Monday, August 19, 2013

There Will Always be an England

Sometimes, I want something cozy, fun and not too hard on the brain cells. For that, there will always be British comedy. The Ealing Studio/Alec Guiness stuff is my favorite, but I don't mind second best.

Mary Had a Little (1961) is considered to be the first of the modern British sex comedies. It stars Jack Watling as broke and shiftless promoter Scott Raymond (?!?). He plays it handsome but sweaty, a bit like a blond Patrick McGoohan in desperate Danger Man mode. A psychiatrist claims that he can make a pregnant woman bear the child genius through hypnosis, and Waling bets him a five thousand pounds he can't. His plan is to get a beautiful actress to play the mother-to-be, but she isn't really pregnant, so he can't lose.

Now, the mechanics of this bet are dubious on so many levels - won't they have to wait at least a few years before determining whether the child is a genius? If the woman isn't pregnant, doesn't that void the bet? Hypnosis, really? But so what - it is just a means to introduce lovely Agnes Laurent as the fake mom.

Of course, Watling has a girlfriend who wants to marry him (the lovely Hazel Court, apparently a horror queen for J. Rank and Roger Corman). Agnes Laurent has a boyfriend, a big bloke who plays rugby. People get into compromising situations and it all ends in the police station with everyone shouting - how traditional.

You'd think that Cottage to Let (1941), a spy movie made in the middle of the war, would be more serious. Only barely. It takes place in the hielands of Scotland, at the eponymous cottage and the manor. A number of strangers converge - a wounded RAF pilot, a nurse/daughter of laird, two London evacuee boys, a new butler with flat feet, a lodger (Alistaire Sims!) who has let the eponymous etc. Since the household is run by a vague old Ladyship, this seems quite natural, until you discover that his Lairdship is the inventor of a famous bombsight, and begin to suspect espionage.

And you get it, with many a twisty turn, as evacuee boy George Cole starts sleuthing. There's a lot you'll figure out right away, but I bet some twists will trick you. Here's one that fooled me. The scientist has a very shifty weedy assistant, who is in love with the mad scientists beautiful daughter. But she is nursing the wounded pilot, who is in every way dashing, witty and handsome. Guess who she kisses?

It's a silly movie, with a plot full of holes and tropes. It was taken from a stage play, and shows it, with few sets and fewer locations. Well, it was wartime, you cannae ha'e great expenses. But Syms is having so much fun with his role, and so do the rest of the cast, that you can't resist it.

I discovered both of these because Netflix pushed them on me. They were available on streaming and there when I wanted them. Well done, our Netflix!

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