yays.

The failure of Comrade is unsurprising. 1976 was a bit late for this sort of mildly saucy fare; the writing was on the wall once the Confessions movies stole the Carry Ons’ thunder from 1974 onwards, combining sitcom antics with sexploitation and cheeky Robin Askwith. Indeed, by ’76, Carry On was in its terminal stages, attempting to offer more nudity and sexual content and looking entirely out of touch and all at sea (Hawkins, who appeared in several Carry Ons and Confessions of a Pop Performer, turned down a specially-written Carry On England role due to its nudity).


Accordingly, the most revealing Comrade gets is during the opening sequence, where Barbara distracts attention from a throng of press surrounding Rudi by giving them a display of her nipple tassels’ propulsive abilities. After that, there are numerous tit jokes (“Yes, my wife’s got the best au pair in the business”), obviously angled at Hawkins, copious instances of a randy Russian assuming any request or statement is an invitation to rumpo (“Yays!”), and much bottom pinching (gender indiscriminate, to be fair, mostly coming from its writer-director-supporting player – “Mr Laver, please don’t be au fait with the au pair”)


Hawkins is spirited and amusing throughout, more so than bigger star (thanks to Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em) Dotrice. Her career includes numerous sitcom appearances, but she’s probably best known in fan circles as Vila’s love interest Kerril in Blake’s 7 third season episode City at the Edge of the World. Lavender’s very game, playing a character whose surname, credit where it’s due, is evidently entirely based on one middling gag (“He’s Mr Buss”: “Well, he should have come by taxi too”). Roy Kinnear is suitably exhausted, exasperated and sarcastic throughout. June Whitfield eventually arrives as Millington’s wife and in short order experiences Lavender, dressed as a Russian, lying on top of her on the sofa when the Commander walks in. Naturally.


Barbara: The constable here is on the lookout for an effeminate young man.
Gerry: Everyone to his own taste.

When Windsor Davies shows up as a policeman (he’s investigating constabulary-provoking reports of “a young fella prancing about in an effeminate manner”), there’s an additional level of amusement to be had simply from patented Windsor Davies reaction shots, such as every time Hawkins calls him “Darling”. At this point in the proceedings – keep up – she’s posing as the local liberal candidate: “I wouldn’t mind knowing what the young lady stands for” he asks. “Practically anything” comes the reply. It goes without saying that “I have a very large manifesto”. None of Cooney’s lines are the stuff of high art (“Well, I’m all in favour of policemen having them... balls”), but Davies and Estelle (as a typically camp and oblivious neighbour), reprising their TV rapport, can’t help but raise a smile.


Commander Millington: Who locked this door?
Gerry: He did.
Commander Millington: You did?
Rudi: Yays.

The real reason to check this out, though, is Fiander, who responds to every given question (“Who are you?”; “How do you do?”) with an unvaryingly comical “Yays” (or “Yay-es”, for emphasis). I’ve seen the actor in a few things over the years, but most defining is his performance as Fisk in Doctor Who story Nightmare of Eden, where he adopts an accent so absurdly over the top, he does the nigh impossible and not only steals scenes from Tom Baker, he also makes him corpse. Rudi is supposed to be utterly unrestrained, however, and so Fiander delivers admirably.


Not Now, Comrade isn’t especially good, in the same way that the majority of the Carry Ons aren’t especially good. Which is to say, it’s charmingly vulgar and relatively innocuous by today’s standards. It’s artless but likeable, and that it was already past its sell by date on release rather adds to its appeal. Of course, one might suggest it was curiously prescient of the coming era, whereby Barbara, rejected by Rudi (he’s homesick for the motherland, so decides not to defect after all), switches from a political conscience to a capitalist outlook (“I think I’ll just stick to nice, sexy businessmen in future”). She doubtless did very well in the ‘80s.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…