Skip to main content

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks
(1959)

(SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Billy: She took one look at me, and the next thing I know, I was being thrust up the aisle.
Journalist: Up the what?
Billy: Up the aisle, dear.

Admittedly, there’s something maybe a little pat about the manner in which Lucy transitions from meek, shrewish wife to fearsome mastermind of a revenge operation. We’ve been apprised of her credentials early on, of course, when Billy relates that he met his wife in the army; she was a sergeant major and his PT instructor; later, she also gave him his start in business. Since then, however, she has been the meek, stay-at-home wife, cooking him evening meals he invariably fails to show up for because he’s out consorting with floozies. All the while flagrantly snubbing her dream of “A country house, a cook, a butler. Cheer up, old girl. It won’t be long before our ship comes in”. There’s consequently something of the raucous 1970s Disney movie, where the rambunctious kids give the rotters what-for, to the manner in which T-T is stitched up.

Fingers: She’s a fine woman.
Billy: Well, you have her then.
Fingers: I don’t want her.

Naturally Billy has it coming, but one might have hoped it would be a little less straightforward, particularly since the first hour of Too Many Crooks is so deftly delivered. Terry-Thomas is in tip-top stinker mode, and his air of gleeful superiority towards the gang is very funny. They’re led by George Cole’s Fingers, reliable for coming up with thievery ideas but lousy at following them through, to the increasingly mutinous disapproval of Sid (Sid James; it isn’t for one moment believable that Sid would allow Fingers to lead the gang, but we’ll let that slide). Making up the rest of the crew are Bernard Bresslaw, bringing classic levels of Bresslaw thickness to wrestler Snowdrop, and Joe Melia as Whisper. There’s also Vera Day as Fingers’ girlfriend Charmaine, by whom dreadful hound Billy is instantly distracted (Fingers, not fooling the blindfolded Billy for a second as he attempts to extort cash with a silly accent and an identity as Mr X, , receives the casual response “Talking about which, Mr X, you’ve got a rather nice bit of X-certificate there, haven’t you?")

Mr X: One false move and she will be cut up into little pieces and scattered up the Great North Road.

The fun of Too Many Crook’s first half comes from Billy baffling the gang – and Fingers especially – as all attempts to wrest cash from him flounder. First, they try a straightforward safe robbery, but Billy fools them into believing he has an advanced burglar alarm installed. Then, they try to abduct Billy’s daughter Angela (Rosalie Ashley), on the second attempt (posing as undertakers) coming away with his wife by mistake. Billy comes to the meet and calls their bluff: “Cut her up, old boy. This is a chance I’ve been waiting for for years… This is the answer to a bachelor’s prayer”.

Mr X: We’ll cut her into pieces. Tiny little pieces.
Billy: Well, naturally, you’ll want to make a good job of it, won’t you?

The ransom demand is reduced from £25,000 to £200, and still no cigar; Billy offers to “find my own way” out. At this point, Lucy takes charge, retrieving the cash Billy secreted under the floorboards and burning the house down before ensuring any other money at his office and mother’s is also confiscated. De Banzie’s reliable enough in both roles, although she doesn’t provide much in the way of comedy value (she could be seen a few years earlier as a kidnapper herself, in The Man Who Knew Too Much remake). Notably, Lucy shows up at the end, ensuring the police don’t arrest Billy for her murder, but it’s unclear quite where this leaves them. The gang meanwhile have split their takings with Lucy, up until the last score of £50,000; this is duly lost as Snowdrop fails to secure the suitcase. So there remains a flavour of crime failing to pay, even though the gang avoid getting banged up.

Tommy: Can I help?
Billy: Why, are you a gas inspector?
Tommy: No, I’m a tax inspector.
Billy: Ha-ha. Very good.
Tommy: No, I really am.

Cole is good value as the inept thief, and he’s encouraged to parade a series of terrible disguises and accents, including a Welshman, a plod and the aforementioned Mr X. Nicholas Parsons appears as Angela’s fiancé, “a nice young man and she loves him”. He instantly meets with Billy’s disapproval, owing to his profession (tax inspectors are “worse than a policeman or a customs officer”. He’d rather she married a thief: “At least they’re honest about what they do”).

Snowdrop: We changed hearses in mid-stream.

The best sequence sees Billy called before John Le Mesurier’s magistrate, facing charges of attacking a tramp. And then of breaching the peace (continually returning to his house as it is burning down). And then of assaulting a police officer (when he was speeding off to attend his burning house). Billy’s excuses, in consort with his solicitor (Sydney Tafler), are increasingly ridiculous and outlandish (was he referring to Bunny his budgie, mummy or money?), and the magistrate’s responses proportionally withering.

Fin: Bonjour.
Billy: Oh, you’re French.
Fin: No, I am Finnish.
Billy: Oh, why do you speak French?
Fin: Finnish is too difficult.

Also appearing are Tutte Lemkow as a French-speaking Fin and Terry Scott as a policeman. Zampi stages the action with something approaching unruly zest, but manages several strong sequences, including an extended runaway hearse farce as the vehicle gets away from them; a sheet-enshrouded Lucy re-enacts The Mummy, rising from a coffin to extreme concern from an onlooker. While James, Cole and Bresslaw provide strong support, this is mainly about the genius of Terry-Thomas, always in his element when encouraged to be unapologetically rotten. He’s a hoot, and while Too Many Crooks may not be quite in the first rank of his comedies, it’s more than adequate.





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lieutenant, you run this station like chicken night in Turkey.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) (SPOILERS) You can’t read a review of Assault on Precinct 13 with stumbling over references to its indebtedness – mostly to Howard Hawks – and that was a preface for me when I first caught it on Season Three of BBC2’s Moviedrome (I later picked up the 4Front VHS). In Precinct 13 ’s case, it can feel almost like an attempt to undercut it, to suggest it isn’t quite that original, actually, because: look. On the other hand, John Carpenter was entirely upfront about his influences (not least Hawks), and that he originally envisaged it as an outright siege western (rather than an, you know, urban one). There are times when influences can truly bog a movie down, if it doesn’t have enough going for it in its own right. That’s never the case with Assault on Precinct 13 . Halloween may have sparked Carpenter’s fame and maximised his opportunities, but it’s this picture that really evidences his style, his potential and his masterful facility with music.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.

He must have eaten a whole rhino horn!

Fierce Creatures (1997) (SPOILERS) “ I wouldn’t have married Alyce Faye Eicheberger and I wouldn’t have made Fierce Creatures.” So said John Cleese , when industrial-sized, now-ex gourmand Michael Winner, of Winner’s Dinners , Death Wish II and You Must Be Joking! fame (one of those is a legitimate treasure, but only one) asked him what he would do differently if he could live his life again. One of the regrets identified in the response being Cleese’s one-time wife (one-time of two other one-time wives, with the present one mercifully, for John’s sake, ongoing) and the other being the much-anticipated Death Fish II , the sequel to monster hit A Fish Called Wanda. Wanda was a movie that proved all Cleese’s meticulous, focus-group-tested honing and analysis of comedy was justified. Fierce Creatures proved the reverse.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.