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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …